SportsPulse: NASCAR has progressed by leaps and bounds on tackling racial injustice in the sport over the last few weeks. USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones believes the NFL can learn a lesson or two. USA TODAY


It wasn't a hoax, and it wasn't a staged incident.

Until this week, a noose had been hanging in the Talladega Superspeedway garage since at least October 2019, according to the FBI. joint statement regarding the investigation used the word "noose" four times to describe what it was investigating. NASCAR called it that as well. ities didn't deny it was a noose; they just concluded a federal crime wasn't committed. And Wallace said he has never seen a garage pull rope tied like that, calling it a "straight-up noose."

NASCAR said as part of its preliminary investigation, it checked every Talladega garage stall and only one had a garage pull tied into a noose.

"The image that I have seen of what was hanging in my garage is not a garage pull," a claim Phelps said personally offended him. They charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. Charges against the actor were later dropped.

What happened this week in Wallace and the No. 43 team's Talladega garage stall has absolutely nothing to do with Smollett. And anything suggesting otherwise is a false equivalence comparing two decidedly different situations that both involve Black men.

Wallace didn't lie about what happened or stage anything, like Smollett allegedly did. The 26-year-old Richard Petty Motorsports driver did nothing wrong. He wasn't even the person who found the noose in the Talladega garage stall.

A crew member for the No. 43 team did, and he brought it to the attention of his crew chief, Jerry Baxter, who then alerted NASCAR Cup Series managing director Jay Fabian, Phelps detailed. Then NASCAR called law enforcement, and Phelps explicitly said the governing body wouldn't hesitate to do again should a similar situation arise.

"The evidence that we had, it was clear we needed to look into this," Phelps said Tuesday after the FBI's announcement. "The 43 team had nothing to do with this."

And let's not forget the larger context surrounding the noose discovery Sunday, less than two weeks after NASCAR finally banned the Confederate flag.

Before the GEICO 500 was pushed back to Monday because of rain, some protesters gathered with the flag outside Talladega, protesting NASCAR's ban against it - a move for which Wallace advocated. Hell, even a plane was flying above the track with a Confederate flag and a banner reading, "Defund NASCAR."

Any rational person would look at the way in which the rope was tied and see a noose. Whether it was a noose functioning as a garage pull, it's still a noose.

"NASCAR was worried about Talladega - being there and knowing we were allowing fans back, and some of the most passionate fans are down there," Wallace, an Alabama native, said Tuesday on CNN while still praising the overall atmosphere and racing the iconic track offers.

"But we had that one circled on the radar with everything going around. Let's just be extra careful. So absolutely, I think that definitely intensified everything that went on [in response to the noose discovery]."

NASCAR did the right thing by opening an investigation and alerting law enforcement. That's the appropriate reaction to finding a symbol of death and racism - and, arguably, a weapon - hanging in anyone's garage stall, not to mention that of the only Black driver in the series.

This wasn't a hoax. Even if it wasn't a hate crime, it's still a problem, and NASCAR is rightly digging further to learn exactly why a noose was tied in the first place. It also needs to figure out why no one noticed it until Sunday.

Those are answers everyone, especially Wallace, deserves.

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