23XI Racing driver Bubba Wallace has been pretty open about his mental health and how he’s dealt with depression for years. Those issues have impacted the way Wallace has reacted to certain NASCAR outcomes as well as his relationship with the media.
Former NASCAR driver and NBC Sports commentator Kyle Petty doesn’t appear to have too much compassion for him.
Wallace has had plenty of success and struggles throughout his racing career, but things appear to be clicking for the 29-year-old. Last weekend he qualified for the Cup Series playoffs for the first time in his career. Before that, however, he had reportedly declined media interview opportunities at Daytona, specifically one from broadcaster NBC, so that he could cut down on the mental toll that questions about the playoffs were taking on him.
Afterward, Petty was asked about Wallace and fellow driver Ty Gibbs reportedly declining media opportunities before the weekend’s race and had some fairly harsh feedback for them.
“For professional athletes to refuse interviews is unacceptable in any game. Unacceptable. Unacceptable to your fans, unacceptable to the sport,” said Petty during an appearance on Motorsports on NBC. “Ty Gibbs did the same thing. He didn’t want to do an interview. And 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 you’re here for. That’s what they pay you the money for.
“And that’s that stupid saying, that’s why you make the big bucks, dude. You gotta 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.”
Petty added that he feels as though Bubba brought the wrong mentality into the race and should have had expectations from a place of positivity instead of negativity.
“All Bubba has to do is do what he can do, because he’s a good race car driver, and he’s a solid race car driver. And on the speedways, those are his moments,” said Petty. “He was 32 points up. Come and get it from me. Bubba should have had the attitude going in there, a strong driver has the attitude, ‘Come and take it, dude. You’re gonna have to take it from me.’”
Petty also added that he thinks experiences like these that challenge Wallace’s fortitude should make him stronger and that he needs to come to understand that speaking to the media is part of the job.
“Not doing interviews is never acceptable,” said Petty. “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 to come talk to us 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 just think that’s a slap in the face in a lot of ways, to fans and the media and to everybody. Because you’re not above that.”
There’s a lot going on here and you can see how stark the differences of opinion are in the way that NASCAR fans reacted to the comments.
In one camp, there are people who agree with Petty that dealing with the media is part of a professional athlete’s job, plain and simple. And that stressful situations need to be met with thick skin and a stiff upper lip, just like athletes have done for decades.
In the other camp, you have people who back Wallace for taking a stand for his mental health at a time when it could be its most fragile. They see him as a new class of pro athlete, like Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka, who are brave enough to admit that sometimes the pressure can get to them and protecting their mental health is worth the costs that come with skipping press conferences or spotlights.
Ultimately, Petty can have his thoughts on the situation, but if Wallace is doing what works for him, it’s going to be worth it in order to maintain the mental state that he needs to compete for a championship.