For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Bubba Wallace heads to the next racetrack on the calendar as its most recent race winner.
“I’m excited for Talladega,” Wallace said of Sunday’s GEICO 500. “It seems like the speedway stuff has been solid the last few weeks races. So, (let’s) continue that trend (getting) back there and hopefully get us another win.”
Talladega Superspeedway is where Wallace won in early October. In the right place at the right time, Wallace was leading when one of several rounds of storms descended upon the track, and he was declared the winner.
It was the first win for not only himself but also for the 23XI Racing organization, and a monumental one at that: Wallace became the second Black driver in history to win at the Cup level behind Wendall Scott, and Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan became winning team owners.
“I got a new phone recently, and I think it saved that far back, I’m not sure, but I’ve still got M.J.’s voicemail,” Wallace said. “That’s pretty cool.”
The closer Sunday gets, the more Wallace will be asked to relive his win. He hasn’t been able to do that with some key memorabilia because his winning car and other artifacts have been on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They are expected to be given back within the next month.
Wallace would like to take possession of the car, which he’s already spoken to Hamlin about. Hamlin, who has cars from some of his biggest wins, understands the sentimentality behind keeping such pieces and won’t be charging Wallace for the car. Often, drivers have to buy the cars from the team if they want them in their original form.
“I don’t know where the hell I’m going to put it; I don’t have any room at the house,” said Wallace. “Maybe (do) like (Christopher) Bell and put it in our dining room, but it wouldn’t fit through the front door. Yeah, I’m going to have that in my possession soon.”
The reference to Bell goes back to 2017. Having won the Chili Bowl, Bell took apart his midget to get it inside his house and then put it back together to display in an empty room.
The Talladega car will be the first from Wallace’s NASCAR career that he’ll need to find a home for. It’s a good problem to have, and Wallace knows it’ll be a conversation starter one day with his children.
Superspeedway racing is looked at as an art, and it’s one Wallace has gotten better at over the years. Winning at Talladega was no fluke considering he’s been in the mix and led laps there and at Daytona. In doing so, Wallace’s confidence has grown in the draft and when it comes to the moves to make and the blocks to throw.
“I felt like once we got in the Cup car, things started to kind of click,” Wallace said. “Hell, I finished 15th in my first (superspeedway) Cup race in 2017 (at Daytona) when I was filling in (for Aric Almirola). And our car was fast; I was just riding along, not really knowing what to do. Then obviously, we followed up that year in 2018 with a second at the (Daytona) 500, and then we’ve had speed the rest of the races. I would just make dumb moves and take us out of contention or just be caught up in somebody else’s mess.
“So, I just took it as, hey, we fight like hell at the beginning, wherever we start. If we can get to the lead, get there and if we lose it, we lose it. It’s fine. We don’t need to be in the eye of the storm to get our spots back because it’s not worth it. We’d like to get stage points but at the end of the day, getting a race win is the most important thing for us.”
Those who closely watch Wallace on the superspeedways should see such a trend. And he can lay out how it’s going to happen: the No. 23 team will likely start mid-pack, get to the lead, go to the back and ride around under the radar, and in the last stage, put themselves in the position.
“We have these meetings and meetings and meetings about what to do and what not to do and I’m just sitting there in one ear and out the other because I’m like, ‘it doesn’t matter’,” said Wallace. “You can come up with game plans, and (expletive) goes through the roof when the green flag drops. So, we just need to continue to do what we do.
“That’s what I tell Freddie [Kraft, spotter] every time I climb into the car. I say, ‘Hey man, let’s go out there and do what we do. Nothing different.’”
So even if Wallace hadn’t just won at Talladega, he’d still be looking forward to going to a superspeedway race.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “I remember 2015 I wrecked out in the Xfinity race. It was the July race, and there was a Warped Tour going on down in Orlando. I remember in my interview, I was like, ‘I hate this (expletive); I’m going to Warped Tour.’
“I actually love superspeedway racing now. I’m excited about it. I’m excited for Talladega and when we kick off the season at Daytona. It is out of your control 90% of the time but the unknown factor (of it all). I climb in the car and what excites me the most is you sit there and it’s like, damn, one of us is going to win today. Who’s it going to be? And then you get to find out. That just magnifies when you go to the superspeedway stuff, so that’s why I enjoy it so much.”