Bubba Wallace entered his third full season in 2019 and it was a qualified success.
After a fruitful stint substituting for Aric Almirola in 2017 when that driver sustained an injury, Wallace was offered the fulltime ride in 2018 in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. He showed some promise with an average finish of 24.5 and 19 laps led. He finished on the lead lap six times, but his most important fantasy contribution came in the form of three top-10 finishes including a dramatic second-place effort in the Daytona 500.
His other top-10s in 2018 came at Texas in the spring and Phoenix in the fall and he ran uniformly well on both similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and short, flat tracks.
In 2019, we expected that he would have a career-best season – and in some ways he did. Wallace improved his average finish slightly from 24.5 to 23.9. He finished on the lead lap in nine races compared to six, but it was not quite enough to make him fantasy relevant on a weekly basis.
Continuing his tendency to run well on flat tracks, Wallace was the most pleasant surprise at Indy in the Brickyard 400 to close out the regular season. He had a legitimate shot at winning one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races before settling into third at the checkers.
That was Wallace’s only top-10 of 2019, but his next two best finishes came on short, flat tracks with a 12th at Richmond in September and a 13th at Martinsville in October. Wallace’s fourth-best result was a 14th at Bristol in August, followed by a sixth-best of 17th at Martinsville in March. Another of his eight top-20s came in the other Bristol race, as well as a 20th at Dover – and although he was not entirely predictable, a pattern emerged.
On most weekends, Wallace has the right blend of aggression and precision. It doesn’t always show up on unrestricted, intermediate speedways because the power band is such an important factor there and modest funding results in modest horsepower. But on drivers’ venues like the short courses and flat tracks, Wallace can hold his own.
Of course, aggression can also contribute to accidents. Wallace failed to finish three races in 2019 because of crash damage. Two of these were on plate tracks, however, and anyone can get into trouble there. Far more troubling is the fact that he sustained damage and lost laps in another five races during the year.
For many drivers the third season is magical and fantasy players want to keep a close eye on the No. 43 early in the season.
Three Best Tracks
Daytona (16.8 in 5 attempts)
Texas (20.0 in 4)
Kentucky (20.3 in 3)
Three Worst Tracks
Charlotte Roval (30.0 in 2)
Atlanta (29.5 in 2)
Kansas (28.3 in 4)
Victories: None (Best finish = third, Brickyard 400
Top-fives: 1 (.028)
Top-10s: 1 (.028)
Top-15s: 5 (.138)
2019 Finishes at or above rank = 28 (77.8%)