An exhausted Bubba Wallace sat down beside his car on pit road, drank fluids and soaked in the precious moment that hundreds of naysayers maintained he couldn’t attain. The 23XI Racing driver had just overcome a 19-point deficit to advance into the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.
“I’m just slap wore out,” Wallace said after his 14th-place at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night. “I thought Daytona (final race in the regular season) was stressful, but that (Bristol) was stressful. A lot of people probably had us circled as trying too hard and making mistakes and it was the opposite.”
While a throng of media waited to talk with Wallace, his team co-owner Denny Hamlin celebrated his 51st NASCAR Cup victory in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.
Wallace, who said his Toyota’s front end was too tight, finally managed to stand up for a few minutes, but then had to sit back down on pit road. When he was asked if he wanted the media to sit down to talk with him, he responded, “No. I’m afraid some of you couldn’t get back up.”
Finally, the 29-year-old Wallace stood to answer questions and admitted it was an emotional time.
“A couple of times I got frustrated at myself, frustrated with others, but it all worked out,” Wallace says. “This is a special day. I’ve got to cherish it but can’t get complacent.”
Wallace cited the decision not to pit early in the race when the first caution period began before the 100-lap mark in the 500-lap race as the “game changer.”
“We watched last year’s race and seeing that tires were not that big of an advantage,” Wallace says. “I thought that was key and that gave us our buffer.”
Throughout Wallace’s career, he notes there have been many times he has “beat myself up” and continuing in the playoffs is important for not only his mental attitude, but the “mentals of everybody involved in this program.”
In previous years, Wallace believes he became caught up in trying to prove doubters wrong and that created problems for him.
“When you race for the team and race for yourself, all that stuff falls in line,” Wallace says.
Playoffs End for Harvick in First Round
Kevin Harvick’s final NASCAR Cup season has been one of hit-and-misses and in Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Stewart-Haas Racing team definitely experienced an off-night.
“We’ve been like that all year,” Harvick said after finishing 29th, five laps down in the 500-lap race. “I’ve had some good days and bad days, but that’s definitely the worst one I’ve had with fenders on it.
“I didn’t really have many expectations with how up and down the year has been. It is what it is and that’s probably about what we deserved.”
Truex Fights Through to Round of 12
Regular season NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. found himself in a dire situation after the first two races in the opening round of the playoffs. He entered the cutoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway seven points below the cutline.
However, when the checkered flag waved on the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, Truex found his 19th-place finish was good enough to give him a berth in the Round of 12. And, following the points reset with season-long playoff points added for race wins and stage wins, Truex is back in a tie for the top spot with William Byron heading into the Round of 12.
“All-in-all, it was just a fighting night,” Truex says. “It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.
“You never really knew what you needed to do. The 4 (Kevin Harvick) had a really terrible night. We got too tight, but track position … we were pretty OK there. Once we lost it, just forget about it. It was plowing tight, blowing the right front off. There wasn’t a whole lot that I could do.”
Logano Won’t Defend Title
A six-car crash in the second half of Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway sent Joey Logano packing from this year’s playoffs.
The defending series champion entered the final race in the Round of 16 a dozen points above the cutline, but by the end of the first 125 laps he had fallen to 24th and the night continued to get worse. By the time the 500-lap race’s final 250 laps began Logano was 27th, one lap down.
It was lap 262 that sealed Logano’s playoff fate. After colliding with Erik Jones, Cory LaJoie spun at the end of the backstretch and when he came back up the track, he collected Logano, Ryan Newman, Justin Haley and Ty Dillon in turn three. Logano noted a lack of speed in his Ford left him in a vulnerable position.
“It’s our own fault,” Logano says. “You don’t go fast enough, you’re in the back and they wreck in front of you at Bristol on a restart and you’re going so fast that you can’t whoa up or turn or do anything and you get kind of pile drove into the wreck.
“You’re behind the wall and you’re in denial for a minute. You don’t want to believe that it happened, and you want to think that it’s fixable, but the car was tore up too bad.”
Logano says it seems like his Team Penske Ford has been off at every track this year.
“It takes something different out of a driver to drive a car in 15th and tonight we weren’t even that,” Logano says. “It’s a little uncharacteristic for us right now and we just have to go to work and keep our heads down and stay faithful in each other, keep trusting each other that we can figure it out. It’s still the same team that won the championship last year. We’re a little lost at the moment.”
NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race
Bristol Motor Speedway
Saturday, September 16, 2023
1. (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 500.
2. (36) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 500.
3. (1) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 500.
4. (20) Chris Buescher (P), Ford, 500.
5. (8) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 500.
6. (4) Michael McDowell (P), Ford, 500.
7. (7) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 500.
8. (6) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 500.
9. (3) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 500.
10. (25) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (P), Chevrolet, 500.
11. (16) Carson Hocevar(i), Chevrolet, 499.
12. (17) Ryan Preece, Ford, 499.
13. (13) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 499.
14. (9) Bubba Wallace (P), Toyota, 499.
15. (12) Tyler Reddick (P), Toyota, 499.
16. (30) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 499.
17. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 499.
18. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 499.
19. (5) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 498.
20. (15) Kyle Busch (P), Chevrolet, 498.
21. (24) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 498.
22. (11) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 498.
23. (23) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 498.
24. (31) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 497.
25. (10) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 497.
26. (35) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 495.
27. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 495.
28. (32) Harrison Burton, Ford, 495.
29. (21) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 495.
30. (22) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 491.
31. (34) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 490.
32. (29) Austin Cindric, Ford, 488.
33. (33) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 263.
34. (28) Joey Logano (P), Ford, Accident, 262.
35. (19) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, Accident, 261.
36. (27) Ryan Newman, Ford, Accident, 260.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 94.99 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 48 Mins, 20 Secs. Margin of Victory: 2.437 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 53 laps.
Lead Changes: 10 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Bell (P) 1-71;C. LaJoie 72-119;C. Bell (P) 120-178;K. Larson (P) 179-198;C. Bell (P) 199-255;T. Gibbs # 256-353;D. Hamlin (P) 354;T. Gibbs # 355-358;D. Hamlin (P) 359-364;C. Buescher (P) 365;D. Hamlin (P) 366-500.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Christopher Bell (P) 3 times for 187 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 3 times for 142 laps; Ty Gibbs # 2 times for 102 laps; Corey LaJoie 1 time for 48 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 1 time for 20 laps; Chris Buescher (P) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 20,7,23,24,45,1,6,5,19,54
Stage #2 Top Ten: 20,54,5,11,42,34,17,24,41,9