For Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing, a third-place finish in Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway brought some much-needed, uninterrupted success to the second-year team.
With Sunday’s run marking Wallace’s eighth career top-five result in the NASCAR Cup Series – and tying his career-high finish on a non-superspeedway — the Mobile, Alabama-native put together a masterful display of his abilities, something further aided by his team’s ability to have a clean race on pit road.
“Yeah, I’m just proud of the team, proud of myself, proud of everybody at the shop,” said Bubba Wallace. “They brought a – I’m going to give them a “decent” DraftKings Toyota Camry TRD. It didn’t handle great but it had speed, so we knew that. Just the mental preparation, had to set yourself up for a long day, and we did.”
Even though the end result of the 301-lap contest wasn’t a trip to victory lane, Wallace easily had one of – if not – the best drives of his 168-race career in the NASCAR Cup Series, consistently staying inside the top-10 all day long.
According to NASCAR’s Loop Data from Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Wallace recorded an Average Running Position (ARP) of 6.28 during the event, easily the best ARP of the 28-year-old’s NASCAR Cup Series career.
“We had no idea what we were running there at the end. I knew it was inside the top-five.” Wallace continued. “But just tire management there at the end and we were able to capitalize. Just proud of everybody. Happy. It’s been hell for me the last month, so good to come out with a top-five.”
In a similar fashion to Kurt Busch, Wallace’s teammate at 23XI Racing, the No. 23 has shown incredible speed throughout the season, but have fallen victim to various different issues throughout the year, which have negatively altered the team’s statline.
“What a day. Great weekend here at Loudon,” Wallace said in a post-race video posted to Twitter. “Proud of our team, executed all day. We’ve had this speed and it’s good to finally put a race together and showcase what we deserved, what we’ve been showing all year. Proud of everybody. Onto Pocono with some momentum.”
Throughout the season, one of the main points of frustration for both Wallace and 23XI Racing’s flagship team, the No. 23, has been the performance of the pit crew. On multiple occasions, slow pit stops, or pit road penalties had been a hindrance in the results for the team, despite having fast cars.
Prior to Atlanta, Joe Gibbs Racing called for a change on the pit crews of Wallace and Christopher Bell, as the team realized things weren’t running at optimal performance capability. A swap of the Front Tire Changer and Tire Carrier on the No. 20 and No. 23 was the chosen route.
Just two races into the switch, things look like they’ve been successful, with Wallace recording a third-place result and Christopher Bell securing his second NASCAR Cup Series victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
After 20 NASCAR Cup Series events this season, Wallace sits 23rd in regular-season point standings, 345 points behind Chase Elliott, who leads the points after New Hampshire. However, with a record-tying 14 winners through 20 races, the playoff situation is direr.
Wallace’s objective over the next six weeks is pretty cut-and-dry as he looks to make the playoffs for the first time. Sitting 230 points behind the cutline, the 28-year-old will need to win – at least – one of the next six races to advance to the 16-driver post-season.
Of the final six races, the 23XI Racing driver has found some success, in the form of top-10 finishes, at Pocono, Michigan, and Daytona, three places that seem to fit the mold for a potential breakthrough victory for the No. 23 team.
Even if Wallace were to secure a massive victory in the remaining regular-season events, there would be no guarantee of a berth into the playoffs, as three new winners – or two new winners with Blaney securing the regular-season title while winless — would knock the lowest single winner out of the post-season.
Currently, that driver would be Chase Briscoe, who at 17th-place in point standings, still sits 76 points ahead of Wallace.
If Wallace, 23XI Racing, and Toyota can continue to show the speed they have over the last couple of months, there is a legitimate possibility we could be talking about Bubba Wallace in victory lane, and the Playoffs, when the 10-race post-season gets underway in the Fall.