By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.
For the second time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Bubba Wallace came agonizingly close to winning the biggest prize in stock car racing, finishing second to Austin Cindric in Sunday’s 64th running of the Daytona 500.
With proven equipment from 23XI Racing underneath him and a Cup win under his belt, having won at Talladega last fall, Wallace came into the season looking to build on last season’s performance in his second season with his new team, nearly doing so on NASCAR’s biggest stage.
In the closing stages of the race, Wallace traded the lead with Cindric back and forth before finding himself shuffled out of the pack with 20 laps remaining in regulation
However, when the Great American Race was pushed to overtime, Wallace had his opportunity, even though he might have had his work cut out for him to be able to make a run at the win.
Most of his Toyota teammates had already been sidelined earlier in the race and Wallace’s No. 23 McDonalds sponsored machine was wounded itself with a portion of the right-front fender missing after sustaining damage in the crash that triggered the overtime period.
Nonetheless, Wallace held steady as he was able to get a shove from Aric Almirola on the final lap to allow him to pull up just behind Cindric and Ryan Blaney as the field stormed off of Turn 4 for the final time.
When Blaney juked high to try and make a move on Cindric for the win and Cindric moving up to block, Wallace had his shot and took it. Wallace was able to pull alongside Cindric in the final run toward the finish, coming up half a car-length short of the victory.
As Cindric went on to celebrate his first Cup Series win, in the Daytona 500 no less, Wallace was left to wonder what might have been.
After climbing from his car, Wallace took a moment to compose himself, making note of the rookie’s win and explained how he was feeling about coming so close to winning at Daytona yet again.
“That’s pretty damn cool to win the 500 in I think the first attempt, maybe not. But full season for him, so congrats to Austin,” Wallace said.
“What could have been, right? Man, need to talk about some happy stuff here. Just dejected, but the thing that keeps me up is just the hard work that we put into our speedway stuff and the hard work from everybody at 23-11, proud of them, can’t thank them enough.
“I knew this was a big move last year for me to go out and be competitive, and we’re showing that.”
“It’s always the first race of the season and you’re getting through everything, but when you come out of the gates like that, it’s empowering, it’s encouraging. So thanks, everybody, back at the shop, McDonald’s, almost got them another one, back-to-back superspeedway wins. That would have been awesome, especially with it being the 500. But just short…
“Great Speedweeks, though. We’ll come home second. I’m going to be pissed off about this one for a while. I was happy on the first second place we got a couple years ago. This one sucks when you’re that close, but all-in-all, happy for our team, happy for our partners, and on to California.”