When NASCAR faithful talk about Dale Earnhardt Sr., several things come to mind. The black No. 3, seven championships, 76 points wins, the mustache, The Intimidator…also the 1998 Daytona 500 winner.
Dale Sr.’s Daytona 500 struggles were well documented and in many ways came to define his career as much as his other successes did. There was the 1990 500, the 1993 500, the 1997 500, and others that played into his Daytona 500 campaign before he finally won in 1998. Leading the field when the caution flew on the 198th lap out of the scheduled 200, Dale Sr. crossed the line to the praise and joy of all in the NASCAR nation.
But if Dale Sr. can cross the finish line and score his first Daytona 500 win under caution, why can’t Bubba Wallace’s first career win be considered just as valid?
It isn’t an ideal situation when a race is called early. Drivers are left wondering if they had more on the table in order to score the checkered but ultimately, in the NASCAR record books it still counts as a win. Drivers still get the trophy and points. And there’s no shame to it; Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Kurt Busch have all won shortened events, as have Ryan Newman, and Joey Logano.
Why should Wallace’s victory in the YellaWood 500 be any different? If Dale Sr.’s victory is revered as one of the biggest moments in NASCAR history, or Edwards’s 2016 Texas win looked back on as an end of an era, why shouldn’t Wallace get the credit for his win?
Of course, there are those who are iffy on shortened wins. Justin Haley got his first Cup win in a shortened event due to rain when he won at Daytona in 2019. He didn’t get it on speed but on strategy. Same for Chris Buescher at Pocono in 2016, and ditto for David Reutimann at Charlotte in 2009. For that matter, the same can be said for Logano’s first career win at New Hampshire in ’09 as well. It’s easy to see why it’s tempting to put an asterisk by a shortened win when faced with that list of races.
But like Dale Sr. in 1998, Wallace had a strong car at Talladega. He’s an efficient plate race, with three top-fives at Daytona and several strong runs at Talladega including a stage win in the spring. On Monday he ran a patient race, running near the front before putting his car into the lead five laps from the finish. It wasn’t a dominant performance like Dale Sr.’s 1998 Daytona run, but it was evident that Wallace had a potential winning car.
It wasn’t a full race, sadly, but in the end, it was past the halfway point. Any way it gets painted, a win is a win. Just ask Michael Waltrip, who earned his second Daytona 500 win in 2003 after the race was called after 109 of 200 laps. The trophy, check, and credit is still awarded to the driver leading when the race is called.
Social media warriors can still cry about NASCAR rigging the race and how they feel that Wallace didn’t warrant the win but ultimately it’s sour grapes. Wallace did battle, he played the game, and in the end, he was in the right place at the right time when the race was called. That was enough for Wallace and his 23XI Racing crew to break through and earn the title of NASCAR Cup Series winners.
It’s a time for celebration, not negativity. Wallace’s win was the first for a black driver since 1963, and with that being said it’s a time for celebration for the sport for that matter. So to those who call themselves fans yet sneer and detract from Wallace’s win, it’s time they evaluate what they truly want out of this sport for themselves.