BUBBA WALLACE, No. 23 Leidos Toyota Camry TRD, 23XI Racing
Do you like your chances heading into these last two races in this round?
“It’s Talladega, you are not safe. Anything can happen. I think for us, if we do what we did at Daytona, and the first Talladega race – and finish where we were running, we will be okay. We just have to survive. We put a lot of scenarios in play – talking with our Toyota teammates on what we do and how we execute with it all. I was like we need to survive. There is usually on three Toyotas that finish the race, and there is only six of us. I was like – let’s get to the final 10 laps and then we can start to worry about this stuff. You don’t treat it any differently, you go out and do what you are capable of doing and try to execute the best you can. That is all you can do.”
How much of a mentality change did Watkins Glen give you as you head to the ROVAL?
“You cannot relate anything from the Glen – obviously two different race tracks, but I think the things I learned at the Glen – approach-wise on corners and techniques stuff, you can carry that over. So, I worked on a little bit of that in the sim and picked up some speed and find some decent momentum. It’s all virtual right now until you get there next weekend but looking forward to it. We’ve run well there the last couple of times at the ROVAL. It’s just a matter of surviving and not trying too hard and getting caught up in somebody else’s accidents.”
How much does the stage breaks change your strategy at the ROVAL?
“I was whooped after the Glen with no breaks. I don’t know. I think that will be a fair question to ask after – and yes, we’ve had them before. I don’t know. If you talk to the teams, stage breaks – you kind of know your plan. There is no strategy involved with stage breaks. That’s the only thing – your fate is kind of sealed. Pit this lap, pit again and finish the race.”
Has your goals changed for this season now that you are in the Playoffs?
“A win would be great. I would love to continue to advance by winning, not pointing our way in. But advancing is advancing – no matter how you do it. I don’t think the mindset changes. I thought last weekend was all-around one of our cleanest and greenest races from the 23’s perspective. I thought Bootie (Barker, crew chief), the pit crew, to me – we all kind of executed the way we should have. It’s like – if that is what it is like, leading a hundred laps and finishing third – you do that every week – and it’s hard to do, but that is what we are capable of. When you are in the top-three every week, they say your win is bound to come. I do believe that. We have to just keep putting out name in the hat and keeping doing what we know we are capable of doing.”
What were you thinking the ceiling was for this team coming into the season?
“I went to lunch with Dave Rogers (Competition Director, 23XI Racing) the other day. About midway through the season, we were probably an eighth to 12th place car, and we are sitting ninth in the points right now, right on the cusp of that. I think having an understanding that, when usually the Playoffs start there is going to at least be two or three Playoff cars that take care of themselves, whether that be failures, crashes, penalties – whatever that may be – try to be one of them. Have a good day, execute solid, pit crew has a good day, crew chief, strategist, they execute solid. If that leads to 20th-place, you missed it. But when you put yourself in a hole, it’s tough. That’s when the mistakes happen. I think we are very capable of getting to the round of 8. I look at the third round – those are really good race tracks. Going off what I watched last year in Homestead – the car looked really, really fast, so I’m excited to get there, and then obviously, Vegas and Martinsville. I think if we can just fight our asses off these next weeks, it will be interesting to see what we can do for the remainder of the Playoffs.”
When you have runs like Texas, do you believe more that you are that top-five team?
“No, I believed that this entire time. It’s just a matter is everyone on their a-game this weekend. I guess if you divide it between three pieces of the pie – driver, pit crew, crew chief – I feel like a lot of times, we’re showing up with two of the three slices. We never had all three. So, we started to do that more and more, and look at what we are doing. It’s not because we are trying harder or whatever – it’s just show up and bring our a-game and we will take what we can get. It’s understanding that and appreciating that are two different things. It goes a long way. It helps team morale, and when you fight as one team – this sounds very bland – but you fight as one team, you show up to the race track and you are ready to battle with whatever circumstances come your way and that is what makes us so good is we feel like we can overcome anything if we don’t take ourselves out. The races can get super long, and you can doubt yourself right out, but if you have the right people in the right place to help you out, it makes that transition easy.”
Did you have to learn to like the ROVAL?
“I was not a fan of it. It’s a really, really tough race track. I think the only people who like it are the ones that win. It’s just no room for error. These cars are so on edge – you have to drive them on edge, and more so in the Next Gen car, you have to push these things to the absolute limit. With that, you kind of get bent out of shape and gather it. The ROVAL, I think, the only room for error is one of the hardest corners – (turns) three and four. It’s off camber. It’s a right-hand corner. You are kind of chasing it. You see a lot of guys spin out into the barriers over there. That is the most room that you have. Everything else – you are hitting the wall, and you are done. It’s tight. You have to have super finesse, so I think understanding that and slowing it down more mentally and trying to process things different has helped me with that. And then the prep work that we do has helped a tremendous amount. Being on the sim, talking with teammates and figuring out where to gain speed and where to maintain, and trying to have fun, but it is chaotic. It lives up to the name of being dramatic. I know Marcus (Smith) is probably listening to this, so if I praise it up anymore, he’s probably going to put it on the schedule for the next 10 years – and I don’t want that – but it’s chaotic.”
Can you talk about your level of confidence you have right now?
“Back to my conversation with Dave (Rogers, Competition Director, 23XI Racing) yesterday. He set down and asked how does it feel? I just had come from the golf course with (Ryan) Blaney and I was like ‘Getting my ass kicked on the golf course?’ and he was like no, being in the round of 12. I’m like ‘Meh.’ No, don’t take that like I don’t care to be here. It is just another race; we just so happen to be in the next round. I think it is super cool, but I also think that we should have been here last year. We were capable of doing this last year. We have the right people, just going to have to put it all together. It has been a lot of work to get to this point, for sure. It’s super cool to see the results pay off for everybody on this team. I could see my guys fired up about showing up for this race track and we still have our name in the hat, and we are progressing forward. We were the last seed to start the Playoffs, and the last seed coming into this round, and we advanced, and we are now two points out of advancing again. It’s cool for them. I’m pumped for them and I’m seeing them work extra hard to make sure we are doing everything right – that’s what motivates me, right? For me, Talladega is Talladega, and we know how crazy it can get, and the ROVAL is the ROVAL. We know how crazy it can get. We just have to take it one lap at a time and understand what I said earlier – people are going to take themselves out, don’t be one of those people.”
What did it mean to you racing with Kyle Busch Motorsports?
“Kyle (Busch) is a heck of a racer and gave me a heck of an opportunity when I was part of the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) camp when I was a part of that between ’13 and ’14. It was tough racing against him. He was the one to beat. I remember in 2013 racing every weekend and didn’t matter where we at, he was fast, and we were just trying to replicate that. He would talk to you, and he was like just do this, and you were like what? I’m trying to figure it out. It clicked about halfway through 2014. The 54 started getting talked about almost as much as Kyle. I think once you figured it out, it was fun to show up to the race track and know you were going to run top-three, top-two. It was going to be the 51 and the 54. I appreciate that and just learning. I remember after Martinsville in 2013, it was the off season, he set me down and said if you didn’t win Martinsville, you were out. Simple as that. I was like, well we won, so let’s do it again. I think just – we know how Kyle is – but you can take and appreciate that – of just trying to push to be the best. It may come off at being a jerk or being an asshole sometimes, but I understand what he’s trying to go for. At the end of the day, he’s helping a lot of people but he’s racing for himself and wants to be the absolute best. If you can learn from that and get past the harshness of that and try to take some of those traits, I think that helps you along the way and that is what I’ve done. I try to not be as sarcastic, but just from the racing standpoint and absolutely going out and being a dog, Kyle taught me a lot about that, so it is pretty cool.”
What do you have planned for the offseason?
“We were talking about it this morning – myself, and (Ryan) Blaney. He and his girlfriend Gianna (Tulio). Amanda (Wallace, wife) and I was talking about going to Australia and New Zealand for two weeks, and my wife is a massive planner. Previous trips – if we were doing something in December, we usually book something in March leading up. It is what – September 30th – we have nothing booked. I don’t know if that is going to happen, but I know if we continue to wait, plane tickets are going to be astronomical, which is more motivation to get to the next round to accept that bonus to pay for those tickets, but thinking about and trying to get all of the irons worked out, but trying to run the Snowball Derby for the first time this year. That is not relaxing at all, and a little more work – I’m looking forward to that if it can all work out. I think other than that it is just chilling at home. We are in the midst of building a house. We broke ground two months ago, and I have no idea what the house looks like – that is all Amanda, which is totally fine. That will be next off season when we move into that, so we will be dealing with that in the off season, but really, I’ve just been able to get away during the weeks, even during the Playoffs now by playing video games and staying at home. That’s what I plan on doing, whether it is in Australia or not.”
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