Kyle Petty and Bubba Wallace have a history.
Last year, the NBC analyst didn’t sugarcoat his thoughts on the 23XI Racing driver following the ugly incident with Kyle Larson at Las Vegas, suggesting NASCAR got its one-race penalty wrong and the driver should have been suspended for the remainder of the season.
The broadcaster added another chapter on the August 28 edition of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, while talking about the regular-season finale race at Daytona, he candidly called out the 29-year-old driver and Ty Gibbs for both declining interviews before the race.
“For professional athletes to refuse interviews is unacceptable in any game,” Petty said. “Unacceptable to your fans. Unacceptable to the sport. It’s just not — Ty Gibbs did the same thing. He didn’t want to do an interview.
“I don’t know how these guys think that’s acceptable in any world because that’s what you’re here for. That’s what they pay you the money for. And it’s that stupid saying — that’s why you make the big bucks, dude. You got to handle it. Put it on your shoulders and carry it. If mentally he is that fragile, then maybe this is not the game for him. You know, honestly.”
Petty Criticized Wallace Last Year for Declining Interview
Petty’s comments on declining interviews might seem harsh, but it’s not the first time it’s happened with Wallace. Last year, while the driver served his one-race suspension and missed the race at Homestead, NBC’s Marty Snider mentioned on the Countdown to Green pre-race show how the driver had put out a statement on social media earlier in the week but declined the network’s interview request.
“I applaud Bubba and I applaud 23XI for putting this out,” Petty said of the statement. “But in a world, and I’m cynical — so let’s just go ahead and say that — in a world of social media where we post everything, silence sometimes says more than the words that are written and we have heard nothing from Bubba Wallace since this incident happened.
“We have heard nothing publicly, until yesterday, Denny Hamlin finally spoke up and kudos to Denny Hamlin for speaking up on behalf of 23XI. But the silence from that camp has been deafening.”
Petty Softens Stance and Expects a Stronger Wallace
Criticizing Wallace and Gibbs for declining interviews is one thing. But suggesting the 23XI driver might be mentally fragile and not cut out for NASCAR is taking it to another level. Later in his remarks, Petty seemed to recognize that and softened his stance on the driver’s mental toughness, but maintained avoiding interviews is never a good idea.
“I think Bubba gets stronger and being in these positions will make him stronger mentally,” he admitted. “Once you get that experience and once you’ve been there I think you learn and he gets stronger. It’s trial by fire.
“If we come back in three years and he’s in this situation again, and he’s still doing the same thing, then you have to question something. But I think at this point in time, I give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt.
“But, listen, not doing interviews is never acceptable. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in this sport. When you win, if you want us to come talk to you, expect us to come talk to you also when you lose. And when things are good, if you want us to talk to you, you got to talk to us when things are bad. I think that’s just a slap in the face in a lot of ways to fans and the media and everybody because you’re not above that.”
Wallace is one of 16 drivers heading into the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. It’s his first time in the postseason. He’ll unquestionably be a storyline and receive a large number of interview requests. If he opts to skip a single one of them and it’s made public, you can be sure Petty will have something to say about it.