NASCAR: Bubba Wallace is in unfamiliar territory

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images) /

Halfway through the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Bubba Wallace finds himself in a provisional playoff position. Can he hold on?

Following his second consecutive top five finish in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

With 13 points races down and 13 to go on this year’s regular season schedule, the driver of the No. 23 Toyota currently occupies a playoff spot.

Nine drivers have won a race this season, and Wallace ranks sixth highest in the standings among those who haven’t found victory lane. Sitting in 15th place in the point standings, he sits 23 points above the provisional playoff cut line.

Wallace, the only driver in the top 18 who has never qualified for the playoffs, has certainly taken advantage of the fact that Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman have missed a number of races.

Based on average points per start, Bubba Wallace would be sitting in 17th place, outside of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture.

He would be 36 points behind RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher for the final spot.

But given his recent improvement in form, which includes a runner-up finish in the non-points All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, he has positioned himself to significantly reduce the doubt if he can keep it going.

Wallace has recorded five top 12 finishes in the last six points races, with the only exception being his Talladega Superspeedway DNF, which came when he crashed from the lead on the final lap. Take away that crash, and his playoff position looks even more promising, even without a win.

He knows that it will probably take a win for him to get into the playoffs, since more new winners will likely emerge during the second half of the regular season, thus moving up the cut line.

“I think a win is what it’s going to take to get locked in,” Wallace told Beyond the Flag.

Winning hasn’t been an issue for Wallace. Just two drivers won a playoff race in both 2021 and 2022, and he is one of them. The other is Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, who won the 2021 championship.

The problem? Wallace, whose wins came at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2021 and Kansas Speedway in September 2022, has never actually qualified for the playoffs.

“It would ease a lot of our minds if we can go ahead and get that win early,” he continued. “We seem to be a win in the playoffs type team – when we’re not even in the playoffs! If we can get there beforehand, I think then we’ll be really strong when the playoffs do come.”

The 29-year-old Mobile, Alabama native simply needs to get over the regular season hump, but that can be easier said than done.

Following a rough start, with five finishes of 20th place or worse in the season’s first seven races, accompanied by comments that he “needs to be replaced”, he has shown he has the speed, and 23XI Racing have certainly shown that they have cars capable of running at the front.

Wallace starting on the front row and then battling back to fifth place after a poor early pit stop at Darlington Raceway is evidence of that. Just six drivers have more top five finishes than Wallace does this year, and two of his three have come in the last two points races.

It is worth mentioning that Wallace went on a hot streak last season as well, with four consecutive top eight finishes, including three in the top five, late in the regular season. But it was too little, too late; he had only finished higher than 10th place once in the season’s first 19 races, and he was never in the discussion for a playoff spot, barring a surprise late regular season victory.

But this time around, Wallace enters the second half of the regular season with a playoff spot that is his to lose, and a car capable of ensuring he doesn’t lose it. Can he capitalize?

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The second half of the regular season is scheduled to get underway this Sunday, May 28 with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the longest race on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. It is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!