Bubba Wallace earns historic first NASCAR Cup Series win
For the first time in nearly 58 years, a Black driver has won in NASCAR’s premier division.
Bubba Wallace won Monday’s rain-shortened NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. He becomes the second Black driver to win a Cup race, joining Hall of Famer Wendell Scott (Jacksonville, Fla. - Dec. 1, 1963).
With rain threatening the 2.66-mile superspeedway, Wallace took the lead for the first time at Lap 113 in the scheduled 188-lap distance.
Three laps later, Ryan Preece was spun out of the pack and collected William Byron and Matt DiBenedetto to bring out the caution. The skies then opened up and the race was red flagged.
NASCAR assembled and deployed their fleet of track dryers. As that work continued, NASCAR ordered crews to seek shelter shortly after 4:10 p.m. ET due to a lightning strike within eight miles of the track.
Then, at 4:27 p.m. ET, with rains continuing, NASCAR officially called the race and the celebration was on for Wallace and his 23XI Racing team.
“Part of me was just sitting there waiting,” Wallace told NBC Sports about the moments before the race was officially his. “‘It’s not over with. Just sit there, bide our time. If we go racing again, that’s fine. We’ll put ourselves in position.’ But we had so many cool fans behind us in the pit box, just cheering for it to rain, so it kind of amped up the intensity a little bit.”
In additional post-race comments, Wallace said that matching Scott’s accomplishment brought “a lot of joy, a lot of emotion to my family, fans and friends.”
He also noted that it was “fitting” his first win came at Talladega, where, in June 2020, a garage rope was found tied into a noose in his team’s stall. Drivers and team members stood in solidarity with Wallace before the race.
An FBI investigation later ruled that there was no hate crime because the garage rope had been like that since the previous October and there was no way to know Wallace’s team would have that garage several months later.
Following the 2020 season, Wallace went on to join the new 23XI Racing, formed by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Cup star Denny Hamlin.
The team has had its struggles in its inaugural Cup campaign. But now, they and Wallace are the sport’s newest winners.
“I’m so happy for Bubba and our entire 23XI Racing team,” Jordan said in a statement. “This is a huge milestone and a historic win for us. From the day we signed him, I knew Bubba had the talent to win and Denny and I could not be more proud of him. Let’s go!”
As for Wallace himself, he now stands to have an even bigger platform for his efforts to make NASCAR more inclusive.
“This is for all those kids out there who want to have an opportunity, in whatever they want to achieve, to be the best in what they want to do,” said Wallace. “You’re gonna go through a lot of bullshit. But you’ve always got to stay true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you and stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry.
“There have been plenty of times where I’ve wanted to give up, but you surround yourself with the right people and it’s moments like this that you appreciate.”
Brad Keselowski finished second, followed by Joey Logano in third, Kurt Busch in fourth and Christopher Bell in fifth. Keselowski, Logano and Bell are among the 12 remaining drivers in playoff contention.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Chris Buescher
STAGE 2 WINNER: Bubba Wallace
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Kevin Harvick’s eighth-place finish means he’s finished inside the top 10 in all five playoff races so far. He’s still nine points behind the cutline to advance to the Round of 8, but will have a fair shot entering next week’s elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. ... Christopher Bell’s fifth-place finish was only his second top-10 finish in the last eight races. He faces a much bigger deficit entering the Roval at 28 points behind the cutline.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Crashes ruined the day for Hendrick Motorsports playoff drivers Kyle Larson (finished 37th), Alex Bowman (finished 38th), and William Byron (finished 36th). Larson was involved in a crash at Lap 57 and a tire failure at Lap 67 that further damaged his car. Later, at Lap 98, bump drafting led to Bowman getting sent into the Turn 3 wall and triggering a wreck that involved 10 cars. Then, on Lap 116, Byron was taken out in what proved to be the day’s final incident.
NOTABLE: Bubba Wallace’s first Cup win as a driver is also the first Cup win for his crew chief, Bootie Barker (484th start). Barker took over as Wallace’s crew chief two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway.
NEXT: Sunday, Oct. 10 - Round of 12 eliminator at Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC)