NASCAR: Bubba Wallace is still on pace for his best season

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Despite a rocky start to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with 23XI Racing, Bubba Wallace is still on pace for a career year.

Bubba Wallace made the gamble at the end of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season to leave Richard Petty Motorsports, where he had spent the last three seasons behind the wheel of the #43 Chevrolet, and make the move to a brand new team for 2021.

That new team, 23XI Racing, is a team owned by Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan. They are a Toyota team that formed a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, much like those had by Furniture Row Racing and Leavine Family Racing in recent years.

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Wallace entered the season with the goal of winning two races and making the playoffs, and Jordan joked that they “don’t sign checks for losers”, noting that he had every belief in Wallace’s talent and that the team wouldn’t have signed him to drive the #23 Toyota otherwise.

But the start of the 2021 season has presented multiple challenges for the #23 team.

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Every other driver inside the top 25 in the point standings has finished in the top 15 at least once, but Wallace’s top finish is still his 17th place finish from the Daytona 500, when he was involved in a last-lap crash after going one lap off the lead lap due to a late unscheduled pit stop. So his best result is a DNF.

Since then, his best finish is 22nd place, which is better than that of only five other full-time drivers during that three-race span: Petty Ware Racing’s Cody Ware (25th), MBM Motorsports’ Timmy Hill (29th), Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie (31st), Rick Ware Racing’s Josh Bilicki (33rd) and StarCom Racing’s Quin Houff (33rd).

Suffice it to say that these aren’t the only five drivers whom Wallace should be consistently beating.

However, even with all of this considered, Wallace is still on pace for a career year.

Of course, this isn’t to say that he and the team won’t need to step up at some point in the near future.

They absolutely will, especially considering how they scored a decent chunk of their points. Wallace scored nine points with his second place finish in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying race for the Daytona 500, and he scored 12 points with his finishes of seventh and third in the first two stages of the Daytona 500.

He has only 55 of his 76 total points from actual race finishes, a mark which would not rank inside the top 25.

But another part of this equation has to do with the fact that even with all of these struggles considered, Wallace still sits in 20th place in the point standings, which is two spots higher than his career-high finish of 22nd from last year, and he sits just 14 points behind the playoff cut line.

Despite not having any finishes higher than 17th place, the #23 team entered the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a 15th place tie in the point standings — in a provisional playoff spot.

They only dropped five positions to 20th with their 28th place finish, which came several laps down as a result of an early mechanical issue.

So 23XI Racing should only improve from here, and thanks to those 21 extra points Wallace scored at Daytona, they really aren’t all that far behind to begin with.

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Where will Wallace finish in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship standings? Will he finish with a career-high result, and will he make the playoffs? Will he add his name to the first-time winner list at some point before the year ends, and if so, where and when will he do it?