Bubba Wallace makes history, earns first Cup career victory at Talladega

History was made under a wet, cloudy afternoon at Talladega, Alabama, after Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday, October 4, and claimed his first elusive NASCAR Cup Series career win.

Wallace, who dodged a late-race multi-car wreck, stormed to the lead with drafting help from Brad Keselowski with seven laps remaining in the second stage and continued to lead when another multi-car wreck occurred behind him two laps later that drew a caution. Soon after, rain, which dominated the weekend and forced the event to be postponed from its scheduled start on Sunday, October 3, began to pour across the superspeedway venue, which forced NASCAR to red-flag the event and park the field to pit road.

Nearly an hour after the event was red-flagged and with lightning strikes being reported along with continuous rain, NASCAR made the race official and Wallace was handed his first career win at his home track in NASCAR’s premier series and in his 143rd series start, thus becoming the second African-American competitor to win in the Cup level.

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Denny Hamlin, winner of last weekend’s Playoff event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and last year’s fall event at Talladega, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with teammate Kyle Busch.

Prior to the event, Quin Houff and Joey Gase started at the rear of the field due to failing pre-race inspection twice. James Davison also started at the rear of the field for replacing David Starr for the event.

Following a one-and-a-half-hour delay due to morning precipitation on the track on Sunday, October 3, the competitors fired up their engines and hit the track in an attempt to commence the event on a cloudy afternoon. Not long after, however, precipitation hit the track again, which forced the pace car to lead the field back on to pit road and under another weather delay. 

Then, NASCAR made the call to postpone the event from Sunday to Monday due to the continuous rain and no weather relief in sight.

When the competitors returned a day later, the race was able to start under green on a clear, cloudy afternoon. At the start, Kyle Busch jumped ahead with the lead on the inside lane followed by Chase Elliott while Hamlin slipped to third on the outside lane.

As Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski started to gain a run exiting the backstretch and entering the frontstretch, Kyle Busch was able to lead the first lap as the field began to fan out to multiple lanes and in a tight pack.

Just past the start/finish line, Logano stormed to the lead on the outside lane with drafting help from teammate Keselowski and Hamlin. Despite receiving a strong push to jump ahead through the backstretch, Logano nearly lost the top spot to Kyle Busch entering the frontstretch, but he was able to lead the following lap by a nose.

Through the first five laps of the event, Kyle Busch, who moved back to the lead on the third lap, was leading ahead of Elliott, Larson Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman. Tyler Reddick was in sixth ahead of Logano, rookie Chase Briscoe, Matt DiBenedetto and Bubba Wallace. By then, Hamlin pulled his car out of the pack as part of a strategic move and settled his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry in 29th place.

By Lap 10, Harvick, who took over the lead on the sixth lap, was leading ahead of Ford teammates Logano, DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Keselowski and Aric Almirola. Austin Dillon was in seventh ahead of William Byron, Cole Custer and Kyle Busch. 

Soon after, the field, which had broken apart and was divided into certain sections of competitors, was back competing in a tight pack within the draft and beginning to fan out to multiple lanes. Then, the field fanned out three lanes deep as Truex, who received drafting help from Wallace, challenged Harvick and DiBenedetto for the lead, which he succeeded on Lap 15 before being overtaken by Larson two laps later.

By Lap 20, Custer, who received drafting help from teammate Harvick, emerged with the lead ahead of Larson, who led the previous three laps, while Logano and Wallace were in the top five ahead of a steaming pack of cars. By then, 38 of the 40 starters were separated by less than six seconds. 

When the competition caution flew on Lap 25, Custer was still leading in his No. 41 Autodesk Ford Mustang ahead of Harvick, Logano, Blaney, Elliott, Keselowski and the field that settled through double lanes. By then, names like DiBenedetto, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Aric Almirola, Briscoe, Reddick, Hamlin and Christopher Bell were running outside the top 20 while Truex, Alex Bowman, Byron, Larson and Kyle Busch were back inside the top 20. 

Under the competition caution, the majority of the field pitted while 12 competitors led by rookie Anthony Alfredo remained on the track. During the pit stops, Hamlin slid through his pit box and had to back up for fresh tires while Elliott nearly made contact with Cody Ware while exiting his pit stall.

A lap later, the 12 competitors led by Alfredo who remained on the track pitted, giving the lead to Harvick.

When the race restarted on Lap 29, Harvick briefly jumped ahead with the top spot on the inside lane before Truex received a big push from Kurt Busch and Keselowski to take the lead through the backstretch. 

Then, Kurt Busch moved his No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to pass Truex on the inside lane and lead the following lap. Truex, though, fought back on the outside lane as the field was engaged in a competitive, tight pack within the draft. 

By Lap 35, Harvick, who reassumed the lead a lap earlier, was ahead of Team Penske’s Blaney and Logano. Austin Dillon was up in fourth ahead of Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Hamlin, Custer and the field. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch was in ninth, Truex was in 11th, Kyle Busch was in 14th, Byron was in 20th, teammates Larson and Bowman were in 22nd and 23rd, and Elliott was in 29th.

Approaching the Lap 38 mark, the field fanned out to three lanes at the front as Hamlin challenged Keselowski and Harvick for the top spot. In the middle of the pack, a four-wide action nearly occurred that included Logano.

Through the first 40 laps of the event, Keselowski was leading ahead of Buescher, Hamlin, Logano, Austin Dillon, Harvick and the field. By then, Michael McDowell, who suffered damage under the competition caution and lost in touch with the field and the draft prior to the restart, was lapped by the leaders.

Three laps later, the top-26 competitors were separated by a second as Keselowski challenged and overtook Hamlin, who led the previous two laps, for the top spot. By then, Keselowski had drafting help from Ford teammate Chris Buescher and Logano while Hamlin was trying to keep Bowman in the draft. Meanwhile, Austin Dillon was trying to form a third line on the inside lane, but he was overtaken by the other two lanes that had a multitude of cars within the draft. 

By Lap 50 and through the closing laps of the first stage, the majority of the field were running in a long single-file line on the outside lane led by Keselowski. In addition, names like Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Justin Haley were in the top 10 while names like Ross Chastain, Corey LaJoie, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick were in the top 15. Justin Allgaier, an Xfinity Series veteran, was in 16th ahead of Elliott.

Four laps later, Buescher, who bumped and moved Keselowski out of the way through the backstretch, led a lap for himself ahead of Logano and Harvick. Keselowski, meanwhile, was back in fourth alongside teammate Blaney.  

On Lap 56, the caution flew when Justin Allgaier, running within the top 10, got bumped and turned off the front nose of Byron entering the frontstretch, where he collided against Larson’s No. 5 Cincinnati Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE against the outside wall before sliding across the track and near the pit road exit. Briscoe and Ryan Preece were also involved in the accident.

The early incident concluded the first stage scheduled on Lap 60 under caution as Buescher claimed his second stage victory of the season and the first since Homestead-Miami Speedway in February. Logano, the highest-running Playoff contender, settled in second ahead of Keselowski, Harvick, Reddick, Blaney, Elliott, Ross Chastain, Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman. By then, names like Byron, Kyle Busch and Truex were in the top-17 while Hamlin was in 23rd. Meanwhile, Larson, who was having issues re-firing his car during the repairs, lost a lap to the leaders.

Through the first stage, 12 different competitors had led at least a lap, comprising of 17 different lead changes.

Under the stage break, nearly the entire field pitted while names like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., DiBenedetto and Daniel Suarez remained on the track. Once the competitors who did not pit earlier pitted, Logano was leading ahead of Hamlin, Keselowski, Buescher and Blaney. Meanwhile, Harvick pitted a second time after reporting a flat left-rear tire, which sent him to the rear of the field.

The second stage started on Lap 64. At the start, Logano received a push from teammate Keselowski to maintain the top spot on the inside lane through the first turn while Hamlin challenged Blaney on the outside lane.

The following lap, Kyle Busch intentionally drew his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry out of the pack to settle behind the pack as Reddick challenged Logano for the lead. Reddick, however, was overpowered by Team Penske’s three Playoff competitors led by Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang. 

Shortly after, the caution flew when Larson, who continued with the damage on his No. 5 car, lost the right-front tire, smacked the Turn 2 outside wall and shredded debris across the racing surface, making his day go from bad to worse.

Under caution, some led by Reddick and Hamlin pitted, mainly for fuel, while the rest led by Logano and Keselowski remained on the track. By then, Larson, who was four laps behind, was able to continue after meeting the minimum speed allotted while damaged.

On Lap 70, the entire field pitted for enough fuel to complete the second stage with weather threats looming near the track and the teams aiming to reach the halfway point to make the race official. During the pit stops, Hamlin nearly clipped Blaney while trying to enter his pit stall, which cost him time and positions. 

Following the pit stops, Cody Ware was the leader ahead of Logano, Keselowski, Buescher, Blaney and Harvick while Bell, Kyle Busch, Reddick and Joey Gase were in the top 10. 

Soon after, reports of rain near Turn 1 were reported as the pace car continued to lead the field at a cautious pace. Then on Lap 73, the pace car led the field to pit road and the race was red-flagged for a weather delay and for the jet dryers to dry the racing surface in Turns 1 and 2.

More than 18 laps later, the competitors returned to their cars and re-ignited the engines after the racing surfaces through the first two turns were dried, though weather threats and a flash flood watch remained within sight of the superspeedway venue. 

When the field returned to the track, the competitors returned to pit road for another round of topping off with fuel to get to the conclusion of the second stage. Meanwhile, Justin Haley and LaJoie remained on the track ahead of Team Penske’s three competitors along with Buescher, Reddick, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch and Harvick.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 77, Haley, piloting the No. 16 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Kaulig Racing, received drafting help from Logano on the inside lane while LaJoie had drafting help from Blaney on the outside lane through the first two turns.

Through the backstretch and entering the frontstretch, a third lane formulated on the outside lane as Buescher jumped ahead of LaJoie to move towards the front. Meanwhile, Haley continued to lead ahead of Logano and Keselowski. 

By Lap 80, Bell moved his No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry to the lead as he received drafting help from Harvick and Hamlin while Buescher, who briefly led, nearly wrecked entering the second turn. Meanwhile, Bell was in front of a long single-file line running on the outside lane. In addition, names like Ryan Preece, Stenhouse, Cody Ware, Michael McDowell and Erik Jones were in the top 10.

Four laps later, Hamlin, who moved to the inside lane entering the frontstretch, received a push from former teammate Erik Jones to take the lead over teammate Bell. With Hamlin out in front, Jones and Custer were in second and third while Bell fought back on the outside lane with drafting help from Harvick. 

Through 90 laps and with the intensity of the pack racing crescendoing, Harvick, who took over the lead a lap earlier, was leading ahead of Alex Bowman and Bell, who led the previous six of nine laps. Hamlin and Stenhouse were in the top five followed by Elliott, Erik Jones, Keselowski, Custer and Alfredo. By then, the top-36 competitors were separated by three seconds. Meanwhile, Larson was mired back in 39th, four laps behind. In addition, Briscoe was lapped by the field.

At the halfway mark on Lap 94, which would make the race official, Bell, who reassumed the lead two laps earlier, was out in front with drafting help from teammate Hamlin. Bowman then challenged on the outside lane followed by Harvick, Stenhouse, Erik Jones, Elliott, Custer, Keselowski, Buescher and the field mired in a tight three-wide pack.

Three laps later, the caution flew when Alex Bowman, who led the previous lap and was challenging Bell for the lead, was bumped by Stenhouse exiting the backstretch and made head-on contact into the outside wall before he was hit hard by Ross Chastain, which demolished his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. While most of the field dodged the incident, names like Reddick, Kyle Busch, Truex, DiBenedetto, Quin Houff, BJ McLeod and Preece were involved. The wreck, however, placed Bowman in a “must-win” scenario for next weekend’s Playoff event at the Charlotte Roval to keep his title hopes alive.

With 17 laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted under green as Stenhouse and Bell filled in the front row. At the start, Stenhouse had drafting help from Chase Elliott on the outside lane while Bell had teammate Hamlin and Harvick pushing him on the inside lane through the first two turns.

When the field returned to the frontstretch, Stenhouse maintained the lead followed by Elliott and Keselowski while Bell slipped back to fourth after losing the draft with Hamlin and Harvick. A lap later, though, Bell fought back on the inside lane, but Stenhouse continued to maintain the lead with continuous help from Elliott.

By Lap 108, Kurt Busch, who initially was pushing Bubba Wallace a lap earlier, stormed to the lead ahead of a three-wide cluster of cars with the skies darkening. 

Down to the final 10 laps of the second stage, Kurt Busch was leading ahead of Harvick, Bell, Stenhouse and Hamlin while Wallace, Jones, Elliott, Austin Dillon and Keselowski were in the top 10. 

Not long after, Harvick was drafted out of the lead pack as Kurt Busch and Stenhouse engaged in a heated duel for the lead. 

On Lap 112, Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch, Wallace’s future teammate at 23XI Racing, dueled for the lead as Wallace received a push from Keselowski on the outside lane to lead the following lap. Wallace then moved his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota Camry in front of Busch and Bell while Keselowski remained on the outside lane in front of teammate Logano.

With five laps remaining in the second stage, the caution flew when Preece, who was running towards the front, got bumped and turned by Buescher, spun and smacked the backstretch outside wall before he clipped DiBenedetto and Byron, who had flames bursting out of his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Like teammate Bowman, the wreck placed Byron in a “must-win” scenario for the Roval to maintain his title hopes.

At the time of caution, Wallace retained the lead ahead of Keselowski and Logano while Kurt Busch and Bell were in the top five. Just then, the skies darkened and the track was overshadowed with scattered rain and clouds, which forced the pace car to lead the field to pit road and to a stop on Lap 117, three laps shy of the second stage.

While Wallace and the field awaited the decision, the jet dryers returned to the track to dry the racing surface. Soon after, reports of continuous precipitation along with lightning were made as nearly the entire grandstands were emptied and the competitors and teams took shelter near their respective pit box.

Then, 17 minutes after the lightning report was made, NASCAR declared the race official and Wallace, who awaited the decision in his pit box, was named the winner, having led the final five laps prior to the call and with the race 71 laps shy of its scheduled distance.

With the victory, Bubba Wallace became the 198th different competitor to win in the NASCAR Cup Series, the third first-time Cup winner of 2021, the 12th first-time winner at Talladega and the second African-American competitor to achieve a win in the NASCAR Cup Series. The first African-American competitor to win in NASCAR occurred in December 1963 made by the late NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott.

“Part of me was just sitting there waiting,” Wallace, who was anxiously awaiting NASCAR’s decision to declare the race official, said on NBCSN. “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.

“Just so proud of everybody at 23XI [Racing],” Wallace added. “New team. Coming in and getting a win late in the season. [It] Reminds me of 2013. Waited so long to get that first Truck win. I know a lot of history was made today, I believe, which is really cool, but it’s about my guys, it’s about our team, it’s about what we’ve done. Appreciate Michael Jordan, appreciate Denny [Hamlin] for believing in me, giving me the opportunity. Like we talk, it’s pretty fitting that it comes here at Talladega.”

When asked about being the second African-American competitor to achieve a win in the NASCAR Cup Series, the emotions began to pour out of Wallace’s face and voice while recognizing the significance.

“I never think about those things,” Wallace said. “When you say it like that, it brings a lot of emotions, lot of joy to my family, fans, friends. It’s pretty damn cool. Just proud to be a winner in the Cup Series.”

Finally, Wallace evoked an inspiring message to future inspirers following his long journey and hurdles to become a NASCAR Cup Series winner.

“This is for all those kids out there that want to have an opportunity, whatever they want to achieve and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said. “You’re gonna go through a lot of [expletive], but you always got to stay true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you. Stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry. There’s been plenty of times where I wanted to give up. You surround yourself with the right people and it’s moments like this that you appreciate.”

In addition to Wallace achieving his first win as a driver, the victory was also a first for veteran crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker, who replaced Mike Wheeler as Wallace’s crew chief in mid-September. It was also the first for 23XI Racing, a newly formed NASCAR team that debuted this season and is co-owned by NASCAR veteran NBA legend Michael Jordan and NASCAR veteran Denny Hamlin.

“It’s just way more emotional [as an owner] because I know how difficult it is,” Hamlin, who finished seventh on the track, said. “These guys just worked so hard over the last 10 months to put this team together. We just spent a lot of hours getting this all put together. It’s great to see the results from all the work from these team guys. It means so much. It’s a learning process. We knew it was gonna be a learning process, but I’m so happy for the team…This is just the building step. We’re still in the beginning stages of our team. We’re still growing. We got some great things on the horizon, but this is just a great moral booster for everyone.”

Wallace’s first Cup victory at Talladega capped off a historic NASCAR triple-header weekend at Talladega filled with first-time winners as Tate Fogleman claimed his first Truck Series career win in a wild finish while Brandon Brown achieved his first Xfinity career win, both occurring on Saturday, October 2.

Wallace’s victory also meant that none of the remaining 11 Playoff contenders, aside from Hamlin, earned a one-way ticket to the Round of 8 by winning, leaving them to battle for the remaining seven vacant spots to the penultimate round in the Playoffs next weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (Roval).

Brad Keselowski was the highest-finishing Playoff contender on the track in second place while teammate Logano settled in third. Kurt Busch finished fourth while Christopher Bell completed the top five. Chris Buescher, Hamlin, Harvick, Erik Jones and Alfredo finished in the top 10.

Truex, Blaney and Elliott finished 12th, 15th and 18th while Kyle Busch ended up 27th, Following their misfortunes, teammates Byron, Larson and Bowman finished 36th, 37th and 38th.

There were 35 lead changes for 19 different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 27 laps. Only nine of the 40 starters did not finish on the lead lap.

Results:

1. Bubba Wallace, five laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Brad Keselowski, 13 laps led

3. Joey Logano, nine laps led

4. Kurt Busch, nine laps led

5. Christopher Bell, 12 laps led

6. Chris Buescher, seven laps led, Stage 1 winner

7. Denny Hamlin, six laps led

8. Kevin Harvick, 16 laps led

9. Erik Jones

10. Anthony Alfredo, one lap led

11. Austin Dillon

12. Martin Truex Jr., two laps led

13. Cole Custer, seven laps led

14. Chase Briscoe

15. Ryan Blaney

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 10 laps led

17. Michael McDowell

18. Chase Elliott

19. Quin Houff

20. Justin Haley, four laps led

21. Ryan Newman

22. Corey LaJoie

23. Daniel Suarez

24. Landon Cassill

25. Joey Gase

26. Aric Almirola

27. Kyle Busch, four laps led

28. Cody Ware, four laps led

29. Garrett Smithley

30. BJ McLeod

31. Josh Bilicki

32. Ryan Preece – OUT, Accident

33. Ross Chastain, one lap down

34. James Davison, one lap down

35. Matt DiBenedetto – OUT, Accident, two laps led

36. William Byron – OUT, Accident

37. Kyle Larson, four laps down, three laps led

38. Alex Bowman – OUT, Accident, one lap led

39. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Accident, two laps led

40. Justin Allgaier – OUT, Accident

Bold indicates Playoff contenders.

Playoff standings.

1. Denny Hamlin – Advanced

2. Kyle Larson, +22

3. Joey Logano, +21

4. Brad Keselowski, +20

5. Martin Truex Jr., +20

6. Ryan Blaney, +15

7. Chase Elliott, +9

8. Kyle Busch, +9

9. Kevin Harvick, -9

10. Christopher Bell, -28

11. William Byron, -44

12. Alex Bowman, -52

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will continue at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course for the Bank of America Roval 400 on Sunday, October 10, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, which will mark the series’ seventh and final road course event of this season. It is also where the second round of eliminations in the Playoffs will occur. 



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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