Wallace on getting used to running up front: 'These boys don't play around'

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Wallace on getting used to running up front: 'These boys don't play around'

NASCAR

Wallace on getting used to running up front: 'These boys don't play around'

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Bubba Wallace isn’t unfamiliar with running near the front in the NASCAR Cup Series, but he’s been doing much more of it recently. As the series heads to Richmond Raceway, the 23XI Racing driver is on a hot streak of four consecutive top-eight finishes, including earning the first pole of his career and company history.

It is welcome momentum for a team that struggled with consistency and limiting mistakes early on. For Wallace, his time at the front has reinforced what it takes to compete with the best of the best.

“These boys don’t play around,” he said. “You have to go out and fight for everything that you’ve got.”

Wallace’s second-place finish last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, where he started from the pole and led 22 laps, tied his best result of the season from the Daytona 500. He also led four laps at Pocono Raceway. A fifth-place finish on the Indianapolis road course wasn’t just a notch in the top-five column on a left- and right-handed track, but the first time Wallace had ever finished inside the top 10 on a road course in his Cup Series career.

The superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega are where Wallace has most notably run near the front. Last fall, he won at Talladega Superspeedway, a track where he’s led 46 laps in the previous four races. At Daytona, he has two runner-up finishes in five Daytona 500s.

So no, what Wallace and his team have done the last four weeks isn’t a new endeavor, but the narrative of being able to do so more consistently is changing. As it does, so does the respect a driver feels and how they are raced differently.

“These guys have been racing for a really long time and have a massive notebook of what to do, so I think when you get up there, you have to learn as much as you can; [you] have to be a sponge,” Wallace said. “Every opportunity you get to race up front, you don’t take for granted, but you also just go out and put everything on the line without stepping over the edge and you earn that respect.

“These drivers see that you’re running up front consistently, it’s a new realm that you open up. It’s a new world of respect in how they race you and whatnot. It’s not just some [talk of], ‘Bubba is up here because it’s Daytona and he has a fast car.’ It’s [that], ‘He’s come from the back,’ or ‘He’s had a good restart and he’s up here, and he’s passing good cars, and he’s running top five consistently.’

“So that’s the next step for us, and we’re starting to chip away from that. I’m proud of the team and what they’ve been able to do and how we’ve been able to attack each and every race.”

Wallace and his team now turn to the final three races of the regular season and a push for a playoff spot. A win will get him into the postseason for the first time, and he’s confident he’ll have a shot at doing so.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “Toyota has always been strong here [at Richmond]. We missed the boat the first race here…but we’re really confident in what we’re bringing back for Sunday. Watkins Glen is just a race of survival; you never know what could happen. Look at the Indy road course.

“But then Daytona, obviously…I think we’re one of the favorites going into that. So, we’ll just have to continue to do what we do, just like we’ve been doing these last four or five races, and it seems to be working. Don’t ask what it is — I can’t really tell you — but it’s working.”

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