Bubba Wallace became a well-known athlete and figure to the world in 2020. In 2021, he steps into the spotlight once again.
This time, it is not for his fight for justice against racial inequality in the United States, but via his day job, driving racecars for the newly formed 23XI Racing with team owners Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
A LOOK BACK
After it seemed like his career was going to take off, KBM unexpectedly released Wallace at the end of the 2014 season, and he was in search for a new start somewhere. Roush Fenway Racing came knocking on his door and hired him to drive the No. 6 full time in the Xfinity Series in 2015. The beginning portion of the season was a struggle for Wallace, but he salvaged a down season and scored 14 top 10s and finished seventh in the points. This was impressive for a 21-year-old driver who did not have much experience in the Xfinity cars.
His big break came in 2018 when he was hired to drive Richard Petty Motorsports’ iconic No. 43, but in his three full-time seasons for RPM, Wallace was unfortunately not able to score any wins, though he definitely progressed as a driver. 2020 was his best, finishing 22nd in points and scoring a career high five top 10s.
After securing several sponsors during the season in 2020 and having several impressive runs in the No. 43, Wallace was picked as the driver for 23XI.
While it has been a somewhat tough road for Wallace, there have been several flashes of his talent and ability being displayed. Take for example the 2018 Daytona 500. The race was poised to be a good one after the thrilling races the previous few seasons. After an eventful race and a crazy last lap turn of events after Aric Almirola was turned by eventual winner Austin Dillon, Wallace followed Dillon and finished second, his best career finish to date.
The Daytona 500 was not the only race Wallace had a shot at a win in Cup. Fast forward to the 2019 Brickyard 400, when Wallace nearly took a win away from Kevin Harvick after a strong run the entire race. He ultimately finished third, his best finish of 2019.
My gut feeling is this team will perform very well in 2021 and will be close to making the playoffs, if not making it. Wallace will compete for top 10s and some top fives, but winning in the first year with a brand new team has been next to impossible. He is an extremely good superspeedway racer, though, so I would not be surprised if he competes for wins at all four races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
Do not put it past this team to win, even with all that said. Hamlin and Jordan have tons of knowledge, and Wallace brings a lot of sponsorship. These days, that equals performance, so be ready for these guys to be strong at times.
No matter what, this will be his best career year in Cup, by far. It may take two to four years to work his way into being a top five contender with that team, but I feel confident in his ability for this season at least to help them have a strong first year.