By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2020 will go down as a day both NASCAR and Bubba Wallace will remember.
On a night the Cup Series ran its first full night race at Martinsville Speedway, the sport shifted into the right direction by banning confederate flags in their events and Wallace was sporting the Black Lives Matter “Compassion, Love and Understanding” livery on his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
Wallace’s ride garnered tremendous praise from fellow black athletes like NBA star LeBron James and NFL star Alvin Kamara, which Wallace acknowledged theirs and others support as he’s been the face of the sport during difficult times in our country.
Even before the green flag waved for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, Wallace made it clear that his 87th Cup Series start was going to be the biggest day of his career.
“Bravo! Props to NASCAR and everybody involved. This has been a stressful couple of weeks. This is no doubt the biggest race of my career,” Wallace before the race and his thoughts on the sport banning the flag. “It couldn’t be at a more perfect place where I got my first win in the Truck Series in 2013. Followed it up with the second one in 2014.
“There’s a lot of emotions. All on the race track and off the race track that are riding with us. Today has been special, again thanks to NASCAR. (Steve) Phelps (NASCAR President) have been in contact a lot and just trying to figure out what step is next. That was a huge pivotal moment for the sport.
“Lot of backlash, but it creates doors and allows the community come together as one. That’s what the real mission is here and I’m excited about that. Just got to keep going on tonight. We were told by my tire guy to run (the left front) part of that car into people and get them out of the way, but we’ll show a lot of compassion, love and understanding while we do it.”
From getting good luck wishes and support by both NASCAR official Kirk Price and Hispanic racer Daniel Suarez, the task was simple for the two-time Truck Series Martinsville winner, deliver on the “best damn track in the world” as he described over the radio.
The 23rd place starter wasted no time to move his Chevy towards the front of the field as he was gaining spots left and right. If certain things go Wallace’s way, a potential shot at a top-five, maybe a win was apparent.
Fast forward to Lap 112 when the 3rd caution came out for the stalled car of Timmy Hill, a game of strategy began to unravel.
Wallace’s crew chief Jerry Baxter told him over the radio:
“We’re going to gamble,” said Baxter.
“I like going to Vegas,” Wallace replied.
That gamble was going for two tires and it paid off as he beat the front-running duo of Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer off pit road (both opting for four tires) in first. However, due to Corey LaJoie staying out, Wallace had to restart in second.
Bowyer made it difficult for Wallace to make a charge for the lead on LaJoie, shuffling him out of line and wound up getting fifth in Stage 1, won by Logano.
This was far from the first time those two have had moments as back in March, Wallace ended up exiting an iRacing event at Bristol due to an incident with Bowyer. This consequently led race title sponsor Blue-Emu dropping Wallace as a primary sponsor. As you’d imagine, Wallace had enough of Bowyer.
“No more chances for the 14,” Wallace to his team following the opening stage.
The following pit stop proved to be a turning point of the race as Wallace just made it out of the pits without running into Erik Jones nor Ryan Preece colliding into him.
Then Wallace found out that a damaged droop chain took place, forcing the jack pump being utilized three times instead of one going forward.
“That was unfortunate,” said Wallace. “Our left rear wasn’t getting off to the ground completely, so we had to do three pumps.”
Additionally, aerodynamics took a beating with a possible hole on the nose and later on sustained damage on the left rear where Richard Petty painted a peace hand on that side of Wallace’s machine.
Ultimately, it really didn’t faze Wallace as he still soldiered onto a respectable sixth-place result in Stage 2, ending up with a total of 11 stage points.
Same can’t be said during the final stage as Wallace started off very slow, not because of the droop chain as the No. 43 team managed to exit alright, but the race pace wasn’t there up until the very end.
Once it came down to the final 50 laps, Wallace was faster than eventual race winner Martin Truex, Jr, but was at one point the last car on the lead lap. Crunch time ensued as he dropped the hammer and was on the charge for a third top-10 this season.
Wallace got by the Roush Fenway Racing duo of Chris Buescher and Ryan Newman and put himself in prime position of duking it out with seven-time Cup champion and nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson for the 10th spot.
The duo fought hard but the lapped car of Cole Custer halted the more ideal result for Wallace as he crossed the line in 11th, a few tenths off from a top-10.
“It was bad ass racing with seven-time at the end,” Wallace on racing Johnson. “Jimmie has won so many times here and we’re running him down. That’s hats off to the guys. Great job fellas.”
After the race, Wallace described the emotional Wednesday night’s race as another example why Martinsville is his favorite place on the NASCAR calendar.
“Man, our car was so good. Our Black Lives Matter Chevrolet, that’s good to say right there, was so good on the long run so we definitely didn’t need those cautions towards the end of the race,” said Wallace. “All-in-all, greatd job coming here to execute. No practice. My favorite place and it just continues to show.”