NASCAR Cup Series
Why Petty GMS Wants to Build Around Noah Gragson
Aug 10, 2022
Both figurative and literally, Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing have made a statement over the past month that they aren’t going anywhere in the NASCAR Cup Series.
First came the most consistent stretch of finishes in the 28-year-old’s career – finishes of third, eighth, fifth and second across Loudon, Pocono, Indianapolis Road Course and Michigan. Then came the announcement on Friday that Wallace has signed a multiyear extension to remain in the No. 23.
"It's a fitting time right now on this hot streak but we've got to keep it coming," Wallace said. "We still have a lot of unfinished business to take care and now that this has taken care of itself, now we can focus on the racing stuff."
Wallace said he never had a doubt that they would work something out.
After all, the team was created with a vision in mind that featured Wallace and leveraged the partnerships he had fostered over the first four years of his Cup Series career. Wallace has grown during the first year and a half with 23XI and that continued growth is what the announcement on Friday comes down to.
"I've obviously tried to do my best this year and I've made some mistakes along the way that the team wasn't happy about, but we worked through those things and we're here," Wallace said. "It's part of racing, growing up and maturing. I thought from Day One when I joined this team, this is the place I want to retire and a place I could call home for a long time.
"So, I want to continue working as hard as I can and continue those efforts."
Wallace won a rain shortened race at Talladega Superspeedway last October but is starting to inch closer towards taking the checkered flag in the traditional sense over the past month.
Part of that comes down to Toyota and 23XI Racing providing Wallace more competitive cars, but Wallace knows he’s made progress with the new racing platform over the course of the summer as well.
"First couple of races was a learning curve," Wallace said. "I felt like ever since race five or six, maybe a few after that, we started showing up with speed and then it was just a matter of find tweaking the adjustments to really make the car excel. That puts the pressure on me to make sure we show up and get everything out of the car. ... We got to continue doing that. It's understanding the value of going to the sim and getting the most out of that, because even if it's not perfect, it helps the team grow.
"I just have to keep working hard and not expect it to be handed to me and that's what I've been doing -- how to race better and how to do be better off the track. It's starting to come together, and we can't stop that trend."
Wallace has always been a heart on his shoulder kind of guy and the disappointment from finishing second from the pole gushed through at Michigan on Sunday. Wallace choked-up during his post-race interview and said he felt like he let his team down after getting so close.
He said it was just the pent-up pressure from a disappointing season to date and not feeling like he capitalized on his best chance to win yet.
Wallace said it was a matter of playing the final restart over in his head and wondering if he should have lined up on the outside behind Kevin Harvick instead of the inside behind the eventual winner. Kyle Larson pushed Harvick to the lead and Wallace had to settle for second.
"Just wanting to win, right," Wallace said. "We haven't had the best season but have turned it around and started to show what we're really capable of these past handful of races. We know the urgency to win is high and I thought that was the best opportunity we've had all year long so that was just me replaying the last restart in my head and wondering what I could have done differently.
"I'm in a much better place today and see how well the team performed on Saturday and Sunday to put us in that position. A lot to be happy for and grateful for. In that moment, that was just the sign of defeat. Finished second. Much happier now."
Despite being 19th in points and in a must-win scenario to make the playoffs next month, the past month has given him confidence that he could win any of the next three races.
"Without a doubt," Wallace said. "Yeah. Toyota has always been strong here. We missed the boat in that first race at Richmond but really confident about what we're bringing for Sunday.
"Watkins Glen is just a race of survival. Look at Indy Road Course right? And then Daytona, we're one of the favorites going into that, so we just need to do what we've been doing these last three to four races because it seems to be working. Don't ask what it is because I can't tell you, but it seems to be working."
And it seems poised to work well into the foreseeable future after Friday's contract extension.