By David Morgan, Associate Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Bubba Wallace started the 2022 season on a high note, finishing second in the Daytona 500, but since then he and 23XI Racing have been on a downward trajectory.
As the NASCAR Cup Series heads into Talladega, where Wallace was victorious last fall, the 28-year-old is hoping Sunday’s GEICO 500 will get the No. 23 team pointed back in the right direction.
Wallace is no slouch on the superspeedways, with four top-five finishes at Daytona, including two runner-up finishes in the last two races at the track. Though that success has not translated into the same success at Talladega, with the exception of his win in October, Wallace expects to be in the mix when it comes down to it on race day.
Add in the fact that he’s returns to the track where he scored his first win, the confidence is definitely there.
“I sit here and think about it a lot and people put so much emphasis on the win,” Wallace said. “We talk about it, talk about it, talk about it and it builds it up. I just like to keep it low key, under the radar. That’s how I like to roll about life. Some people may disagree. But it is special to be here. I’m excited.
“I know how good our speedway cars are and if Freddie (Kraft, spotter) and I do what we can to do at these speedway races like we’ve been doing then I know we will have a shot to win. It’s a team effort. I’m not just singling out Freddie, but as long as we stay in the race and maintain where we are at and just have a fighting chance, it will be a good day. That’s what I look forward to the most. I don’t set any special mindsets for these speedway races.
“Daytona, we just happened to be there at the right time and capitalized on the opportunity. Coming off of turn four at Daytona, I said hell, I’m going to push (Ryan) Blaney to the win because I’ve got no shot with the way we were kind of single file. Well, not single file, but where I was at. I was like I’ve got no shot, then it just so happened that I almost won the damn thing.
“Talladega last year, Bootie (Barker, crew chief) said get us to the front and we did that. Just having the chance, having the opportunity, to be there at the right time, that is what it is all about.”
Wallace won’t be flying solo in his bid to return to Victory Lane at Talladega, as he’ll look to lean on teammate Kurt Busch and the other Toyota drivers to make sure one of their cars ends up at the top of the pylon when the checkered flag waves.
“We’ve got to work together,” Wallace said. “I think it’s important for us to work together. There is only six of us, so just to have a gameplan. These races have become such a manufacturer race.”
However, Wallace noted that the emphasis on working with teammates can only go so far and there comes a point in the race when you have to do your own thing.
“You do have your own goal and for us, it’s not to wreck and be there at the end,” Wallace said. “If you see that you are in a sketchy situation where you are helping out your teammates, you do have a decision to bail because you do have to look out for yourself at the end of the day.
“It’s a fine line of walking – selfish versus unselfish – and so I think sometimes we talk a big game, and nothing happens. If you get some drivers that will stand behind their words and will work with you all day, it’s been good. What we were seeing at Daytona, we worked really well together. Kyle (Busch) was pushing a lot. It’s there. I’m looking forward to our race, working with our teammates and seeing how it goes.”
When the green flag waves on Sunday, Wallace will roll off from ninth place. The GEICO 500 is scheduled for 3:00 pm ET on FOX.