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.
Ha..with a laugh and smile like this every week you'd think there is no way one could mask so much negative and dark 💩. Lonely dark roads ain't fun, keep on keeping on I guess. pic.twitter.com/uaXncfuOE5
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) May 7, 2019
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.
"I've been feeling like a failure for a really long time." An emotional Bubba Wallace on what this means for him and his team. pic.twitter.com/jFBwCZfxk1
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 18, 2019
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:
Felt badass, won't delete later!
Best scheme here, HANDS DOWN!
Fight me! pic.twitter.com/zSpyWbH6up
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) July 4, 2019
Or this special tribute to Adam Petty at Darlington Raceway:
We are excited to unveil the No. 43 @victoryjunction Throwback that @bubbawallace will race at @TooToughToTame, and proud to honor Adam and his vision of Victory Junction with this special paint scheme! #VictoryJunction #FeelYourHeartRace #15GoingonForever pic.twitter.com/8za3nWhTZJ
— Richard Petty Motorsports (@RPMotorsports) August 6, 2019
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.
36 starts, zero wins, one top five, one top 10
Best finish: third (Indianapolis)
Point standings: 28th
Season grade: C