Bubba Wallace enters Daytona hoping to achieve NASCAR playoffs

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports activities NASCAR Author

Earlier this month, Bubba Wallace signed a brand new contract that may preserve him at 23XI Racing, so he doesn’t enter the regular-season finale Saturday night time considering it may decide his future past the following 10 weeks.

Additionally, having completed second within the earlier two Daytona races (the 2021 elimination race and the 2022 Daytona 500), in addition to the 2018 Daytona 500, Wallace is aware of he can race for the win on the drafting-style monitor. His lone Cup victory got here in October at Daytona’s sister monitor, Talladega.

All he must do from his final two visits to Daytona is enhance by one spot. And with three top-5s and 4 top-10s up to now six NASCAR Cup Sequence races, Wallace seems to be at Daytona each just a little pissed off and just a little hopeful.

“I don’t believe we should have been in this position,” he mentioned. “With the speed that we’ve had and some of the races that we’ve called throughout the year, we should be, if not have been in victory lane already, but competing with [Ryan] Blaney and [Martin] Truex [Jr.] for the point battle.

“Our velocity has been nice all yr — simply the execution has not been there. So it places us in conditions like this to the place individuals might imagine there may be extra strain … however that’s when the issues begin — whenever you begin to overanalyze issues.”

Wallace sees Daytona as best chance to make playoffs

Wallace sees Daytona as best chance to make playoffs

Bubba Wallace is aware of Daytona will supply him a shot to win and vault into the playoffs. He shares his mindset going into the race.

Can Wallace be the motive force to tug off a win-and-in triumph? He’s amongst 15 drivers who’re winless in 2022 however would clinch a playoff spot with a victory Saturday. 

“We’re all smart enough to know the circumstances that we’ve been through all year long, our results and where we’re at now,” Wallace mentioned.

“No one is happy about it. But it is what it is. That’s life. You don’t get to redo anything. You’ve got what you’ve got. We’ll just keep building on it and continue to get better and better, which we have been. We’ve been a really solid team this last month-and-a-half, and that’s been fun to see and fun to be a part of.”

A win would even be an indication of progress for the 28-year-old driver. His 4 top-5s and 6 top-10s this yr are already profession highs. However, his common end of 19.0 is just a little disappointing, contemplating that his common was 19.7 final yr, his first full season averaging above twentieth. Now in his fifth full-time Cup yr, the hope was that Wallace would make extra positive aspects.

However discuss to those that have watched him all through his profession, they usually see the distinction. Kevin Harvick outdueled Wallace for the win at Michigan, and Wallace was somewhat despondent afterward, despite having lost to one of the greatest drivers of the past 20 years.

That finish was his fourth consecutive top-10.

“He’s consistently faster,” Harvick said. “That’s the biggest thing. … Right now, in a lot of the races this year, if you just keep the car rolling and stay on the lead lap, you have a good shot at the top-10s.

“That’s a huge progression for him from where he was at the beginning. They’ve had a lot of trouble, but also the car hasn’t been rolling [because it was wrecked] at a bunch of those, too, and I think he’s getting to that point where he’s learning how to finish more races, which is important.”

Kevin Harvick on Bubba Wallace’s development

Kevin Harvick on Bubba Wallace's development

Michigan winner Kevin Harvick talks about what he has seen from Bubba Wallace this year and where the 23XI driver has improved.

Denny Hamlin, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and co-owns 23XI Racing with basketball legend Michael Jordan, signed Wallace two years ago as the first driver for the organization.

Hamlin brought in former Cup champion Kurt Busch before this season to give the team a veteran voice and Wallace a mentor. Hamlin then saw what he needed to see out of Wallace to sign him to an extension.

“I’m heavily invested in the sport because I want to win and be competitive and build a top-tier, elite racing team,” Hamlin said. “So if I didn’t think Bubba had the capability of winning, it doesn’t matter about any other factors.

“He is part of this team because I believe he can win. I think that he’s showing that he’s racing our cars to full potential right now. … His contract extension with us was definitely well-warranted from what I’ve seen this season, not just including the four [consecutive top-10] weeks.”

Denny Hamlin: Wallace earned extension

Denny Hamlin: Wallace earned extension

Denny Hamlin discusses the decision by 23XI Racing to extend Bubba Wallace’s contract and what the driver did to prove he deserved it.

Wallace said he has a lot of unfinished business at 23XI. He is still growing as a driver and, for the first time, finds himself consistently running with the elite in the Cup Series. That is a learning process in and of itself.

It also means pit stops are more crucial, and Wallace has been critical of his pit crew when it stumbles.

“I’ve obviously tried to do my best this year and made some mistakes along the way that the team wasn’t happy about,” Wallace said. “But we worked through those things. … It’s part of racing, it’s part of sports, it’s part of growing up and maturing.

“From Day 1 on joining this team, I wanted to make this where I retire and a place that I call home for a really long time. So I’ll just try and do the best that I can and continue those efforts.”

Bubba Wallace’s relationship with 23XI Racing

Bubba Wallace's relationship with 23XI Racing

Bubba Wallace says he never doubted he would get an extension done with 23XI Racing.

Hamlin admits now that maybe he expected too much out of Wallace last year.

“Hopefully we just continue on this trend because it’s certainly what I want to see and what I expected last year,” Hamlin said. “It probably was a little much to ask in Year 1, not only from him but from our race team.

“These things take time. It doesn’t matter how much money you can throw at this. You cannot just buy wins.”

Wallace knows he’ll have a good car for Saturday. He knows he has to put himself in position to win. And amid all the talk about helping the manufacturer at a track such as Daytona, where a driver often needs a push from another driver, Wallace said that will go only so far.

He might have to be selfish to make the playoffs.

“When you get down to the last couple of laps, and you’re in this scenario to capitalize and pounce on, then you’ve got to do what’s best for your team — you and your team and your partners,” Wallace said. “Because that’s what it’s really about.”

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What to watch for

The Hendrick and Trackhouse drivers could be the most pivotal when it comes to who will win at Daytona. That’s because they’re the only organizations that have all their drivers in the playoffs.

Sure, they want to win for the playoff points. But Chevrolet would love for them to place Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Haley or Ty Dillon into the playoffs.

What’s more, pushing one of those drivers would eliminate Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., two drivers considered dangerous if they get into the postseason.

Do drivers think about that? Some told me they might have it in their minds. But it’s also much easier said than done, as far as choosing to push someone to the win, given how many variables are in play.

Thinking out loud

It was a little surprising to hear Kyle Larson say he needs to show more respect to a teammate if he finds himself in a situation similar to the one he was in for the last restart at Watkins Glen.

Did Larson make an aggressive move? Yes. Did he skid the front tires and slide into Chase Elliott? Yes. Did the move earn him the win and result in Elliott finishing fourth? Yes.

Kyle Larson on his run-in with Chase Elliott

Kyle Larson on his run-in with Chase Elliott

Kyle Larson said he isn’t proud of the move he made to pass Chase Elliott, but it was his only shot to win. “I felt like I did what I had to do to benefit our playoffs and benefit our points a little bit,” he said.

But it’s side-by-side for the lead on a road course. And stuff like that is going to happen. Larson’s move wasn’t egregious. It wasn’t like he needed to run into Elliott to make the corner (compared to a day earlier, when William Byron’s beef with Ty Gibbs was that Gibbs never would have made the corner).

Generally, teammates should race each other with respect, with a little more give than what they would offer to others in a give-and-take scenario.

But when going for the win? Let’s keep the gloves off. Even for teammates.

Fast Thoughts: Was Larson’s move on Elliott over the line?

Fast Thoughts: Was Larson's move on Elliott over the line?

Bob Pockrass breaks down his thoughts on Kyle Larson’s aggressive tactics to get the win on Sunday at Watkins Glen.

Social spotlight

They said it

“In the end, I probably should have a little bit more respect next time.” — Larson on the Watkins Glen finish and his battle with Elliott

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. In search of extra NASCAR content material? Join the FOX Sports activities NASCAR Publication with Bob Pockrass!


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