June 24, 2020 / 3:33 AM / 14 days ago

Justice Department says no federal crime committed in NASCAR noose case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it found no federal crime was committed after a noose was discovered in the garage of Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top series.

FILE PHOTO: Feb 16, 2020; Daytona Beach, Florida, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace (43) during the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The investigation determined the noose, a symbol connected to lynching and America’s slave history, found in Wallace’s stall at the Talledaga Superspeedway on Sunday may have been in that garage since last October.

“After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed,” the department and FBI said in a statement.

The incident rocked NASCAR and took on added significance at a time of heightened tension over racism in the United States following nationwide protests over the death of African American George Floyd in police custody.

The noose, according to a NASCAR statement, was a garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose.

“They (The FBI and Justice Dept) have concluded their investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime,” said NASCAR president Steve Phelps during a conference call. “For us at NASCAR this is the best result we could hope for.”

The incident triggered shock and an outpouring of support for Wallace as he prepared to get back into his car on Monday for the rain-delayed 500-mile race.

Wallace finished 14th but in post-race interview declared victory in the face of racism.

A vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter, Wallace was also one of the loudest voices in the push for the banning of Confederate flags, formerly a common sight at NASCAR events.

NASCAR announced this month that Confederate flags would be prohibited from all of its events and properties.

Prior to the start of Monday’s race, Wallace’s fellow drivers and their crews marshalled behind the 26-year-old and helped push his car to the front of pit road for the anthems and ceremonies.

Despite the fact that the entire scene was sparked by a racist act that never happened, Phelps said it produced what will be remembered as one of the most powerful images in the history of sport.

“Yesterday to me as a sport was one of the most important days we’ve had,” said Phelps.

“We are one big family. Everyone’s’ belief was someone was attacking a member of our family. It turned out that was not the case but at the time that is what our industry thought.

“Everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team and that was a very powerful image not just in the history of our sport but all sport.”

Reporting by Steve Keating and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Bill Berkrot and Lincoln Feast.

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