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On and off track, Bubba Wallace has another big year ahead

Bubba Wallace joins the Beyond the Fairway podcast and speaks to his and 23XI Racing's diversity and inclusion efforts within the team and for NASCAR on and off the track to grow the sport among different demographics.

At the end of July, NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace announced his engagement to longtime girlfriend Amanda Carter.

Less than two months later, the 2022 Cup schedule emerged with only one weekend off between the Daytona 500 and the Nov. 6 title finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Did that throw a wrench in the wedding plans?

“No, we were smart and made it easy - ‘Alright, we’ll just make it until the next offseason’,” Wallace said to NBC Sports on Monday. “So we’re actually planning on a New Year’s Eve wedding (in 2022).

“There’s been plenty of times where we’re like, ‘Well, what are we gonna do for New Year’s?’ Well, we’ll give people that are staying ... We invite ‘em, they’ll come to the wedding and have fun and celebrate the wedding and New Year’s.

“But that’s a whole process, too - that’s like dealing with this Next Gen car. There’s a lot we’ve gotta figure out before that time. But Amanda’s been great. She’s been having a lot of fun trying to figure everything out, and I’m just here to give my opinion on things.”

On and off track, 2022 shapes up to be a big year for Wallace.

After earning his first career Cup win in October at Talladega Superspeedway, his 23XI Racing team - co-owned by fellow driver Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan - expands to a two-car outfit with the addition of former Cup champion Kurt Busch.

Then there’s the overarching story of the season: The aforementioned Next Gen car, which enters competition Feb. 6 with the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race in Los Angeles.

But as 23XI grows, Wallace says he hasn’t been surprised by anything in the process. He also notes that Busch is already making an impact with his new team.

“I think Kurt coming over - coming on board and bringing his knowledge, his experience, his stature - is nothing but a massive improvement for us,” he said. “With this Next Gen car we’re rolling out, it’s a lot to take our hands on right now and doing a lot of testing this offseason to figure out what we need.

“Having him be a part of that, getting his feedback, has been nothing but an expedited process for us so, glad to have him on board. It’ll be a lot of fun next year competing. I know he’s going to push me to be a better driver, and I’ll push him too.

“We learn together. That’s the biggest thing: We come into this as ‘one team.’ As soon as we start tackling ‘two team,’ it’s gonna, you know, start to downfall. But we all have the same mindset, MJ has the same mindset, I believe, to go out and just be ‘one team’ and be the best we can be.”

It’s been over a year since Hamlin and Jordan formed 23XI with Wallace as their driver. While time has passed, Wallace said it was still “cool” whenever Jordan, the six-time NBA champion and pop culture icon, popped up on his phone.

But more importantly, Wallace appreciates what he’s been able to learn from Jordan “each and every day.”

“Learning how to be better as a person, learning how to be better as an athlete,” Wallace said. “And there’s no better person to be able to talk to about that than MJ himself. So, it’s a cool relationship that we have.”

Michael Jordan Gold Foil Hero

Limited-edition Michael Jordan Gold Foil Wheaties Box, available only at starting at noon EST on Tuesday 12/14 while supplies last.

Wallace will also soon be connected with a brand that’s been closely linked to Jordan since his heyday on the court.

Wheaties will partner with 23XI Racing next season. As part of the sponsorship, Wallace will debut the No. 23 Wheaties Toyota Camry TRD on Feb. 27 at Auto Club Speedway.

This week, Wallace is promoting Jordan’s appearance in Wheaties’ Century Box series, which brings back some of the brand’s most legendary cover athletes for its 100th anniversary.

Along with a standard box, Jordan is getting a limited edition ‘Gold Foil Box’. On Tuesday, Wallace will deliver the latter boxes all around Charlotte, North Carolina, including Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, in a Wheaties-branded Toyota Camry.

It’s another major brand on board for 23XI, and Wallace is gratified to have the support.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to represent the Wheaties brand and try to do the best that I can,” he said. “I think that I’m doing alright today. Tomorrow, I get to drive a little bit, so they’ll get to see that side of things.

“But, all in all, having fun and growing together, that’s the biggest thing. So, we just keep doing what we need to do, keep putting our best foot forward and continue to make sponsors happy, continue put results out there on the race track.

“It’s all a collaborative group that makes these things happen, so it’s cool. It’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day, it’s days like this where you appreciate it.”

Once upon a time, Jordan told us all in television commercials: “You better eat your Wheaties.”

Considering what 2022 holds for him, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt Wallace to take that advice.