Bubba Wallace refuses to be defined by controversy and puts Michael Jordan on the winning track

  • Bubba Wallace rose to prominence in 2021 when he became only the second black driver in NASCAR history to win a cup race.
  • Previously, Wendell Scott had earned his only career win in 1963 in NASCAR’s Premier Series (then known as the Grand National Series).
  • Wallace was also part of several controversial incidents during his career.

    William Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. is a talented racing driver who in 2017 became the first black driver since Bill Lester (2006) to reach the NASCAR Cup Series.

    But more importantly, a Mobile, Alabama native (but raised in Concord, NC in the shadow of Charlotte Motor Speedway) Wallace rose to considerable prominence in 2021 when he became only the second black driver in NASCAR history to who won a cup race , when Wendell Scott earned his only career win in NASCAR’s Premier Series (then known as the Grand National Series) in 1963.

    To extrapolate that further, Wallace was the only black driver to have raced full-time in all three NASCAR premium series (Cup, Xfinity and Trucks) throughout his career.

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    Bubba Wallace’s first cup win came in a rain-shortened race at Talladega in 2021.

    Chris GraythenGetty Images

    Wallace’s first cup win came out on October 4, 2021 at Talladega Superspeedway. However, the victory was not without controversy: NASCAR prematurely ended the event, which was originally planned with 188 laps, after only 117 laps due to rain.

    Wallace was the race leader when the race was put on hold for the second time that afternoon due to rain, and after an attempt to dry the track was abruptly halted when it began to rain again, NASCAR finally ruled the official in favor the end of the race. give Wallace the win.

    Not only was it Wallace’s first cup triumph of his career, but it was also the first NASCAR Premier Series win for rookie cup team 23XI Racing. Co-owner of NBA legend Michael Jordan and veteran Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin. It was also the first win for a McDonald’s-sponsored car since 1994 (Jimmy Spencer was behind the wheel).

    While there is little doubt that Wallace is a talented driver, his career to date has been marked by significant contradictions.

    His greatest success was in the Camping World Truck Series, when he recorded six wins, 15 top 5s and 28 top 10s in 49 starts. Striving for even greater achievements, Wallace moved to the Xfinity Series where he won two races and had six top fives and 36 top 10s from 88 starts. However, due to a combination of a lack of overall success and main sponsorship, he competed in only two full-time seasons (2015 and 2016), and achieved 2015’s best overall finish of the season, finishing seventh.

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    Richard Petty gave Bubba Wallace a big break in 2018.

    Matt SullivanGetty Images

    The biggest breakthrough of his racing career came in 2018 when he made the switch to the Cup Series full-time, driving the legendary No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports for three seasons. But then his inconsistency got worst, as from 2018-2020 he never finished a season higher than 22nd at RPM and had a best average per race of just 21.1 (in 2020).

    Wallace started the 2022 season with an excellent second place in the Daytona 500 and ended up just 0.036 seconds behind race winner and Cup rookie Austin Cindric. Almost seven months later, Wallace scored his second career cup win, but that too was controversial. Despite leading the last 67 laps to take the checkered flag, numerous critics believed that Hamlin, who finished second, held off in a late race to allow Wallace to win, which Hamlin denied.

    Wallace signed a multi-year contract extension with 23XI Racing in 2022 that will keep him with the team for a few more years (his original contract with the team was originally scheduled to expire after the 2023 season).

    Heading into the 2023 season, Wallace has just two cup wins, 11 top fives and 22 top 10 finishes. He has never made the NASCAR Cup playoffs, and even with his move to 23XI Racing in 2021, his best-ever season finish was 19th place in 2022.

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    Bubba Wallace celebrated his second NACAR Cup win of his career in 2022 at the Kansas Speedway.

    Chris GraythenGetty Images

    Wallace was also part of several controversial incidents during his career. He’s been involved in several accidents on the track, most recently in 2022 when he intentionally demolished Kyle Larson (and picked up Christopher Bell’s car, severely damaging it) in the Fall Playoff race in Las Vegas. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, Wallace shoved Larson during the caution, prompting NASCAR to suspend Wallace for one race (many observers felt Wallace’s stride was so outrageous that he should have been parked for the rest of the season , but that didn’t happen).

    In 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and following the death of George Floyd, Wallace was involved in two cases that brought national attention to both him and NASCAR. The first was Wallace’s activism in support of Black Lives Matter, as well as his calls for social justice and police accountability in the wake of Floyd’s death.

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    Bubba Wallace won six times in the NASCAR Truck Series, including 2017 in Michigan.

    Sean GardnerGetty Images

    And then, on June 21, 2020, a noose was found on the roller door of Wallace’s garage booth at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR and many of Wallace’s fellow drivers denounced the noose’s finding, believing it had been placed there by someone trying to intimidate Wallace.

    However, following an FBI investigation, it was determined that the entire episode was not a hate crime and that the “noose” had indeed been on the door since the previous season and that there was no malicious or racist intent toward Wallace or his team.

    Wallace, who started racing at the age of 9, has also been very open about his struggles with depression over the years. On a lighter note, he married longtime girlfriend Amanda Carter on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2022. Wallace’s longtime best friend, fellow NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney, served as his best man.

    Follow Autoweek writer Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonko


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