(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

2019 NASCAR Driver Reviews: Bubba Wallace

Rainy days are dark, gloomy, sometimes quiet.

Bubba Wallace’s 2019 NASCAR Cup Series campaign could be likened to a rainy season. Sometimes there was a light drizzle; other times a heavy downpour. It can cause muddy conditions, large puddles or even flooding, yet offers glimpses of hope in rainbows.

Wallace endured all of these this past season and stayed true to himself in all of it.

After finishing the 2018 season with a top five and three top 10s, Wallace and his Richard Petty Motorsports team had hoped to build on his small success. Instead, he ended 2019 with one top five and top 10 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He definitely did not start the year off the way he would have liked. Wallace ended up crashing out of the Daytona 500 on lap 169 and finished 38th. Nevertheless, the first third of the season was relatively quiet, save for the superspeedway races. His brightest moment of that period came at Martinsville Speedway, where he crossed the line in 17th.

However, dark clouds were still around him. At Dover International Speedway in May he told Frontstretch, “I’ve caused some of our issues. We’ve been behind on where we were last year; speed-wise, performance-wise, we just haven’t had the finishes that we’ve wanted. We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep digging.

“I get frustrated. I get down and out, yell and scream at these guys and they yell and scream back. That’s what you need. You don’t give up on your team. You’ve got to go through the hardships and hopefully it all turn around eventually.”

The following week at Kansas Speedway, Wallace opened up about his battle with depression.

He also acknowledged fans’ support and cheers after the race. “They were just shouting my name,” Wallace said. “A frustrating weekend, but going through the stands, it was nice. It was nice to see all the support and love.”

Could it be that even in the darkest times, even in a heavy downpour, the brightest rainbow would appear?

In Wallace’s case, it did for the All-Star Race weekend. It all started with the Monster Energy Open, where he came oh-so-close to winning the first stage. He wouldn’t be denied in the second stage, though, and locked himself into the All-Star Race. Wallace really showed what the stage win meant to him in the interview that followed.

This was also the period of time in which rumors swirled of RPM shutting down. Even in the midst of this trying time, Wallace displayed grit and aggression to earn a fifth-place finish in the All-Star Race.

The rain still continued throughout the summer, both literally and figuratively. From the Coca-Cola 600 to the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Wallace finished in the 20s 11 times. He earned a 15th at the rain-shortened July Daytona race and a 14th at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Some of the more memorable instances were when Wallace interacted with fans a few times. During rain delays at both Michigan International Speedway and Daytona, he and a few other drivers threw a football to the fans.

While Wallace was tired afterward, it helped create some lasting memories.

Besides that, he also had a couple of really awesome paint schemes, like this one at the Coke Zero Sugar 400:

Or this special tribute to Adam Petty at Darlington Raceway:

Those were definitely some of his and the team’s highlights this past summer. However, he also encountered some thunderstorms while on the racetrack. At Watkins Glen International, Wallace had a run-in with Kyle Busch. Busch had made contact with the No. 43 in the carousel, which displeased Wallace. Then came the payback: Wallace banged doors with Busch on the frontstretch and turned him going into turn 1.

“He just ran me the fuck over, that’s exactly what happened,” he said after the race. “I don’t care if I’m two years in, rookie stripes or what, but I’m going to get my respect on the track and I don’t care who it is. That’s what guys fail to think about the young guys or with me. I won’t put up with no shit, so I flat-out wrecked his ass.”

I liken this to a thunderstorm due to its loud booming sounds and lightning strikes. It almost sounds like the sky is angry or upset, which is how Wallace was that day.

Then, just four races later, Wallace arguably had the best performance of his career outside of a superspeedway. In a race that was dominated by Kevin Harvick, Wallace passed several top-tier drivers at IMS to finish third. He knew from the moment he began practicing that the car was very fast, and he backed that up Sunday. It was the brightest rainbow in a season of tumultuous rain showers.

Yet even with his successful finish to the regular season, more dark clouds and thunderstorms came. After earning a 12th at Richmond Raceway, Wallace again encountered frustration at the Charlotte ROVAL. His troubles started on lap 1 when Alex Bowman lost control and hit Wallace. Later on, Bowman was making his way through the field when Wallace blocked him and made obscene hand movements. Bowman had had enough of it and turned him. He would go on to finish runner-up, but the confrontation didn’t end there. While sitting on the ground after the race, being attended to by a medical personnel, Wallace said some choice words and splashed something on Bowman’s face.

Wallace is known for displaying his emotions — as he did there at the ROVAL — as well as being open. Unfortunately, that openness cost him after the race at Texas Motor Speedway. During green flag pit stops Wallace felt a tire going down and attempted to spin out to bring out the caution. It didn’t work the first time, but he succeeded on the second time. Kyle Larson noted it after the race, since it negatively affected his night. Larson had to take the wave-around during that caution and lost valuable points for the playoffs.

Wallace then admitted to a reporter that he intentionally spun out and was fined $50,000 and docked 50 points. The muddiness of the whole situation, plus his frustrations with Bowman, seemed to mar the accomplishment at Indy.

One thing’s for certain: we all have storms of life that we go through. For one with depression, though, the rain can last quite awhile. Rainbows after the rain offer hope and promise, and flowers and plants can bloom after a shower.

Only time will tell what happens in Wallace’s future, but for now he can reflect on his high points and learn from the rough patches. In 2020 he’ll likely look to be more successful on the superspeedways and move on from the negative occurrences.

2019 Stats:

36 starts, zero wins, one top five, one top 10

Best finish: third (Indianapolis)

Point standings: 28th

Season grade: C

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17 comments

  1. Avatar

    I thought a C was an average score. Finishing 28th and beating only the cars that have zero chance is not average, it’s pathetic.
    How did bubba get a cup ride anyway !

  2. Avatar

    Zero wins in Xfinity usually doesn’t get you promoted to Cup but it worked for bubba. Why the depression, he knows he doesn’t belong in cup.

    • Avatar

      Interestingly, Bubba’s overall Average Start/Finish stats in Xfinity are better than Jimmie Johnson’s were. AND he’s only won a single race less than Jimmie has in the lower series with about the same number of starts, while racking up more Top 10’s.

      Stats pulled from Racing-Reference.info.

      Bubba:

      2015: 33 of 33 Races. T5 = 3, T10 = 14, Pole = 1. Avg. Start = 12.7, Avg. Finish = 11.8
      2016: 33 of 33 Races. T5 = 3, T10 = 9, Ploe = 0. Avg. Start = 13.0, Avg. Finish = 15.7
      Lifetime: 85 Races. W = 0, T5 = 6, T10 = 35, Pole = 2. Avg. Start = 12.6, Avg. Finish = 13.6.

      Jimmie:
      2000: 31 of 32 Races. T5 = 0, T10 = 6, Pole = 0. Avg. Start = 18.4, Avg. Finish = 19.5
      2001: 33 of 33 Races. W = 1, T5 = 4, T10 = 9. Pole = 0. Avg. Start = 17.6, Avg. Finish = 16.2.
      Lifetime: 93 Races. W = 1, T5 = 9, T10 = 24. Pole = 2. Avg. Start = 17.0, Avg. Finish = 18.1.

      • Avatar

        Wow- Now you got me expecting bubba to become the next JJ. Newman got the ROY award and JJ only got 7 championships. Bubba has no wins for how many years, and limited sponsorship. How does that work in the era of buying your ride. Oh, like Bill, I know, I know

        • Avatar

          Just pointing out that success or no success in Busch/Xfinity/Whateverthehellitscallednow is not an indicator of success/failure or “deserves” in Cup.

          Bubba may have got his ride via unconventional means, but he hasn’t been able to get into top tier equipment like Danica did. Bubba is not a Gordon/Stewart/Johnson/Harvick level driver and never will be, but I think he could be a Bowyer/Almirola/McMurray/Larson level Cup driver with the right team/environment.

        • Avatar

          Unfortunately affirmative action is no longer unconventional

        • Avatar

          Danica was a tool, a marketing tool that Tony and Gene made a lot of money on from that infatuated guy at GoDaddy. That company made zero money year after year but kept pumping it to Danica. Petty needed money, lots of it. Perhaps they thought bubba would rake the sponsors dollars in for them. Didn’t happen but what little does goes towards fixing the wrecks. Maybe Petty’s money man has a crush on bubba like the GoDaddy guy on Danica. Just wondering.

  3. Avatar

    He does give the body shop a lot of work.

  4. Avatar

    Actually, I kind of had a positive view of the guy until the ugly “water in Bowman’s face” debacle. And I don’t give a rat’s ass about Bowman (although my boy Jeff got some of the shrapnel from the splash..LOL). I just thought it was uncalled for and, perhaps, showed his true nature. Not a big fan of punk-ass athletes like either of the Busch brothers or Harvick (all of which have kind of mellowed with age… a bit).

  5. Avatar

    What bullsheet will they come up starting February, trying to sell us desperately how wonderful “Bubba” is”??? He just needs more time, yada, yada, yada. Or how his P20 finish was just amazing and fanfluckingtastic!!!! Then, he becomes the story of the week! A story to follow regarding the bromance with Ryan Blaney, yada, yada, yada! Can’t stand this poser with all the whining excuses in the world
    !!!!!!! Get freaking lost…..

  6. Avatar

    He gets the most he can out of the very poor RPM equipment that he has to race in. RPM race cars and funding are equivalent to FRM operation. The key at that level is to race the guys with similar funding and race the guys on your same lap. Don’t be a hero, don’t crash the car. It’s really that simple…

    • Avatar

      And he can’t even do that. He continually tries to mix it up with the teams in the best equipment. I’m not saying he shouldn’t race them hard when during the 5 races ins the season when his team stumbles on a good setup where he shows up with good car and is competitive, it’s just that I’ve seen him purposely get in the way when his car sucks the other 31 races.

    • Avatar

      Who says he gets the most out of his cars ! We absolutely have no way to know that. We don’t have a real clue what his cars are capable of. All we know is he crashes them a lot, finishes off the lead lap a lot and ends the season near 28th. That’s all we know. Oh yeah, he’s very depressed too.