Bubba Wallace Wins NASCAR Cup Race at Talladega

(AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Bubba Wallace made history as the first black driver since the late Wendell Scott’s victory at the long-gone Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 1, 1963, to win a NASCAR Cup race when he triumphed in the at first rain-delayed, then rain-shortened YellaWood 500 at Talladega Speedway today. The win was Wallace’s first in the Cup Series and seventh overall in NASCAR’s top three series.

Wallace was leading the race, a typical Talladega affair featuring position changes galore and not a few instances of shredded sheet metal, but fortunately absent of The Big One — i.e., a massive multi-car pileup common at Talladega races. He was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Brad Keselowski to keep him second, when an accident involving Ryan Preece smacking the wall (with not a little assistance from Chris Buescher) brought on the race’s fifth caution. Shortly thereafter, the skies opened up, which had been a common theme throughout the weekend with the race having already been postponed from Sunday to today due to weather. There was a brief time period when the rain stopped and it looked like racing would resume, but this did not last and it became apparent that drying all 2.66 miles of the track and resuming the race before darkness fell — Talladega does not have lights — would have been impossible. Thus, the determination was made to call the race 70 laps short of the scheduled 188.

In addition to being Wallace’s first Cup victory, the win was the first for 23XI Racing, the first-year team co-owned by Michael Jordan and NASCAR Cup driver Denny Hamlin. It was also the first Cup Series win for Wallace’s crew chief Bootie Barker in his 484th Cup race atop the pit box.

Hamlin commented:

I mean, emotions (are) obviously super high. I didn’t realize it would be this high at this moment. 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, more happy with someone else’s victory than mine on this day.

He added,

At the race team we’re trying to provide (Wallace) the best race cars that we can possibly provide him. I walk from my shop to my other shop, and the cars are the same. I make sure that if those guys feel like they need anything, any part, piece to go faster, I go out and I get it. That’s the attitude that Joe Gibbs has always taught me. It will drive you broke if you don’t eventually have results. But I’m too much of a competitor to be just okay with mediocrity. I think this is just a stepping point that I’m sure you’re going to see in performance in the last part of this year and into next year. What the media doesn’t see is the work that he’s putting in behind the scenes to be a better race car driver. It just takes time to apply it.

When asked about being the first black driver since Scott to win at the Cup level, Wallace responded, “Yeah, I never think about those things. When you say it like that, it obviously brings a lot of emotion, a lot of joy to my family, fans, friends. It’s pretty damn cool, just got to be a winner in the Cup Series.”

Wallace later added,

Yeah, just appreciate everybody that’s in my camp to help me stay focused on the things that matter and eliminate the BS 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.

We’ll just go out and we know how the sport works. We go back to work. Everybody gets back to work today, after racing on a Monday. Go back tomorrow and get focused on the Roval. (The “roval” is the nickname for the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which incorporates a portion of the track’s original oval.)

While scoffers will whine about how the race was shortened, blah blah blah, the fact remains that Wallace was legitimately leading when the rain came. As such, he earned the win. It is also a fact that two of Wallace’s wins in the truck series came at Martinsville, one of if not the orneriest track NASCAR runs. Wallace is legit. Today, he proved it in unimpeachable style.