FBI finds black driver not targeted by hate crime in 'noose' incident: NASCAR

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Los Angeles (AFP)

The noose found in the garage stall of NASCAR's only black driver Bubba Wallace was not evidence of a racist hate crime but a rope that had been there for months, US investigators said Tuesday.

"The FBI has completed its investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime," NASCAR said in a statement after outrage erupted over the incident, at a time when protests against racial injustice are sweeping the United States.

The probe found the pull rope fashioned like a noose was in the garage stall long before Sunday's race at Talladega in Alabama.

"The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week," Northern District of Alabama Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. said in a statement announcing there would be no charges.

"The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019.

"Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week."

The FBI investigation was launched on Monday, a day after the noose was found.

Security was stepped up for Wallace, the only black driver who races full time in NASCAR's top Cup series and who recently successfully campaigned for the banning of the Confederate flag at the popular stock car series events.

The weather-delayed race on Monday turned into a mass show of support as drivers closed ranks around Wallace.

He was visibly moved before the start as his fellow drivers rallied behind him at the starting line.

Multiple drivers and crew then joined forces to push Wallace's No.43 car to the front of the grid.

Wallace exited the car and appeared to be in tears as driver after driver hugged him.

Among the wellwishers on Monday was team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty.

"We appreciate the FBI's quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to hear this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba," NASCAR said.

"We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing."