NASCAR looks to steer clear of protests over George Floyd

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FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2020 file photo, Bubba Wallace motions to his crew about time left before getting in his car during practice for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

HAMPTON, Ga. – HAMPTON, Ga.NASCAR has a checkered racial history.

From an affinity for Confederate flags among the fan base to a driver losing his job just this season for casually uttering a racial slur, the good ol’ boys have never been known for diversity.

Maybe it’s not surprising this mostly white sport seemed hesitant to join the national outrage over the death of George Floyd while in police custody — a striking contrast to its rush to be the first major sport to return during the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking toward NASCAR’s weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which will be the fourth track to stage races without fans, trucks driver Matt Crafton was asked about the protests in all 50 states and around the world demanding an end to police brutality against African Americans.

“I just try to stay off social media,” said Crafton, clearly uncomfortable with the subject. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot to talk about. I don’t try to get involved in a lot. That’s a terrible thing that happened to the gentleman in Minneapolis. But there’s a lot of things going on that I’d rather not talk about.”

Bubba Wallace, the only African American in the top-level Cup series, expressed frustration that so many drivers were reluctant to speak out.

“A few drivers — a very few — have given their opinion on the day’s matter and I appreciate that,” Wallace said on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast. “But the silence from the top drivers in our sport is beyond frustrating. ... Our sport has always had somewhat of a racist label to it. NASCAR — everybody thinks redneck, Confederate flag, racists — and I hate it. I hate that because I know NASCAR is so much more.”

Wallace said he encouraged other drivers to take up the cause, including rising star Chase Elliott, who won at Charlotte on May 29 and will start from the pole in Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 — essentially a home race for the Georgia native.