Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Bubba Wallace: ‘You’re Not Going to Take Away My Smile’

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After an emotional 24 hours, Bubba Wallace was all smiles after climbing out of his Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet at the conclusion of Monday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Not even the heinous act of an unknown person or persons placing a noose in Wallace’s garage stall late Sunday, which shook the sport to its core and made waves far and wide across the sports landscape, could deter Wallace from the path he has been on as of late.

Instead of being a deterrent, Sunday’s discovery only served to galvanize the entirety of the driving corps to rally around Wallace and the No. 43 team heading into Monday’s rain-delayed race at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

The powerful show of support culminated in an amazing moment of unity with drivers, crews, and officials joining together to push Wallace’s car to the front of the grid prior to the race. With tears in his eyes, Wallace gave hugs to a number of drivers before standing side-by-side with team owner Richard Petty, who made his first appearance at the track since the series returned to action in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier in the day, Petty expressed his anger with what happened and noted the best thing for him to do would be to stand shoulder to shoulder with his driver in solidarity.

Climbing behind the wheel, Wallace let his driving on the track do the talking for him, advancing from his 24th place starting position into the top-10 by the end of the second stage. As the final stage played out, Wallace put himself in position to take home the victory, moving into the lead on lap 161. Though he only led for a lap, Wallace remained within striking distance of the lead as the laps wound down.

Despite having the track position to try and make a run at the win, fuel mileage became a concern for him and a number of other drivers as the finish was in sight, eventually running out of gas and having to make a trip to pit road for service under the final caution flag of the day on lap 187.

Wallace ran out of gas in Turn 3 while trying to get to pit road, but got a helping hand from Corey Lajoie, who helped push Wallace’s car to pit road so he could get back in action when the race restarted.

Over the course of the final two laps of the race in overtime, Wallace tried to work his way through the field, but couldn’t get anything going and had to settle for a 14th place finish on the day.

While it wasn’t the finish he or the team would have liked to have, the rest of the field knew Wallace was there. After climbing from his car, Wallace made his way up the track to the fence lining the grandstands to share in the moment with a group of fans, many of whom were at the track for the first time.

“This is probably the most badass moment right here,” Wallace said. “It’s been tough. It’s been hell. Well, I wouldn’t say hell; it’s just been hectic you know, carrying this weight, this burden. I wouldn’t really say burden, either. I’m proud to stand where I’m at and carry a new face. Look at this (turns around to face crowd to ask) is this the first time you’re here? From Atlanta? (cheers from fans) That is so cool! The sport is changing.

“The deal that happened yesterday, sorry I’m not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was that you’re not going to take away my smile and I’m going to keep on going.

“We had a good race going today in our Victory Junction Chevrolet. But man, I know I should have won that damn race. We ran out of gas. It’s just the stars didn’t align for us complete, but all in all, we won today. The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life. From all the supporters. From drivers and crew members. Everybody here. The badass fan base; thank you guys for coming out here.

“This is truly incredible and I’m proud to be a part of this sport. Like I said earlier, I’ve got a long way to go. And we’ll keep on trucking. Another top-15 for us. We’ll take it. And, we’ll just go on to Pocono, right? I’m still smiling. I’ve got a long week ahead of me; probably a couple of weeks. Probably a couple of months, but I’ll be ready for Pocono, though.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.