NASCAR: Does Bubba Wallace need to be replaced?

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

Bubba Wallace stated that he “needs to be replaced” by 23XI Racing after crashing out of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace saw his EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix come to an early end up Sunday afternoon at Circuit of the Americas, collecting his third DNF in six NASCAR Cup Series so far this season in the process.

Wallace appeared to lock up his brakes and drove his No. 23 Toyota into the rear of Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson (unintentionally, unlike his last instance of contact with the No. 5 Chevrolet), damaging both cars.

While Larson was able to rally for a 14th place finish, Wallace was unable to continue. A broken toe link, coupled with additional mechanical issues, left him staring at a 37th place DNF.

He scored just one point, leaving him in a 19th place tie in the point standings with a points per race average that ranks only 22nd among 34 full-time drivers.

Teammate Tyler Reddick, meanwhile, went on to win the race. His three-race streak of top five finishes has made his rough start with 23XI Racing seem like a distant memory.

Wallace, who has been known to be hard on himself after making mistakes in the past, took the same approach after being knocked out of Sunday’s 75-lap race around the 20-turn, 3.426-mile (5.514-kilometer) Austin, Texas road course on lap 11.

Noting that he has now made “rookie mistakes” in two straight races in his sixth season as a full-time driver, he stated that he needs to be replaced.

The 29-year-old Mobile, Alabama native now has four finishes or 20th place or worse this season, and he has only finished higher than 14th once, when he finished in fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It is true that many view this as a “put up or shut up” type season for Wallace, who has never qualified for the playoffs since becoming a full-time Cup Series driver in 2018.

He joined 23XI Racing in 2021 and won a race in both 2021 and 2022, but his wins both came in the playoffs after he had already failed to qualify.

He did get somewhat of a “playoff” experience in 2022, however, since he was replacing Kurt Busch behind the wheel of the No. 45 Toyota and the No. 45 team was a playoff team when he won September’s race at Kansas Speedway.

But as far as needing to be replaced, that is just Bubba Wallace speaking in the moment and being too hard on himself.

There was definite progress from 2021, which was only the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned team’s first year in the sport, to 2022, and Wallace added some much-needed consistency down the stretch. He is also reportedly competing on a multi-year deal, so it’s not like he is on the hot seat.

Surely watching his teammate win and prove that 23XI Racing still have race-winning cars won’t help Wallace’s confidence in himself, but it’s a long season. He has never been all that great in road course races, and there are several tracks on the upcoming schedule where he has been a contender in the past, including the two tracks where he has won.

While a DNF, especially one brought on by a “rookie mistake”, is always frustrating, there is little to no need for Wallace to panic.

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As far as being “replaced”, no chance, unless he ends up in a situation where he sidelines himself from competition. And I’m not sure that anybody sees that happening, given the fact that Sunday’s reaction was a heat-of-the-moment type reaction at best.