'What Could Have Been' for Wallace in Daytona Runner-Up

It's the second time Wallace has finished second, but this time hurts.


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"This one sucks."

Bubba Wallace has been here before, finishing second in the Daytona 500, but that one back in 2018 felt like a triumph compared to his gut-wrenching defeat on Sunday night. He was dejected in the moment, and a session with the media on pit road right afterwards came across like real-time therapy.

"What could have been, right," Wallace said. "Man, need to talk about some happy stuff here. Just dejected, but the thing that keeps me up is just the hard work that we put into our speedway stuff and the hard work from everybody at 23XI, proud of them, can't thank them enough."

Back in 2018, Wallace emerged as the surprise runner-up when Austin Dillon turned Aric Almirola on the backstretch en route to winning the Great American Race, but he never had a shot at winning. He just overtook future team owner Denny Hamlin in a photo finish for second.

This time, Wallace had a non-zero shot at unseating Austin Cindric, and he is going to replay the last corner for quite a while … just not for a bit.

He didn’t want to see the replay just yet.

The 23XI Racing No. 23 restarted fifth, third on the bottom, during the green-white-checkered finish behind Cindric and Penske teammate Ryan Blaney. He was still running there coming out of the final corner when Cindric threw a block on Blaney.

The block put Blaney into the wall and that forced a drag race between Cindric and Wallace. The final margin of victory was .036 seconds.

"Going down the back, (I was like), 'Alright, pal, it can either end really bad or end really good,'" Wallace remembers saying to himself. "'This could hurt or the victory could be sweet.’ I think I’d rather get wrecked out than finish second."

The sting was especially strong because Wallace already felt like he got a second chance to race for the win. He took damage from a crash with six laps to go when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun from contact by Brad Keselowski.

"The tow got knocked out and I was worried about that, but I was also worried about a flat tire," Wallace said. "Bootie (Barker, crew chief) came over and just wanted me to confirm that everything was okay and that it wasn’t going to rub with the tow knocked out.

"I was like okay, here we go, we have to go get it. I had a lot of confidence those last 10 laps. I thought we had it in the bag when we were like sixth-to-fifth. I thought it was our night, but maybe I jumped the gun too much."

Wallace is proud of his team and happy for his fans, but again, this one stings more than the other one felt like a relief. Wallace memorably cried with his mother in the media center because they were so overwhelmed with joy to simply be on that stage at the Cup Series level.

It’s different now that Wallace is an established veteran with a Cup win on his resume.

"Second, it's up there, but it's a totally different emotion from 2018 because I was truly in contention," Wallace said. "I could smell it. It stings. I appreciate the support from the true fans that understand me and support me. It's just one race, one race out of 36 and we just have to continue to build …"

It was at this moment he caught the replay out of the corner of his eye on the big screen from pit road. He wasn’t ready to see it yet, and it stung all over again.

"I don’t want to see that," Wallace said. "Gosh, ugh, that sucks. I'll probably go punch a pillow or hug my dog when I get back to the bus."