Bubba Wallace has a new accomplishment to put on his personal Mount Rushmore after earning his first berth in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
“I don’t have a lot of things on my Mount Rushmore,” Wallace said on Saturday night after the regular-season finale in Daytona. “I got two faces with my two wins; I’ll put this as the third face up there. It’s pretty special.
“Just relieved. I don’t have much emotion, just relieved, drained mentally. Glad we’ve got the day off tomorrow because I’ll be hurting on Monday.”
Wallace made it to the end of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 after missing a multi-car crash on lap 95, finishing 12th to take the final spot on the playoff grid through points. He joins teammate Tyler Reddick in the postseason, which is the first time 23XI Racing has qualified both cars for the playoffs.
“I’m really proud of the whole 23XI team to get two cars in the playoffs in just our third year,” co-owner Denny Hamlin said. “It’s a testament to all of the hard work they’ve been putting in. You can’t do it without your manufacturer in Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing for the alliance and the team itself for putting fast cars on the race track and on top of that, the drivers working to get better.
“We’ve seen a really big shift for Bubba getting better. He’s stepping up, and I look forward to seeing what he does.”
With how Saturday night’s race played out, Wallace could not be overtaken for the spot by another driver on points and would only have been kept out of the postseason if there was a new winner.
Race winner Buescher and Wallace are former teammates from the Xfinity Series driving for Jack Roush, and Wallace said over his team radio after the checkered flag that he’s never “loved” Buescher so much.
Buescher crossed the finish line ahead of Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott. A victory by Almirola and Elliott would have kept Wallace from making the postseason.
“I’ll finally let the Dover beef go,” Wallace joked of Buescher, who ran into him for the race lead in 2015 for the Dover victory.
Wallace went to Daytona as the driver that 14 others were chasing. The spot Wallace occupied on the playoff grid was the only one available going into the regular season finale.
“I’m just relieved,” Wallace said. “I apologized to my wife (Amanda) all week. I haven’t been myself – I’ve been stressing. Thankful that we are in it. That is the most calm I’ve ever been. It’s (butt) backward. You come to Daytona and you focus so much on controlling the things that you can control. My stubborn (butt) never wants to listen to people telling me that. I finally did that, and we are locked in.
“What an incredible feat for our 23 team. I had a heart-to-heart with my team after Atlanta after qualifying. I said if we got our (expletive) together, we can do great things in the playoffs. I’m so proud of the team from top down, very thankful.”