By Kelly Crandall | Racer.com
Lesley Ann Miller/Motorsport Images
Bubba Wallace doesn’t want to hear that he won a NASCAR Cup Series race because it rained at Talladega Superspeedway.
“Everybody knew it was going to rain,” Wallace said.
It did rain. A lot, in fact. First, it rained most of the day Sunday and pushed the YellaWood 500 to Monday, and then it rained again in Turns 1 and 2 to halt the race for nearly 20 minutes on lap 68. And when the race got going again, the talk of more wet weather was all over team radios, and every driver knew it was a fight to halfway. Any additional laps were a bonus.
So, Wallace knew he had to make a move. In the main pack all afternoon, Wallace grabbed the lead for the first and only time on lap 113. He was still at the front when the caution flew on lap 116, which ended up being the last on-track action as it started raining soon thereafter, and NASCAR officials deemed the race complete less than 45 minutes later.
“We knew we had to make a move to get out, and the caution came at the right time,” Wallace said. “I just appreciate everybody that’s in my camp to help me stay focused on the things that matter and eliminate the B.S. I have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s moments like this where I can go back and thank and appreciate them because we’re here. We’re a winner. Got some credibility to my name now.”
It is the first win for Wallace at the top level in 143 starts, and he is the second Black driver to win at NASCAR’s top level. Wendell Scott was the first in 1963.
“I’m selfish,” Wallace said. “I’m like, finally, I’m a winner again. It’s been four years – Michigan truck race. I’m a winner. I’m a winner at the Cup level. Hell yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Then you think about everything else that follows suit with the history being made. There were a lot of firsts today within our team, within our organization. This is a really huge team effort. I’m so proud of everybody for continuing to just stick with it.
“It’s been a lot of up-and-down races, a lot of frustration, a lot of shouting matches. We always regroup, come back and rally for when the green flag falls on Sunday or Monday like today. We go out and compete and put everything else aside. We know what we have to focus on. We continue to build this organization up… This win didn’t put us in the playoffs or anything, but there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Wallace was handpicked by team co-owners Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. It was Sept. 21, 2020, that Hamlin announced the creation of 23XI Racing.
Hamlin finished seventh. But Monday was more about being a team owner, and he admitted the emotions were “super-high” after Wallace was declared the winner.
“I didn’t realize it would be this high at this moment,” Hamlin said. “I understand the process in which it takes to get to this point, winning in NASCAR’s highest level. I’m in every meeting. I’m hands-on with the team. I know how hard they work. I certainly am more emotional, happier with someone else’s victory than mine on this day.”
Hamlin also gave praise to how far Wallace has come at superspeedway races. While Wallace has been collected in accidents like any driver at Daytona or Talladega, Hamlin noted that he’s run well or near the front when it’s happened. In 2018, Wallace and Hamlin went door-to-door for second place in the Daytona 500.
“He’s just got a knack for it,” Hamlin said. “I just think he needed to refine (details). We had those discussions of how he could get better with it. He made some big changes from Daytona one and Talladega one to Daytona two. I mentioned to him this week, that’s the right way to do it. That’s how you maintain your track position upfront. That’s how you work the lanes.
“I’ve just seen a transition with him, his willingness to take in information and apply it. I think this is not going to be the last time you’re going to be hearing about his name on a superspeedway. He’s very gifted at ’em. He has very, very good instincts.
“Like early on in his career, early 20-year-olds, mid-20-year-old, he gets excited at times. How can you regulate that not to get too high or low when things don’t pan out exactly how you want? I think he’s working on that tremendously. This is obviously going to go a long way with him emotionally and for his self-confidence.”
Hamlin called the complaints of the race being fixed in Wallace’s favor, or at all, silly. Wallace admitted he hasn’t been on the main pages of his social media accounts for a few months, and it’s helped his mental health.
But Wallace used to read the comments and realized he needed to escape the dark thoughts. As he’s matured over time, Wallace learned he wasn’t going to please everyone. Even with how he wins a NASCAR race.
“Doesn’t matter if I won by a thousand laps or won a rain-shortened race, not everybody is going to be happy with it,” Wallace said. “That’s OK because I know one person that is happy and that’s me, because I’m a winner, and they’re not.”