Wallace wants Confederate flags removed

Bubba Wallace wore a shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe/Black Lives Matter” before Sunday’s NASCAR race in Atlanta, and now the circuit’s only black full-time driver is pushing for change at the track.

“My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags,” Wallace told CNN on Monday. “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”

Wallace, who drives the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports, recognizes his position will not sit well with some people.

“There’s going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly, but it’s time for change,” he said. “We have to change that, and I encourage NASCAR — we will have those conversations to remove those flags.”

Wallace, a 26-year-old native of Alabama, said he wasn’t always bothered by seeing Confederate flags.

“What I’m chasing is checkered flags, and that was kind of my narrative,” Wallace said, “but diving more into it and educating myself, people feel uncomfortable with that, people talk about that — that’s the first thing they bring up.”

When asked whether he thought his opinion on the Confederate flag was unpopular, Wallace said he sees it as something on which the sport must take a strong stance.

“We should not be able to have an argument over that,” he said. “It is a thick line we cannot cross anymore.”

NASCAR’s next race is Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. Richard Petty Motorsports announced Tuesday that Wallace would drive a car with a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in the race to promote racial equality.

“I think it’s going to speak volumes for what I stand for,” Wallace said in a Twitter video. “We knew the Martinsville race was open, we did not sell sponsorship for that, and it sparked an idea of, ‘Why not run a #blackout car?’ The team brought that idea to me, and I jumped all over it.”

A number of drivers were asked about the Confederate flag during media sessions Tuesday.

“I think it’s one of those things that some of us are just ignorant about and don’t really think about it or worry about it,” 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. said. “And then you hear somebody like Bubba talk about it and how he feels about it and it wakes you up a bit. Yeah, I think NASCAR is going to do the right thing there.”

Two-time Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin said he would support NASCAR taking a hard line on the Confederate flag.

“NASCAR’s going to continue to make changes and I’m sure they’ll look at what flags they want to fly in the infield,” Hamlin said. “If you look at all the haulers each and every weekend, they’ve got the American flags flown all over the top of them. That’s what we salute when we do the national anthem.”

Ryan Blaney, who is tight with Wallace, said he joined some of the “peaceful protests” in Charlotte, North Carolina, and also called for the end of the Confederate flag.

“Bring your 50 stars flag,” Blaney said.

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, was more reserved, saying: “I’m not going to tell people they need to get rid of it. That’s not my right either, but I certainly don’t salute it or respect it.”

Brad Daugherty, a co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and the lone black Cup Series team owner, told The Associated Press he stood with Wallace.

“After all this country has gone through in the last three months, I think Bubba Wallace’s thought of removing Confederate flags from NASCAR events is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.