NASCAR: Bubba Wallace finds himself in an unfamiliar position

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

With just four races remaining on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season schedule, Bubba Wallace finds himself in a provisional playoff spot.

23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace may be a two-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner, but in his sixth season as a full-time driver, he is still seeking his first career playoff berth. In fact, he is the only driver in the playoff era (2004 to present) with multiple playoff wins and no playoff appearances.

In his first season with the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned team in 2021, Wallace won a rain-shortened playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway. But with just two top 10 finishes in the regular season, he was never a serious threat to qualify for the postseason.

Then in 2022, Wallace again failed to qualify for the playoffs, yet he once again won a playoff race, this time at Kansas Speedway.

Interestingly, he still gained playoff experience last year, since he was moved from the No. 23 Toyota to the No. 45 Toyota due to Kurt Busch’s injury. The No. 45 team was still championship eligible in the owner playoffs, so while Wallace himself wasn’t competing for a title, he was still able to carry the No. 45 team to the round of 12.

Now the 29-year-old Mobile, Alabama native, whose career-high finish in the point standings is 19th place, finds himself in an unfamiliar spot with just four races remaining on the 26-race 2023 regular season schedule.

Bubba Wallace currently sits in the 15th of 16 NASCAR Cup Series playoff spots, 54 points ahead of the cut line.

While 54 points may seem like a comfortable gap, Wallace is far from safe. New winners over the course of the next four races could move the cut line up, which could push him closer to it or perhaps even below it. Just four spots remain occupied by non-winners.

The cut line still resides between the 16th and 17th place drivers in the point standings, and Wallace has spent the better part of the last few months sitting on the plus side of it.

But keep in mind what happened last season, when the cut line ended up between the third and fourth place drivers because of how many winners there were and where those winners finished the regular season in the point standings.

In fact, the third place driver, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, only got into the playoffs because of Busch’s injury and subsequent playoff withdrawal. Believe it or not, Blaney would have missed the postseason entirely even with a second place finish, had Busch not gotten injured.

So right now, the playoff cut line is in a favorable spot for Wallace, given the stark contrast to what we saw only a year ago.

But considering the fact that three of the final four races of the regular season are what could be considered “wild card” races, with two road course races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen International and one drafting/superspseedway race at Daytona International Speedway, we could very well be in for some surprise winners before the playoffs begin.

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is now offering fans $100 just for betting $5, lists Wallace at +1400 to win this Sunday afternoon’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, where he placed a regular season-best second after starting from the pole position last year and figures to be a contender once again this weekend.

Road course racing has not been one of Wallace’s strengths, so it would not be surprising to see him lose ground to the cut line after this weekend if he is unable to come away with the Michigan victory.

But he will probably be priced in the +1000 to +1600 range for the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway, given his success in superspeedway races.

All things considered, the final four races of the regular season could go either way for Wallace when it comes to locking up his first career appearance in the 16-driver postseason. FanDuel lists him right on the bubble as the 16th favorite to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship at +6500.

Odds and availability are subject to change, so lock in your $100 now by making any $5 bet!

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This Sunday afternoon’s FireKeepers Casino 400 is set to be broadcast live from Michigan International Speedway on USA Network beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. If you have yet to start a free trial of FuboTV, do so today!