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AP photo by Matt Slocum / NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, center, stands with his crew during the playing of the national anthem before Saturday's Cup Series event at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

LONG POND, Pa. — Being an agent of change in NASCAR cuts both ways for Bubba Wallace.

He is seen as a hero to some, particularly those who have longed for a Black driver to shake things up in a predominantly white sport. To others, the 26-year-old represents something else entirely, and he has seen plenty of haters out on social media over his career.

It has intensified in recent days.

He has brushed them off, especially the ones accusing Wallace or his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team of being involved in a hoax, of somehow being behind the garage door pulldown rope fashioned as a noose that was found in their garage stall at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.

"You quickly realize," Wallace said, "they don't give a damn about you, and I don't give a damn about them."

It has been a remarkable and exhausting three weeks for Wallace since he helped spark NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its races and venues. That is seen as a sea change for the 72-year-old stock car series with its core Southern fan base, but then came the noose and a federal investigation that ultimately determined Wallace had not been the target of a hate crime.

He has been besieged with media requests and made the rounds on morning talk shows and chatted with late night hosts. Wallace even unified the sport when every one of the 40 teams on the grid lined up with him as they and their series made an effort to show they do not and will not tolerate racism.

The face of a movement is a tough haul for anyone, especially when he stands as the lone Black driver at the top level of NASCAR.

"It's just what I feel in my heart, what feels right," Wallace said Friday. "I'm finally voicing my opinion on the tough subjects that a lot of people are afraid to touch on. I'm not afraid to speak my mind. I've done it and gotten in trouble and learned from it. People that know me, I'm 100% raw and real."

It's part of his appeal, and why a small number of Black fans rushed the fence and cheered for Wallace after he finished 14th at Talladega. He wants more Black fans in NASCAR — he said his social media following has exploded and scores of famous fans like LeBron James have offered support — and said he is ready to lead the charge.

He would also like some of his newfound fame to lead to more sponsorship to fund the No. 43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports. He's not going to change his approach for them.

"Ever since I've been speaking out, I haven't been thinking about my sponsors," Wallace said. "I've been thinking about me being a human being and standing up for what's right. I would hope that sponsors would see that and back me up on that."

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AP photo by John Bazemore / Bubba Wallace, right, the only Black driver currently competing full time on NASCAR's top circuit, is joined by Kyle Busch, left, Corey Lajoie, rear right, other fellow drivers and their crews in pushing Wallace's Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet to the front of the pits at Alabama's Talladaga Superspeedway before this past Monday's Cup Series race.

But he's tired. His free time has been chewed up, and life in the spotlight as a national newsmaker has him "wore the hell out" and this is an especially busy weekend for a team that has been running well. He finished 22nd in Saturday's Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway and will start in the same spot for Sunday's event, the finale of a NASCAR tripleheader for the day.

"It's not like I wanted to be in this position or asked to be in this position," Wallace said. "It just kind of happened."

He is grateful NASCAR released the photo of the rope; NASCAR president Steve Phelps stated "the noose was real," though it remains unknown who tied it. Phelps said NASCAR determined the noose was not in place when the October 2019 race weekend at Talladega began but was created at some point during that weekend.

"We can't say it was directed toward me, which is good," Wallace said. "But somebody still knows how to tie a noose. Whether they did it as a bad joke or not, who knows? It was good for the public to see. It still won't change some people's minds of me being a hoax. But it is what it is."

He has received support from NASCAR friends and foes, such as Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola, who started a text with "we're not friends and we don't act like we are" but was ready to stand next to Wallace as a brother. Wallace even had fun on the Talladega grid after drivers pushed his car to the front, joking, "I don't like half you guys, but I appreciate all of you guys."

The third-tier Truck Series, second-tier Xfinity Series and top-tier Cup Series will all run Sunday, with the races at 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, and FS1 televising them all. It's the first time three NASCAR national series races will be held on the same day at the same track.

It's just one more piece of a grueling schedule where all eyes are on Wallace.

"Let's get away from what happened at Talladega," Wallace said. "Let me go out and have some good races, have some bad races, try and figure out what the hell we're going to do to rebound from those bad races, and get back to race car life."

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