NASCAR: Bubba Wallace Becomes First Black Driver to Lead a Lap at Daytona 500

by Kayla Zadel
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Bubba Wallace marked a milestone on Sunday at the Daytona 500. Wallace led a lap during the big race, making him the first black driver to do so.

Wallace and his new race team, 23XI, didn’t start their Sunday the way they wanted, after being penalized by starting last in the race.

The highest finish in the Daytona 500 by a black driver is also held by Wallace. He finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500.

Late in the second stage, Wallace dipped to the low line, taking the lead on lap 129. However, he lost the lead to his co-owner and two-time defending champion Denny Hamlin. As a result, Wallace was third at the end of the stage.

Overall, Wallace was caught up in a fiery, messy last lap and finished 17th. The 2021 Daytona 500 was won by first-timer Michael McDowell.

“Bum end. I bailed out down the back saw the wreck happening and got run over from behind. Should’ve bailed sooner,” Wallace tweets. “Fast car, can’t have loose wheels. Onto the right turns.”

Wallace felt a vibration because of a loose wheel on the No. 23 Toyota Camry. He was forced to put with 22 laps left in the race. Wallace tried to give his Toyota teammate and boss a bump to help him win a record third straight Daytona 500 championship. However, Hamlin only finished fifth.

“We worked together quite a few times,” Hamlin says according to AP. “I actually thought he was going to win the second stage.”

Despite the not-so-picture-perfect start for the new NASCAR team, Bubba Wallace did drive well for the first two-thirds of the rain-delayed race.

“He was running up front and battling for stage wins. That’s what we want to see,” Hamlin says.

Bubba Wallace’s Car Fails Inspection, Penalized

New team owners, Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin didn’t have the start they were looking for at their debut race. As a matter of fact, the start they got was at the back of the pack for Sunday’s big race.

The No. 23 race car failed inspection not once, but twice before the race. According to NASCAR’s rules, the team’s car chief was kicked off the grounds. The Toyota Camry passed on the third attempt but still had to start from the back of the field.

Like any team owner, Jordan wanted to find out what was wrong. But it was the first time that the six-time NBA champion talked to the crew chief, Mike Wheeler.

Jordan is the first black principal owner of a full-time Cup Series team in nearly 50 years. He’s known his co-owner Hamlin for years.

Some might think it’s strange for Jordan to invest time and money into a sport that’s not familiar to him. However, Jordan’s father would pack of the family and take them to NASCAR races at Southern tracks like Daytona, Darlington Raceway, and defunct Rockingham Speedway.

What might seem even more strange, is that Jordan didn’t meet Bubba Wallace when he hired him to race. Because of the pandemic, the two just met the week leading up to the Daytona 500. Jordan has high hopes for his driver.

“I feel like he’s going to learn how to win. He’s got the talent,” Jordan told Fox Sports. “We would not have invested in him and picked him if he didn’t have the talent to win. By the end of the year, I think he’s going to have an opportunity and probably will win at least a couple of races. If it’s more, I’d be elated.”

Outsider.com