INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—In the middle of the madhouse that was the Brickyard 400—the final race to determine the 16 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers locked into the 2019 Playoffs—Bubba Wallace offered a ray of hope for the contenders on the outside looking in.
Wallace scored his first top-10 finish in 27 starts and his best-career result since finishing second in the 2018 Daytona 500 with his third-place run on Sunday.
Seeing the No. 43 Petty blue World Wide Technologies Chevrolet running in the front pack was encouraging, but Wallace’s race to the podium behind Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano was anything but routine.
“What a hell of a day for all of us,” Wallace said. “Going from the lowest of lows to almost to the highest of highs. I knew we didn't have anything for the 4 (Harvick), the 22 (Logano) or really the 12 (Ryan Blaney).
“But just with this package we were able to kind of manipulate the air, and I gave Blaney a lane. He's still pissed off, so I'll buy him a beer—it’s all right.”
Wallace felt good after the two practices on Saturday. He was fifth on the speed chart in the first session and 16th in Happy Hour. After qualifying 15th, Wallace maintained his position when the first caution fell on Lap 11 after Daniel Suarez grazed the wall.
Wallace pitted, but was involved in a pileup on pit road involving Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Matt DiBenedetto in front of Jimmie Johnson’s stall. The No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team was forced to work on the car during an extended stop and Wallace dropped back in the field.
By the end of the first stage on Lap 50, Wallace had worked his way back into the top 15. He avoided issues over the next 50 laps and was 13th at the end of Stage 2. Certainly, attrition helped Wallace’s cause. After Johnson lost control of his car and eliminated Kurt Busch in the process on Lap 106, Wallace was able to advance to the top 10.
After final pit stops, Wallace cycled out to fourth on Lap 125. With tremendous resolve and composure, the 25-year-old racer held his position over three cautions and the final 35 laps.
“We had speed since we unloaded here, and with this package it kind of evened the playing field out and we were able to capitalize,” Wallace said. “A lot of guys wrecked out early.
“Super long race. I came over the radio, I'm like, ’It's bad when you start smelling yourself.’ You know it's a long race.”
While Wallace might have failed his own sniff test, he certainly earned team owner Richard Petty’s approval.
“The King come down and gave me a big bear hug,” Wallace said. “I haven't had one of those hugs since the 500 last year, so you know it's a special day and special weekend when he's excited and he's not sitting on the plane already waiting on us.”
Wallace remains 27th in the standings. His average finish this season is 24.2. For the struggles Wallace has endured on the track and off, putting together a solid weekend as he did at Indianapolis Motor Speedway should provide encouragement for the final 10 races of the season.
“I know I can outrun these guys any day,” Wallace said. “It’s all just a matter of the right people, the right resources, the right equipment and being out front. This is just a start of building our program and our resources.
“But this just gives you that feeling of competing again, having that rush. That’s probably the most exciting part of the day. It’s like, ‘I’ll be back next week to do it again.’”
On Sunday, Wallace nearly pulled off the upset. With just a little better balance and a little more speed in the No. 43 Chevrolet, we might have been talking about Wallace qualifying for his first Playoffs on Monday.
“That would have been awesome,” Wallace said with a smile.