As raindrops began to fall at Talladega Superspeedway with Bubba Wallace in the lead, he told his 23XI crew they better be doing a rain dance in the pits.
His prayers were answered.
Following a 40-minute delay for rain and lightning, NASCAR declared Wallace the winner.
“It’s really cool and humbling,” said Wallace, who won in his 143rd start. “I’ve gone through a lot of stuff as every athlete would. I’ve thought about this moment a lot and it’s not your traditional burnout and celebration in victory lane, which is unfortunate. This was the same feeling I had going into Martinsville 2013. Just prepared more than ever and I didn’t even do anything different.
“Just something clicked. I was like, I want to be more aggressive and make sure that we’re there at the end. Didn’t know the end would be the rain, but just had to be there. I had a good feeling about it. Thanks to everybody at 23XI Racing, Toyota, McDonalds, DoorDash, Root, Dr. Pepper. I didn’t dream about being here when I was a kid, but this is kind of a dream come true.”
The victory marked the first for 23XI Racing, the first for the 27-year-old racer—and just the second time that an African-American won a race in the Cup Series. Wendell Scott was victorious at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla. in 1963.
While there was no celebratory burnout, Wallace enjoyed the moment with his crew on the pit box before heading to a makeshift Victory Lane at his home track.
“Words can’t describe it,” Wallace said. “I never really paid too much attention to it because I didn’t want that to be the winning focus and I just want to go out and drive and be a driver and compete with all my competitors out here. This is what happens when we can focus on just going out and competing and being a driver.”
Brad Keselowski was scored second followed by Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Anthony Alfredo.
Kyle Larson was the first of the Playoff drivers to encounter calamity after Byron punted the No. 77 Chevy of Justin Allgaier into the No. 5 car on Lap 56. Larson, who entered the race with the points lead, was forced to make multiple stops for repairs on the front left side wheel well and to adjust the toe. The stage ended on Lap 60 with Chris Buescher in the lead followed by his fellow Fords—Logano, Keselowski and Harvick.
The leaders came to pit road—where the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team knocked a valve stem off of the tire during the stop. Harvick was forced to re-pit and restarted 26th. Larson lost a lap when his car wouldn’t re-fire, but that was the least of his worries. After Tyler Reddick led the field back to green, and Larson was able to make minimum speed, he cut a tire in Turn 2 and was forced to pit again.
Since Larson was the catalyst for the caution, the No. 5 team was under the Damaged Vehicle Policy again. This time, crew chief Cliff Daniels didn’t hesitate to ensure Larson’s ride was drivable in order to make minimum speed.
Before the race returned to green, a brief shower doused Turns 1 and 2. NASCAR was forced to red-flag the race for 18-minutes. The race returned to green on Lap 78 with Justin Haley at the point. Bell flexed his muscles to the front and quickly partnered with Hamlin. Harvick poked his nose to the point on Lap 89 but Bell was a force with Hamlin in tow.
Alex Bowman moved to the lead with an assist from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 97—but his car became unstable. Chase Elliott, who was running behind the No. 47 Chevy, gave Stenhouse a bump and a chain reaction occurred. Stenhouse punted Bowman into the wall just before Turn 3 to ignite the fourth caution. Reddick, Kyle Busch, Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain and BJ McLeod were collected in the melee. Martin Truex Jr. spun but continued on.
“Just dumped over on the left rear and turned us around really bad,” said Bowman, who was scored 38th. “Bummer for the Ally 48 team. We had a fast car; we were leading there. That’s just superspeedway racing and the box that we’re put in by these racetracks. You’ll have that. Bummed to have a torn up racecar, but we’ll move on and try to go win the Roval.”
Stenhouse led the field back to the green flag on Lap 104. He and Bell jockeyed for position at the lead until Kurt Busch swooped down from the highland and seized the point on Lap 108. Wallace, who restarted 14th on the restart, received the green light from crew chief Bootie Barker to go for it—so he did. As the skies darkened around the 2.66-mile track, Wallace claimed the lead on Lap 113. Three laps later, Buescher tagged the back of Preece who spun out of the pack and into William Byron to trigger the fifth and final caution. He finished 36th.
“He was just coming down the track and I was kind of trying to run a third lane,” Byron said of Preece. “Just part of Talladega. We’ll go to the ROVAL, try to win that one and advance that way.”
Wallace maintained his position under caution as the drivers were called to pit road and NASCAR red-flagged the race on Lap 117. While the driver paced on pit road, the outcome was worth the wait. Wallace joined Tate Fogelman (NCWTS) and Brandon Brown (NXS) as first-time winners at Talladega this weekend—another NASCAR first.
“This is for all those kids out there that want to have an opportunity at whatever they want to achieve and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said. “You’re going to go through a lot of bullshit, but you always have to stay true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you. Stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry.
“There have been plenty of times that I wanted to give up, but you surround yourselves with the right people and it’s moments like this that you appreciate.”
With Larson’s issues, Hamlin regained the lead in the standings with a 19-point advantage over the No. 5 team.
“It could have been worse; could have been worse,” said Larson said, who led the standings for eight weeks entering the weekend. “I haven’t seen the point total yet, but it seems like a lot of us are around the same spot. I think at times it looked worse; so like I said, it could have been worse.”
Logano vaulted from seventh to third in points. Keselowski and Truex are tied for fourth followed by Blaney, Elliott and Kyle Busch. Harvick, Bell, Byron and Bowman are below the cutline entering the Charlotte Roval—the final race in the Round of 12.