Wallace wins at Kansas; 16 playoff drivers winless going to Bristol

Back in May of this year leaving Kansas Speedway, Bubba Wallace, driver of the No. 23 Toyota Camry for 23XI, watched his teammate Kurt Busch win in the No. 45 after he felt like he could have sealed the deal in the event. Now in September, with Wallace in the No. 45 competing for the owners championship after Kurt is out with concussion-like symptoms, put everything together for a nearly perfect race and won the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas. 

“Man, just so proud of this team, so proud of the effort that they put in each and every week,” quoted Wallace after the victory talking to NBC Sports after his victory. “Just thankful for the opportunity, right? Took this jump from an idea two years ago from a text from Denny before it all even happened. He was ready to get the deal done. Appreciate him. Appreciate MJ, Curtis, Gene. Everybody on that side of things, everybody at 23XI. Men and women there, they work their tails off.”

Wallace had to battle Toyota teammate and car owner Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, and would become victorious over his boss. Hamlin told media members on pit lane and said, “I’m really happy for our 11 Toyota team. They fought hard. They really stepped up that last half. We made the car quite a bit better. Just really happy about the outcome and really happy for that No. 45 team and Bubba Wallace and Bootie. Bubba has just really worked hard on his craft, and we’ve just given him fast race cars, and now he is showing what he has got.”

The race started off with Tyler Reddick, the driver of the No. 8 Chevy Camaro for Richard Childress Racing, starting on pole for the 400 mile event at Kansas City. Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford Mustang for Team Penske, took the lead from Reddick on lap one, and would lead until Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Chevy Camaro took lead for the first time on lap three, and wouldn’t give it up until pit stops on the competition caution on lap 25. 

Reddick took back the lead after beating everyone on pit road and led the field back to green. On lap 35, playoff driver Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart Haas Racing, smacked the outside wall in turn four and brought out the first natural caution, and would eventually end his day early. Race leader Reddick shockingly ended up wrecking in turn two after a tire issue would plague him early in the race. That issue would send him out of the race, already two favorable playoff divers in trouble heading to Bristol next week.

Another playoff driver in Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang for Team Penske, would have a loose wheel under caution after a pit stop, and would head to the tail end of the field after fixing it. An 11 lap sprint to the green and white checkered flag would have Christopher Bell in the No. 20 Toyota Camry for JGR would lead the way to the end of stage one, and secure 10 points and one playoff point to help him towards a championship hunt. 

Six laps after the restart to begin stage two on lap 85, Wallaces teammate, Ty Gibbs in the No. 23 Toyota Camry, would also be another victim of a tire issue at the Kansas Speedway, and would end up taking him out of the race as well. The race would restart with Martin Truex Jr, driver of the No. 19 Toyota Camry for JGR who missed the playoffs for the first time in 2014, lead the way until lap 111. 

That same lap, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, a driver who was having a good run in the No. 47 Chevy Camaro for the small team of JTG Daughtery Racing, would have a tire related issue on the back stretch and would put him several laps down in the 400 mile event. A big multi-car crash containing the driver of the No. 7 of Corey Lajoie, No. 21 Harrison Burton, and the No. 10 of Aric Almirola in turn one, brought out the 7th yellow of the event. When the race went back to green condition, the lead changed to the No. 24 of William Byron, who drives a Chevy Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports, and would lead until lap 120, when his teammate Bowman would take the lead of the field once again.

Bowman would lead once again for a while this time, and even led during the spin Kyle Busch had in the No. 18 Toyota Camry for JGR in turn four. That spin along with several other issues, would keep Busch from running well in the event, eventually finishing in the 26th position two laps down. Bowman would continue to lead to the end of stage two where he won, and would lead all the way up to lap 200.  

Wallace led for the first time in a 15 lap span from lap 200-215, until Bowman chased him back down. Wallace would take the lead one final time on lap 225 after green flag pit stops, and he would be able to keep it till the checkered flag. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the No. 45 team. Wallace had to defend off his boss Hamlin and Bell for the final 25 laps of the event. Wallace knew if he made even the slightest mistake, his chance to win would be over. But what comes around goes around, and that was certainly the case for Wallace after a strong performance in May. Bubba Wallace would make history as being the only black multi winner in NASCAR after winning the Hollywood Casino 400. 

Wallace, talking to the folks in the media center, wanted to remind them that he hasn’t forgotten about the original driver for the No. 45. First of all for Kurt, I hate the scenario that we’re in with him, but he has been nothing but an advocate and a leader in these moments for us. When we get back to our Monday morning meetings, he is there giving insight on how to be better. I appreciate him for that. It’s taught me how to be better off the racetrack, let alone on the racetrack. And the conversation I had with him in victory lane was really special. He just talked about believing in self, and he always believed in me, and so I thought that was pretty special.”

Hamlin, in the press conference as the owner of Wallace’s race winning ride, describes the way 23XI Racing has a plan for the next five years on being a championship organization. “We’ve got a lot of great things in the works in a few years. Hopefully you’re going to talk about this team winning on a more regular basis, but never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that we would go out there and have three wins already in just a year and three-quarters.”

Hamlin continues on by saying,” We’re really trying to instill a really positive one-team mentality. So by doing that and having an eligibility in the owner’s championship, we’re able to just pick apart and put our best pieces in each section of a race team to go out and compete at our best. Bubba Wallace was an easy choice for us. Especially the results that he has given us over the last two to three months.” 

For the first time since the NASCAR playoff/chase era started in 2004, two non playoff drivers have won the first two races of the 10 race championship hunt (Erik Jones last week at Darlington). Hamlin also mentions how he believes a non playoff driver could win at the Phoenix championship race, and stir up the championship drivers. “Just simply because we used to — when we used to build our own cars and design our own cars, we would just kind of save the best stuff for the end of the season. Everyone would just kind of front-load a lot of their best people, best parts, best bodies, best cars for the playoffs. There’s no secret that really the ones that kept advancing, cars just got faster.” 

Next week, the final race of the round of 16 will have everyone on their toes if they can stay in the playoffs and win a championship. Busch, No. 3 Austin Dillon, No. 14 Chase Briscoe, and Harvick are the four drivers out of the round of 12 as of now, but since no driver is locked in, anyone could be eliminated. Saturday night is when the NASCAR Cup Series will take on the Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, and it will be one that is a chaotic, awesome, and crazy event. The race will take the green flag at 7:30 p.m. Est Saturday evening in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and will be covered live on USA, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. 

Kaleb Vestal
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