After the FBI announced that the “noose” in Wallace’s garage had been there since late 2019, I couldn’t understand how Wallace and others might have mistaken a pull rope for a hate symbol. These guys spend half their lives in garages. Surely they’d seen slip knots fashioned to create hand loops for the ropes attached to garage doors.

Why on earth would they jump to the conclusion that what they were looking at was a noose, unless they were eager to find some petty reason to treat Wallace as a victim of racism?

This photo from NASCAR would seem to answer that. It’s not a basic slip knot. It’s a hangman’s knot, with the rope coiled in spirals above the loop. It does look like a noose.

This photo from November 2019 that made the rounds a few days ago isn’t very clear but you can just sort of make out the telltale spirals. (TMZ has a much larger version.) It was hard to be sure what that thicker part was originally. The new photo showing that it’s a hangman’s knot makes it apparent.

An obvious question now arises: How many pull ropes in NASCAR garages are tied with hangman’s knots? As … weird as it would be to use that knot in standard practice, maybe it’s customary for whatever reason. If so, it would put us right back at square one with Wallace. Why would he freak out now upon seeing a knot that should be familiar to him on NASCAR tracks?

It’s not familiar, though. NASCAR surveyed every garage on the circuit and announced its findings today:

“As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba,” said Phelps. So in other words, since Wallace was randomly assigned to garage number four at Talladega, he had a 153-to-one chance of landing at a garage with a loop on the pull rope and a 1,684-to-one chance of landing at a garage with a rope with a hangman’s knot — the one and only such rope in the entire sport. And that doesn’t account for the timing: He happened to encounter NASCAR’s lone “noose” pull rope less than two weeks after he made headlines calling on NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at events.

Coincidences do happen. But that’s some coincidence.

Even so, I’m having trouble fashioning a plausible conspiracy theory to explain it. If the “noose” has been there since 2019 then neither Wallace nor an ally fashioned it themselves. If they had wanted to stumble across a “noose” as a political stunt, there would have been far easier ways to do it than by looking for a NASCAR garage that just so happened to have a pull rope already fashioned with a hangman’s knot. There’s no evidence either that his assignment to garage number four was anything other than random. And if it wasn’t random, you need to come up with a theory as to why NASCAR would willingly give itself a black eye by assigning its lone black driver to that garage so that he’d encounter the noose — and then risk having to walk the whole thing back once the cops investigated and announced that, uh, it’s just a pull rope that’s been there since 2019.

The simplest conspiracy theory is that someone at NASCAR fashioned the rope into a hangman’s knot within the past day or two in order to save face. “See, it really looks like a noose! Bubba wasn’t lying!” But then you have to explain why the November 2019 photo seems to show the same hangman’s knot.

Actually, the simplest conspiracy would be if NASCAR discovered that there were other pull ropes tied with hangman’s knots and quietly untied them over the past few days because it would have been strange and embarrassing to say, “Uh, yeah, a lot of our ropes are tied like that.” Maybe the rope in garage number four really wasn’t the only “noose” rope on the circuit; maybe there were 50 others, say, all now quietly disappeared. But in that case you’d need to believe in a widespread conspiracy of silence among NASCAR teams past and present to conceal that fact. No one has stepped forward this week that I’m aware of to say, “Oh, yeah, lots of pull ropes look like nooses. Bubba knows that.”

Is it really just a bizarre coincidence? I’m a cynic by nature so I’m skeptical, but the alternate explanations don’t seem convincing.