First Oakland, now this. It’s been a bad, bad week in “actually, that’s just a rope with a loop for your hand” news.

Silver lining, I guess: At least it wasn’t a hoax perpetrated by Wallace or someone sympathetic to him. It was a mistake.

An awful, mystifying mistake, embarrassing NASCAR not once but twice. First the sport got a few days of terrible press about racist intimidation supposedly happening to its lone black driver, the man who spearheaded the effort to ban the Confederate flag at events. And now it gets a few more days of terrible press about the moral panic that drove Wallace and others to immediately assume the worst when there was an innocent explanation for the “noose.”

How the hell did he and others make this mistake, anyway? Had they never seen a rope fashioned this way in a garage before?

“On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway. After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed.

The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. 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.

Here’s the alleged “noose”:

NASCAR’s statement about the results was matter-of-fact:

Yashar Ali asks a good question. Why did NASCAR promote the idea that a “noose” had been found in Wallace’s garage before the investigation was over? “We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” they wrote in a statement after the “noose” was discovered. They must have been utterly terrified of being accused of not taking the incident seriously enough if they didn’t immediately presume the worst.

I ask again: How unusual is it for a pull rope in a garage to be fastened with a loop? It can’t be that Wallace was the only person who saw it and mistook it for a threat. Other drivers and NASCAR execs must have come by when they heard about it to see the evidence. No one had seen that ever?

Or were they just afraid to tell Wallace, “C’mon, man, that’s a pull rope”? Better to go along with the panic and let the FBI break the news to him than dare risk being seen as unsupportive.

On the other hand, what would Wallace gain by playing this off as a racist threat if he knew there was an innocent explanation? In that scenario he would have been destined to be humiliated by the feds telling the world, “Just a pull rope, folks.”

At least NASCAR got a kumbaya moment out of this embarrassing sh*tshow before the whole thing crashed. Logically this shouldn’t affect the sport’s attempt to ban Confederate flags at events but it probably will — not because NASCAR fans want to intimidate Wallace but because they’ll connect the flag ban to this incident as one big haywire overreaction and say “to hell with it.” Oh well.