Race Weekend Central

Bubba Wallace ‘Thankful’ to ‘Shut Up’ Critics

On Sunday (Sept. 11), the NASCAR Cup Series found itself racing at Kansas Speedway.

In case you need a reminder about geography, the 1.5-mile racetrack in Kansas City is located 755 miles northwest of Talladega Superspeedway and 1,287 miles away from Daytona International Speedway.

There was no pack racing to be found.

Sunday’s race, the second of the playoffs, was also run under a blue sky.

If you were looking for storm clouds to once again rain on Bubba Wallace‘s winning narrative, you missed them by 24 hours.

Sorry.

Over the race’s final 67 laps, there were no cautions, no restarts, no precipitation of any kind. There were no potential shenanigans someone could use to handicap any winner of the Hollywood Casino 400, let alone the driver of 23XI Racing’s No. 45 Toyota.

Sixty-seven laps after he straight up passed Alex Bowman for the lead under green and 43 laps after he cycled back to the No. 1 spot following green flag pit stops, Wallace won his second career NASCAR Cup Series race.

“What are they going to say now!?” Wallace yelled over his team radio upon crossing the finish line, officially earning win No. 2. He was addressing the vocal minority of folks who insisted an asterisk should be placed next to win No. 1.

Why? It happened at a superspeedway and it rained. These were people who likely didn’t give a damn when Chris Buescher, Justin Haley, Aric Almirola, Brandon Brown — and Noah Gragson on Saturday — got wins in similar fashion.

“Keep talking s–t!” Wallace added as his victory celebration got underway, later telling NBC Sports, “Thanks for the opportunity, and thankful to shut the hell up a lot of people.”

Wallace’s crew chief, Bootie Barker, added his own two cents later.

“I feel very happy for (Wallace) in the fact that we took it to (them),” Barker said. “What can you throw rocks at us about this time?”

Wallace’s win didn’t materialize out of nowhere.

Since the Cup Series’ one off week in June, he has totaled 10 top-15 finishes in 12 races, including five top 10s. Four of those top 10s came in consecutive races — a career best and a feat no other driver accomplished in the same stretch — and were capped off by Wallace’s first career Cup pole at Michigan International Speedway, which preceded an emotional runner-up performance.

Coming out of Kansas, Wallace has the best average finish over the last 10 races at 10.1.

“Right now, we’re clicking, we’re doing well,” Barker said. “As far as how he drove the race, I didn’t say this to him, think about this: At the end of the race, he takes the lead or he takes the lead on his own and stretches the lead. By stretching the lead, it gives me the ability to just go — JR (Houston, engineer) and I sit there and call the races. We knew with the lead he got us, all we had to do was protect behind us. We had a hedge to do that. That makes it easy.

“Then the pit crew, he got on and off pit road well. Better than anybody else. They had an awesome stop. Then you’re gone. You’re out front. You’ve got it.”

The pit crew compliment says a lot about where the team is as a whole compared to the last Kansas visit in May.

On a day where Kurt Busch took the No. 45 to victory lane, Wallace and the No. 23 had front-running speed. However, like in many races the first half of the season, pit road miscues waylaid any chance Wallace had at competing with his teammate for the win.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud at Kansas: Bubba Wallace's NASCAR Career Takes Big Step Forward

But since a pit crew swap with Christopher Bell’s team in July, before the second Atlanta Motor Speedway race, Wallace’s issues on pit road all but disappeared. On Sunday, they briefly showed up again when the No. 45 had to make a second visit under caution mid-race, fixing a loose wheel.

“I think looking back at the first race, I’m selfish, and I think we were better than the No. 45,” Wallace said of the spring Kansas race. “We just didn’t have the track position to show that. He took home the hardware to show that he was better than us.

“But coming back here … it kind of all sparked in Michigan and figuring out what we had and understanding that Michigan setup was based around our Kansas setup, our first Kansas setup, and coming back here, not much different than that. And it’s like, ‘OK, we have to ramp up here, and the car is going to be good.’ It puts more pressure on me. ‘Hey, the car is good. Are you going to deliver and execute and give the car its full potential?'”

“We executed on all levels on the racetrack, on pit road, and communication was awesome today,” Wallace added. “It’s just one of those things. You hate that you were in that scenario the first race, but it makes you come back stronger, and look where we’re at.”

Through 176 starts, Wallace is now a two-time Cup winner.

That’s more than Buescher, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez have in their careers so far. He’s won a race this season before Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and half of Stewart-Haas Racing.

In the last two seasons, a non-playoff driver has won three playoff races. Wallace has two of them.

Eleven months after his first win, Wallace said his convincing Kansas triumph was “just as special.”

“To win it in this fashion, yeah, it’s definitely really cool,” Wallace added. “We’re talked about when we go to the speedways and kind of not so much the rest of the tracks, so I want to start changing that. We’ve been able to show up these last two months or so, all different types of racetracks, and be talked about. That’s cool. It’s a step in the right direction.”

However, even before Wallace’s victory burnout was finished Sunday, you could hear — or read — the goalposts being moved again for the 23XI Racing driver by certain people.

Oh, this is what happens when he’s in Kurt Busch’s car.

No. Wallace may be driving the No. 45, but he has the same cars and crew as he did when he was in the No. 23.

Denny Hamlin let him win.

This theory completely ignores that Hamlin is competing for a Cup championship, his first. He doesn’t benefit by leaving a race win and five playoff points on the table. In fact, Hamlin’s now finished second in both playoff races to non-playoff drivers. That’s 10 playoff points he missed out on.

I just need to see more from him.

Stop it.

Two Cup wins.

The best Cup driver over the last 10 races to not have won twice in that span (Kevin Harvick).

A career-best five top fives and eight top 10s with eight races left in the season.

No NASCAR driver has to do more to earn the respect of his critics than Bubba Wallace.

See also
The Underdog House: Michael McDowell Leads the Dog Days

No one is saying “I need to see more” when it comes to Cindric, Briscoe, Suarez, McDowell or any other Cup driver with fewer than five Cup wins to their name.

Why is that? Why can’t the detractors give in and give Wallace the credit he deserves as a driver?

It’s not hard to figure out.

It’s the same combination of factors that have been nagging Wallace for two years.

There’s those who still possess an unhealthy fury over Wallace’s role in having the Confederate Flag banned from NASCAR’s facilities.

Then there’s the crowd who continue to believe a very muddied and incorrect narrative around the events that occurred at Talladega in June 2020 surrounding Wallace’s garage stall.

Despite the laundry list of evidence proving it was all an incredible confluence of events, these people are committed to believing a lie.

Of course, there’s the unfortunate niche of people who just don’t want to acknowledge the success of a black NASCAR driver.

You don’t have to like Bubba Wallace. There’s no law requiring it. There’s plenty of people who don’t care about him one way or another.

However, at this point, if you’re still finding reasons to discredit his clearly earned success … you’re telling on yourself, one way or another.

2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com. You can hear more from him on his podcast, Dropping the Hammer.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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1911_Bandit

Yes, Bubba, you have obtained your first earned NASCAR victory to go along with your rain-shortened gifted victory from last year. You are, by far, the best 18th-place driver in NASCAR today.

Blaize

There’s one more thing to add to why there are people who are not fans of Bubba. I liked him a lot when he came into the sport until the whole noose situation. The drivers and all the teams and many fans, including myself, felt bad for him and supported him. Had it been a noose it would’ve been disgusting and would’ve given a blackeye to Nascar. When the FBI and Nascar were able to disprove the garage pull as being a noose, Bubba didn’t want to let it go. He wanted to continue being in the spotlight and doing all types of TV interviews. He kept denying it was just a garage pull. That, for me, was when he lost my respect.

Dale

Agreed…I would like to say something about the last few lines of this article:

“However, at this point, if you’re still finding reasons to discredit his clearly earned success … you’re telling on yourself, one way or another.”

What is that supposed to mean? Telling on yourself? I can take a guess, but to be real about things, NASCAR, and it’s fans have had a long history of loving/hating drivers…just because. Either they don’t drive a Ford/Chevy or they are from the North or that’s a Hendrick driver etc. Do you recall the rhetoric Jeff Gordon’s team received when they showed up on the scene…you know, the “Rainbow Warriors”? Some of you might even remember the Tim Wilson song on the topic. Yet did Gordon bring it up in interviews? No, he kicked people’s <deleted> on the track. Convincingly.

Here are some notables with 2 wins also: Juan Pablo Montoya, Steve Park, Jimmy Spencer. It’s not the same now folks…I will give the author some credit and assume that’s what he was talking about.

DoninAjax

Vinyl is making another comeback.

Tom B

Bubba’s dominant victory reminded me of how Kyle Petty dominated Rockingham. Any given Sunday. Two victories in 11 months doesn’t make HOF. But Bubba does belong in this series. Funny how MJ was never mentioned in Bubba’s interview at the start/finish line.

DoninAjax

Bubba’s got his HOF speech written and ready to go.

eddo

sadly, I’m not sure most of his critics will ever be impressed. 2 wins, and this place is still full of haters.

TCinAZ

Saw the interview were Bubba talks about how hard HE worked for this. That’s his problem. Me me me

Dale EarnHog

Did you see the interview where he talked about how hard everyone at 23XI worked as well?

cecil inman

I I I I I, Me ME ME Me, They can all, They can alll, They can all. I don’t have a crew it is me against the world Nascar better never go off on me.

DoninAjax

What will the results be when Blubber goes back to the 23?

Dale EarnHog

Probably about the same considering he’s driving the exact same chassis, just with a different decal. You can clearly see Kurt’s name on Ty Gibbs’s car these past 2 weeks, meaning it is still a #45 body.

Dale

I kind of wonder what exactly the logistics where of the number (car) swap. Did the 23 team take the 45 cars? or did they just re-wrap with different numbers? It would be interesting to see if his new found success was due to Kurt’s feedback on the cars and setup. i.e. Kurt had the setups nailed for Kansas…

Dale EarnHog

Just a different wrap. Kurt’s name banner has been on the 23 these past 2 weeks since it’s still a 45 chassis with a new decal. Besides, it’s not like it’s unusual for teammates to share data with each other. So what if they used Kurt’s notes? Bubba was every bit as fast in the spring, he just had pit road issues and got sent to the back.

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