NASCAR: Bubba Wallace’s team eliminated from playoffs

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

Bubba Wallace may be a NASCAR Cup Series playoff driver for the first time in his career, but his No. 23 team can finish no higher than 17th place in the owner standings.

23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace entered Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway occupying the 16th and final spot in the provisional playoff picture.

He was one of 17 drivers who could lock up that playoff spot by winning the 163-lap Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida, and he was one of only three drivers who could lock it up on points.

By the end of stage two, Wallace knew that nobody could pass him for the spot on points, meaning that either he or one of the 15 drivers already locked into the playoffs needed to win the race in order for him to secure his first career postseason berth. Another winner would have eliminated him.

A number of drivers, including Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott, came close to swiping the spot, but thanks to RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher earning his third win of the 2023 season, Wallace retained that spot.

However, Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 team failed to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series owner playoffs.

While this topic doesn’t generally get much attention, since the playoff field typically consists of drivers who driver the same cars each and every race, the driver playoffs and the owner playoffs are separate from one another.

Instead of Wallace’s No. 23 team, it was Elliott’s No. 9 team which took the 16th and final spot in the owner standings. Elliott himself missed seven races this season and failed to qualify for the playoffs, but the points scored by his replacements in the seven races he missed still count toward the No. 9 team’s point total in the owner standings.

With the No. 9 team having scored more points than the No. 23 team overall, the former made it in while the latter did not.

So while Elliott has been eliminated from championship contention, he is still set to compete for an owner title, and while Wallace can still compete for a championship, his team can finish no higher than 17th place in the owner standings.

Ironically, Wallace found himself in Elliott’s spot last year. Teammate Kurt Busch qualified for the playoffs with a regular season win, but due to an injury, he withdrew from the postseason and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney got in instead. However, Busch’s win remained tied to his No. 45 team, so the No. 45 team, not Blaney’s No. 12 team, competed in the owner playoffs.

With Busch out, 23XI Racing moved Wallace from the No. 23 Toyota to the No. 45 Toyota for the playoffs. Wallace himself was not a playoff driver, but he was the No. 45 team’s representative in its quest for an owner championship. Meanwhile, Blaney was a playoff driver, but his No. 12 team could finish no higher than 17th place in the standings.

The circumstances are a bit different, but Elliott is effectively in Wallace’s position from last year, while Wallace is effectively in Blaney’s. All things considered, for the second straight year, 17 drivers have at least one championship to fight for instead of just 16.

It is worth noting that with the No. 23 team eliminated, just two organizations have all of their drivers and cars in the playoffs: RFK Racing (two) and JTG Daugherty Racing (one).

Buescher, Buescher’s No. 17 team, Brad Keselowski, Keselowski’s No. 6 team, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Stenhouse’s No. 47 team are all locked into their respective playoffs.

None of those drivers nor teams were represented in last year’s postseason, which is quite the testament to the parity we have seen throughout the start of the Next Gen era.

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Darlington Raceway is scheduled to open up the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs this Sunday, September 3 with the Cook Out Southern 500. The race is set to be broadcast live on USA Network beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!