With the #45 team in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, does Bubba Wallace’s win mean that he can still win the 2022 championship?
23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace earned his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway, making the #45 team the first to clinch a spot in the round of 12 of the playoffs.
No round of 12 berths were clinched in the first round of 16 race at Darlington Raceway. Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones won that race, and neither Jones nor his #43 team qualified for the postseason despite top 16 regular season points finishes.
But even though the #45 team is now locked into the second round, Wallace is still not eligible to win the championship.
The regular season saw 16 different winners. But with one of those winners, 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch, opting to withdraw his name from the 16-driver playoffs since he is still recovering from the concussion-like symptoms he suffered after his qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway back in July, only 15 winners qualified.
That opened up a spot for Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, the highest finishing non-winner in the regular season standings.
However, because Busch won the race at Kansas Speedway back in May behind the wheel of the #45 Toyota, the #45 team kept its position in the owner playoffs. On the owner side, the team’s points and wins are tied to the team, not a specific driver.
Blaney’s #12 team therefore failed to qualify for the playoffs and is not championship eligible. Despite the fact that Blaney can still win the championship, the #12 team can place no higher than 17th in the owner standings.
So with Busch out but the #45 team still in title contention, 23XI Racing opted to move Wallace to the #45 Toyota for the playoffs.
Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Gibbs has served as Busch’s replacement since his crash, and 23XI Racing felt that a more experienced driver in Wallace could bolster their chances of an owner championship for the #45 team. Gibbs was moved over to Wallace’s #23 Toyota.
However, Wallace himself still cannot win the title, even though the #45 team is now locked into the round of 12.
Wallace finished the regular season in 20th place in the point standings (#23 team was 21st in the owner standings), and because he did not win a regular season race, he and the team failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Interestingly, Wallace has now won a playoff race in each of the last two seasons, yet he is still seeking his first playoff berth.
Despite not being eligible to win the championship for himself, Wallace’s battle for the #45 team’s owner championship is still providing him with valuable playoff experience, since the playoff advancements work the same exact way on the owner side as they do on the driver side.
With the 16 playoff drivers usually representing the 16 playoff teams, however, the owner championship usually doesn’t generate this much attention.
Busch’s extended absence — and Wallace’s recent success — have certainly changed that.