Bubba Wallace, driver of the # 43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet, will start on July 5, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana, in front of the NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Chris Graythen | Getty Images
President Donald Trump hit the only black driver in the NASCAR Cup series on Monday, ripping open his ban on the Confederate flag.
Trump asked in a tweet if the 26-year-old Bubba Wallace "apologized to all the great NASCAR drivers and officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, and were willing to sacrifice everything for him, just for that figuring out the whole thing was just another HOAX? "
Trump referred to evidence that a sling that appeared to have been found recently in Wallace's garage was a pull rope and should not intimidate the driver. It wasn't a joke, as the president claims.
"This & Flag decision caused the lowest ratings ever!" The President added in a reference to NASCAR's move last month to ban the display of the Confederate flag.
In contrast to Trump's tweet, NASCAR's ratings have actually increased compared to previous years, according to the Speed Report.
The flag has been shown frequently in NASCAR races for decades. NASCAR asked fans in 2015 not to raise the flag after racist Dylan Roof's butchering of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, but many fans ignored this request.
Wallace, the only full-time black driver on the NASCAR Cup racetrack, was an outspoken critic of the Confederate flag and urged the race organization to "end" the events. "Nobody should feel uncomfortable when coming to a NASCAR race," said Wallace last month.
Days later, NASCAR announced that "the display of the Confederate flag is prohibited for all NASCAR events and features."
The White House declined CNBC's request for comment on the President's tweet about the Confederate flag. But White House spokesman Kayleigh McEnany said in an interview with Fox News Monday morning that Trump's tweet "should highlight a broader point that this rush to judge the facts before the facts become known is unacceptable."
In a press conference later on Monday, McEnany said that Trump's tweet on the Confederate flag "didn't make a judgment one way or another".
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wallace had also spoken out after the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died when a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for about eight minutes. Floyd's death, which was recorded on video, triggered a wave of massive protests across the country.
In June, Wallace was wearing a shirt saying "I can't breathe / Black Lives Matter" before a race in Atlanta.
Later that month, NASCAR announced that a loop had been found in Wallace's garage stall during a race in Talladega, Alabama and an investigation had been initiated.
The discovery immediately sparked speculation that the noose was an act of retribution. "There is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our determination to make the sport open and welcome to everyone," the organization said in a statement at the time.
Wallace also interfered and tweeted: "The despicable act of racism and hate makes me incredibly sad and painfully reminds me how far we have to go as a society and how persistent we have to be in the fight against racism."
A campaign sign for U.S. President Donald Trump is next to a Confederate flag that says "I'm not coming down" in the back yard of a house in Sandston, Virginia, the United States, on July 4, 2020.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
However, the FBI found that the rope had already been used to pull the garage door down in the fall of 2019.
US attorney Jay Town and FBI special agent in charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said their investigations revealed that "nobody could have known that Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week."
The FBI concluded that no crime had been committed.
Courtney Weber, a spokeswoman for Wallace's team, Richard Petty Motorsports, told NBC News in a statement that "the team currently has nothing to add" in response to the president's tweet.
"Wallace has largely exhausted the topic in the past few weeks through a large number of interviews. It is clear that there is nothing left to say," said Weber.
But Wallace pushed Trump straight back in a statement on Monday afternoon on Twitter.
"All the haters do is raise your voice and platform to much higher heights!" Wallace tweeted. "Love should [of course] come as people are hated to hate."
"Even if it's HATE from POTUS," he added, referring to Trump with an acronym for President of the United States.
NASCAR said later on Monday in a statement: "We are proud to have Bubba Wallace in the NASCAR family and we commend his courage and leadership. NASCAR stands for Bubba, our competitors and everyone who invites our sport to all races and make inclusive, continue to be high fans. "
The controversy over the symbols of the Confederation took place amid a national settlement of race and police brutality after the death of Floyd and other blacks by the police.
Activists have asked states and places to remove public statues of historical figures they see as problematic. Some statues were blurred or demolished by demonstrators. Trump was a vocal critic of the movement, deciphering "anarchists", damaging the monuments, and threatening the prisoners with prison sentences.
In his Independence Day speech on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Trump condemned what he called "the leftist cultural revolution that is supposed to overthrow the American revolution."
"To make this possible, they are determined to demolish every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage," Trump said.
Hopeful Democratic President Joe Biden was more nuanced and recently told a press conference that he believed that Confederate monuments could be moved to museums.
In particular, the debate about the flag was not limited to NASCAR. The Mississippi Republican governor signed a decision last week to change the state flag, including the Confederate flag.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect description of the former Mississippi state flag. The design included the Confederate flag.