Bubba Wallace knows how it feels to claim second place at the Daytona 500. It has happened twice now in four years, but the feelings couldn’t be more different.
In 2018, the rookie Wallace finished runner-up in the Great American Race by 0.206 seconds. It was the first start of his first full season as a NASCAR Cup Series driver, and the top-five signaled the birth of a promising career.
Now in his fifth season, Wallace still shows tremendous promise — he won in Talladega in October ’21 — but the taste of second place doesn’t have that same ring to it, anymore. Wallace and his No. 23 Toyota team finished 0.036 seconds behind winner Austin Cindric last night.
“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018,” Wallace said. “This one, being that close, it’s just like a gut punch. Going from all the confidence in the world to literally having it ripped out from underneath you is a really s—– feeling.”
Wallace’s director of competition for his 23XI Racing Team, Mike Wheeler, said he is proud of the effort of the whole team.
“I think Bubba has a lot of confidence in the speedways,” Wheeler said. “I think him and Freddie (Kraft, spotter) did a really good job, hearing them work and learn and improve and be a top-tier group. It really shows to be pretty good. So, proud of that effort and hopefully keep going with that.”
Bubba Wallace’s second place finish earns him a dubious honor
With two laps to go in overtime, Wallace had a legitimate shot to win the race. He lined up behind Ryan Blaney on the inside lane for the restart. Blaney’s teammate, Austin Cindric, was up top in the lead, with Brad Keselowski behind him.
“He and Freddie talked about it,” No. 23 crew chief Bootie Barker said. “They knew we had to shove the 12, keep shoving the 12 so it kept us going forward, too, to have enough energy so at the end something could happen.”
During the final sprint for the checkered flag, Blaney made a push for top-spot, but Cindric blocked him. That left a wide-open lane for Wallace, but he finished half a car length short. The second-place finish places Wallace on a dubious list of racers with multiple runner-ups at Daytona: Blaney (twice), Charlie Glotzbach (twice) and Terry Labonte (three times).
The good news for Wallace? He sits extremely high in the points list at fourth thanks to his Daytona efforts.
“You know, we succeeded,” Wallace said. “We succeeded on all levels, but we failed at the same time. So, going through that, trying to ride that, is super tough. Maybe two days, maybe three and probably a freaking week, I’ll get over this. But California is Sunday.
“That’s the one thing that people ask me about: What motivates you? Having another chance next week to go back to Victory Lane.”
NASCAR’s next race is Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, next Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).