NASCAR: Why was Bubba Wallace in last year’s playoffs?

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Kansas Speedway, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Kansas Speedway, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite not being a playoff driver, Bubba Wallace got his first taste of NASCAR Cup Series playoff experience a year ago. How was this possible?

For the first time in his six-year NASCAR Cup Series career, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace has qualified for the playoffs.

While he was not one of the 13 playoff-eligible regular season race winners, he secured the 16th and final playoff spot as one of the top three winless drivers in the point standings.

However, Wallace did technically get a taste of playoff experience last season. He was still competing for a championship, despite not being playoff eligible himself after a winless regular season which saw him finish in 20th place in the point standings.

There were 16 different winners during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series regular season.

One of those winners was 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch, who won in May at Kansas Speedway. But after suffering a head injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway, Busch was not cleared to return for the playoffs, so he gave up his playoff spot. The first driver outside of the playoff picture, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, took the 16th and final playoff spot instead.

But while Busch himself was not in the playoffs, his win at Kansas remained tied to the No. 45 team, meaning that the No. 45 team was still one of the 16 teams in the owner playoffs. Blaney’s No. 12 team did not take that spot and thus did not make it into the owner playoffs.

Ty Gibbs, then in his first full Xfinity Series season, was the driver who replaced Busch in the final six races of the regular season. But with the No. 45 team in the owner playoffs, 23XI Racing made the decision to bolster the No. 45 team’s chances to advance in the postseason by moving the more experienced Wallace from his regular No. 23 Toyota to the No. 45 Toyota.

So while Wallace himself couldn’t win the 2022 championship, the No. 45 team was still eligible for the owner championship, and the move did pay off to some extent.

As the No. 45 team’s playoff representative, Wallace won the round of 16 playoff race at Kansas Speedway, making the No. 45 team the first team locked into the round of 12, where he was ultimately eliminated. The team finished in 10th place in the owner standings.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The Cook Out Southern 500 is scheduled to get the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs underway this Sunday, September 3. It set to be broadcast live on USA Network from Darlington Raceway starting at 6:00 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don’t miss it!