NASCAR: Can Bubba Wallace still make the playoffs?

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Bubba Wallace is encouraged by the strides he and 23XI Racing have made in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. But is a playoff berth still possible?

There are just five races remaining before the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes to an end, and the myth of the “win and in” playoff format has finally become exposed.

Through the first 21 races of the season, 14 different drivers have found victory lane. This means that there are currently just two drivers in the provisional 16-driver playoff picture who are in because of their point totals, and both of those drivers, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., are in the top five in the point standings.

More. Bubba Wallace hate justified?. light

By the time the regular season ends, we could very well be looking at a scenario where there are 17 or more winners, in which case the point totals of the single-race winners would determine who gets in and who doesn’t.

Bubba Wallace knows for a fact that he and the #23 23XI Racing team aren’t going to get into the playoffs on points. But he still believes that they can get there.

In their second season of operation, the team that came to fruition because of the desire of Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to turn fake news into real news has made significant strides in the speed department, despite the fact that the results haven’t always been there.

The addition of Kurt Busch in a second car has certainly helped, and Wallace is in the midst of a career year as well.

“I think for me, it’s managing the races and having a positive mindset throughout the entire race,” Wallace told Beyond the Flag when discussing his progression throughout his second year with the team. “At times there comes frustration, but some of that is just the passion, and how well you want to do.

“I told myself this year would be my best year yet. I can, strictly looking at myself, I think I’ve done the best I have throughout any of my Cup years. That’s been important for me. Just gotta continue that trend.”

But can Wallace, who finished in third place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to cap off what many have described as the most complete race of his Cup Series career, take that next step and secure his first win of the year, thus giving him an opportunity to compete in the playoffs?

“We still have 15 races left in the season, and five opportunities to lock ourselves into the playoffs,” he said. “I know we can do it. It’s just a matter of executing. It’s been an up and down year, but these last couple weeks have definitely shown that the grass is greener on the other side.”

Wallace has finished in the top eight in back-to-back races after finishing higher than 10th place on just one occasion in the season’s first 19 races. With the team striving to find consistency to pair with their obvious speed, he believes that there is no reason why these kinds of result can’t become the norm.

“No doubt,” he said without hesitation. “I think we’ve shown [it]. Our struggle points have been road courses. Our speeds haven’t really been where we want them to be, and my worst finishes have all come from road courses. It’s just a matter of cleaning up some things, but the other places, we’ve had a lot of speed everywhere.”

Of course, there have been plenty of unforced errors within the #23 camp, including one at Kansas Speedway that may have cost him the win, or at the very least, another top three finish.

“We just seem to take ourselves out — not every chance we’ve got, but it makes it tough for us to rebound back,” he continued. “It’s nice to see that the team, everybody, is on the same level, and we’re getting the finishes that we deserve.”

Wallace elaborated on his road course struggles, but with two road course races coming up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen International before the regular season ends, he insists that he is far more comfortable than he has ever been on tracks with both left-hand and right-hand turns.

He added that he actually doesn’t dislike road courses; he simply doesn’t have a good history on them. That has never been truer than it has been in 2022.

“I’m definitely more comfortable,” he admitted. “I’ve always enjoyed the road courses, I’ve just never had the best results. I’ve always kind of struggled. It’s nice switching up from the norm and doing something different. We’ve definitely shown up with speed and I’ve put in the work to be better, and it’s definitely paid off.”

But the season’s first three road courses have seen the #23 Toyota knocked out of contention due to some sort of issue out of his control.

“We had brake failure at Road America, we had engine failure at Sonoma, we had the wheel come off at COTA. The road courses haven’t been too kind to us. But we’ve had speed, somewhat, up until those moments.”

Wallace knows that he is seen as more of a superspeedway contender than anything, having won the October race at Talladega Superspeedway last year. He also has three runner-up finishes at Daytona International Speedway, including one in this year’s Daytona 500, and that track is scheduled to host the regular season finale next month.

But that isn’t the only track he views as a possible venue where he can win to vault himself into potential playoff contention.

“I think Michigan is a really good opportunity for us; our bigger track stuff has been really solid,” he stated. “I think it’s just a matter of showing up, having the right mindset, going out and competing, and putting it all together. We’ll give it our all these next five races.”

In the event that there are more than 16 winners, Wallace is in a position in the point standings where he could end up being the lowest ranking single-race winner and thus find himself out of the playoffs — even with a win.

Winning twice, however, would eliminate that discussion.

Next. Bubba Wallace out after 2023?. dark

“We gotta do whatever it takes to get in the playoffs,” he concluded. “If that’s win one, win two, win three, that’s what we need to do. It’s been a crazy year for the sport, to have this many winners at this point in the season, so who knows?