Bubba Wallace spoils the Playoffs with second Cup career victory at Kansas

Bubba Wallace wheeled the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota TRD Camry to a late victory in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, September 11. It was the second time in recent weeks that a non-Playoff competitor spoiled the show in the early stages of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. On this occasion, it was a team that celebrated an automatic transfer to the second round in the owners’ standings.

The 28-year-old Wallace from Mobile, Alabama, led two times for 58 of 267-scheduled laps, including the final 43, and rallied from an early loose wheel that forced him to pit for a second time prior to the start of the second stage as he held off team owner Denny Hamlin amid lapped traffic to score his second career win in NASCAR’s premier series. The victory enabled the No. 45 team to earn an automatic pass to the Round of 12 in the owners’ standings with Wallace not contending for the drivers’ title.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Playoff contender Tyler Reddick secured his second pole position of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 180.608 mph in 29.899 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Playoff contender Joey Logano, who posted the second-best lap sat 180.385 mph in 29.936 seconds.

Prior to the event, Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars.

When the green flag waved and the race started, Reddick and Logano dueled early for the lead entering the first turn before Logano capitalized on the inside lane to assume the lead. With the field fanning out through the backstretch, Logano went on to lead the first lap while Alex Bowman muscled his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the runner-up spot over Reddick’s No. 8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

Two laps later, however, Bowman battled and overtook Logano on the outside lane for the lead. Reddick would soon overtake Logano for the runner-up spot while Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain occupied the top five ahead of a side-by-side battle between Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson.

Through the first five scheduled laps, Bowman was leading by six-tenths of a second over Reddick followed by Logano, Bell and Chastain while Wallace, Larson, Kevin Harvick, rookie Austin Cindric and Martin Truex Jr. were in the top 10 ahead of Daniel Suarez, William Byron, Chris Buescher, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon.

At the Lap 10 mark, Bowman stabilized his advantage to nearly eight-tenths of a second over Reddick followed by Logano and Bell while Wallace muscled his No. 45 Root Insurance Toyota TRD Camry into the top five. By then, half of the 16 Playoff contenders were running in the top 10 while Chase Elliott was the lowest-running Playoff contender in 26th. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch was in 22nd while Chase Briscoe was mired in 17th behind William Byron, Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin.

On Lap 25, a competition caution was displayed as scheduled by NASCAR. At the moment of caution, Bowman had extended his advantage to more than a second over Reddick while Logano, Bell, Wallace, Chastain, Truex, Larson, Harvick and Cindric were scored in the top 10.

During the competition caution, the leaders led by Bowman pitted and Reddick reassumed the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Bowman, Logano, Bell, Truex and Wallace. Following the pit stops, however, Brad Keselowski, Briscoe and Truex were sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road. In addition, Hamlin was penalized for an equipment interference.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 31, Reddick and Bowman dueled for the lead as the field fanned out to multiple lanes through the backstretch and entering Turn 3. As Bowman and Reddick continued to battle dead even for the lead, a three-wide action for third place ignited between Logano, Chastain and Wallace as Harvick closed in. 

Two laps later, however, the caution returned when Chastain and Wallace slid up the track and in front of Harvick entering Turn 4. This caused Harvick to get loose before he veered back to the right and smacked the outside wall in Turn 4 as he sustained significant right-side damage to his No. 4 Rheem Ford Mustang. The damage on the No. 4 Ford, which included the right-front suspension, was too extensive for Harvick to continue as he took his car to the garage and retired in 36th place, dead last.

At the start of the following restart on Lap 38, Reddick retained the lead while fending off Blaney and Bowman before Logano challenged Bowman for third place through the first two turns. Behind, Chastain rocketed his No. 1 AdventHealth Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to fifth after he overtook Wallace and Bell as the field continued to dice for positions towards the front. 

By Lap 50, Reddick was ahead by nearly a second over Blaney, Bowman, Chastain, Bell, Wallace, Logano, Buescher, Cindric and Byron. Behind, Stenhouse was in 11th ahead of Larson, Suarez, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Almirola, Truex and Hamlin while Briscoe was in 29th.

Fifteen laps later, however, the caution flew when the race leader Reddick slipped sideways and slapped the outside wall after he cut a right-rear tire in Turn 2.  The situation went from bad to worse for Reddick, who then spun below the apron as he was entering pit road and ultimately retired from the race. Under caution, the leaders led by Bowman pitted and Austin Dillon assumed the lead following a two-tire pit stop.

With nine laps remaining in the first stage, the race proceeded under green. At the start, Austin Dillon and Bell dueled until Bell prevailed on the inside lane. Shortly after, Blaney battled and overtook Dillon for third before Truex and Chastain took Dillon three-wide in a bid for fourth followed by Stenhouse and Wallace. 

When the first stage concluded on Lap 80, Bell, who was making his 100th Cup career start, captured his third stage victory of the 2022 season. Blaney settled in second while Truex, Stenhouse, Wallace, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Chastain, Logano and Austin Dillon, who fell back on two fresh tires, were scored in the top 10. By then, Hamlin was in 11th ahead of Byron and Larson while Cindric was in 15th followed by Suarez and Bowman. Briscoe was mired back in 25th while Reddick and Harvick were officially out of the event.

Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Bell returned to pit road for service while Almirola remained on the track to inherit the lead. Following the pit stops, Blaney and Wallace pitted to address loose wheels on their respective cars.

The second stage started on Lap 86 with Almirola and McDowell, who opted for two fresh tires, on the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out, McDowell pulled ahead with the lead while Almirola, who slid up the track, made the slightest of contact with Bell and Elliott, though all continued to run straight. 

During the following lap, Truex muscled his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota TRD Camry into the lead. Behind, Stenhouse moved in second over McDowell while Bell and Byron were in the top five. In addition, Almirola was in sixth in front of Elliott and Suarez while Kyle Busch and Logano were in the top 10.

Another three laps later, the caution flew for Ty Gibbs, who got loose after making contact with Corey LaJoie and slapped the outside wall in Turn 2 as he flattened both right-side tires and sustained right-side damage to his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota TRD Camry. During the caution period, Almirola and Ty Dillon pitted while the rest of the field led by Truex remained on the track.

During a Lap 95 restart, Truex and Stenhouse dueled for the lead before Truex managed to clear himself with the lead and with a clear racetrack in front of him two laps later. Meanwhile, Bell and Byron battled for third in front of Kyle Busch and McDowell.

At the Lap 100 mark, Truex was leading by more than half a second over Stenhouse while Bell was the highest-running Playoff contender in third in front of Kyle Busch and Byron. By then, seven of 16 Playoff contenders were running in the top 10 as Briscoe, Cindric, Suarez, Chastain, Austin Dillon, Blaney and Hamlin were mired outside of the top 10 on the track.

Nine laps later, the caution returned when Stenhouse, who was running in second place, slapped the outside wall in the backstretch after he blew a right-rear tire on his No. 47 SunnyD Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. During the caution period, the leaders led by Truex pitted and Truex retained the lead after exiting with the top spot followed by Byron, Bowman, Logano, and Kyle Busch. Following the pit stops, however, Truex limped his way back to pit road to address a loose left-rear wheel. In addition, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Suarez were all penalized for equipment interference.

On Lap 114, the race restarted under green as teammates Byron and Bowman occupied the front row. Entering the first turn and with the field bunched up, however, the caution returned when Erik Jones, winner of last weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, made contact with rookie Harrison Burton and Corey LaJoie while trying to squeeze himself in between both competitors as both LaJoie and Burton went up the track and clipped Almirola, who went spinning before both collided with one another toward the outside wall.

At the start of another restart on Lap 120, Bowman used the inside lane to his advantage as he assumed the lead over teammate Byron while Logano was left in a three-wide battle against Briscoe and Elliott for third as Bell pursued behind.

At the halfway mark in between Laps 133 and 134, Bowman was leading by eight-tenths over Logano, Byron, Elliott, Briscoe, Cindric, Bell, Blaney, Larson and Wallace. Chastain, Kyle Busch and Hamlin were in 12th, 14th and 17th while Suarez was in 21st and Austin Dillon was in 22nd.

Then on Lap 136, the caution flew when Kyle Busch, who was in 12th in front of Truex and Chastain, got loose and spun his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota TRD Camry into the frontstretch grass after he cut a right-rear tire. During the caution period, the leaders led by Bowman pitted and Bowman retained the lead ahead of teammate Byron.

With 22 laps remaining in the second stage, Bowman received a push from Bell on the inside lane to maintain the lead before Byron used the outside lane to overtake Bell for the runner-up spot. In addition, Logano moved up to third while Bell maintained fourth in front of Blaney and Elliott.

With less than 10 laps remaining in the second stage, Bowman remained as the leader by four-tenths of a second over Bell while Byron, Elliott and Wallace were in the top five. Wallace’s owner Hamlin was in sixth in front of Logano, Larson, Blaney and Chastain.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 165, Bowman captured his second stage victory of the 2022 season. Bell settled in a close second place followed by Byron, Wallace, Elliott, Hamlin, Larson, Logano, Blaney and Chastain.

Under the stage break, the leaders led by Bowman pitted and Bowman retained the lead following another strong pit stop from his pit crew while Wallace and Hamlin moved up to second and third.

With 96 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start, Bowman retained the lead while Wallace challenged Byron for the runner-up spot as the field fanned out through the backstretch. A few laps later, teammates Byron and Larson overtook Wallace for second and third as Logano and Bell closed in while Bowman started to pull away with the lead.

With 87 laps remaining, Larson got loose entering Turns 3 and 4 while running on the outside lane. This allowed Byron and Wallace to go three wide on Larson as Wallace muscled his way into the runner-up spot. By then, Bowman was out in front by more than a second. 

Eight laps later and with 75 laps remaining, Bowman stabilized his advantage to more than a second over Wallace followed by Byron, Bell and Larson, who continued to run in the top five despite brushing the wall earlier. Hamlin was in sixth while Blaney, Truex, Chastain and Logano were in the top 10 in front of Cindric, Elliott, Justin Haley, Suarez and Christopher Buescher.

Another eight laps later, Wallace, who slowly tracked Bowman, overtook Bowman to assume the lead for the first time.

Just past the final 55 laps of the event, green flag pit stops ensued as Truex pitted followed by teammate Hamlin and Byron. Shortly after, the leader Wallace pitted along with Bell, Blaney, Larson, Cindric, McDowell, Kyle Busch, Bowman and others.

When the latest cycle of green flag pit stops concluded with 42 laps remaining, Wallace cycled his way back into the lead after Logano and Suarez, who endured a slow pit stop, pitted under green. By then, Bell moved into second followed by teammate Hamlin while Byron and Bowman were in the top five.

With less than 30 laps remaining, Wallace was leading by two seconds over Bell, who was slowly gaining ground on Wallace for the lead as Wallace was navigating his way through lapped traffic. Hamlin was in third followed by Byron and Bowman while Chastain, Larson, Truex, Blaney and Elliott were in the top 10. By then, Playoff contenders Cindric, Austin Dillon, Briscoe, Suarez, Logano and Kyle Busch were in 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 18th and 24th.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Wallace stabilized his advantage to less than two seconds over Bell while third-place Hamlin trailed by more than two seconds. Another four laps later, Hamlin dueled and overtook teammate Bell on the frontstretch to assume the runner-up spot.

With 10 laps remaining, Wallace continued to lead by two seconds over team owner Hamlin, who was navigating his way through lapped traffic, while third-place Bell trailed by less than three seconds.

Five laps later, Wallace’s advantage decreased to less than a second and a half over Hamlin, though the former retained the top spot.

When the white flag waved and the final lap commenced, Wallace remained as the leader by more than a second over Hamlin. Despite having lapped traffic in front of his windshield, Wallace was able to navigate his way around Kansas for a final time and cycle back to the frontstretch to claim his first elusive checkered flag of the 2022 season by a second over Hamlin. 

With his second Cup career victory and by transferring the No. 45 23XI Racing entry into the Round of 12 in the owners’ standings, Wallace also became the 138th different competitor to achieve multiple wins in NASCAR’s premier series, he recorded the third career win for 23XI Racing and he became the 18th different winner through the first 28 scheduled events, which was a record in NASCAR history. The victory also meant that the No. 45 23XI Racing entry swept both Kansas Cup victories of the season after winning in May with Kurt Busch.

This also marks the first time since the Playoffs debuted in 2004 where the first two Playoff events were won by non-title contenders after Erik Jones won at Darlington Raceway a week ago.

Photo by Simon Scoggins for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“Man, just so proud of this team,” Wallace said on USA Network. “So proud of the effort that they put in each and every week. Just thankful for the opportunity, right? Took this jump from an idea two years ago from a text from Denny [Hamlin] before [23XI Racing] all even happened. He was ready to get the deal done. Appreciate him, appreciate [Michael Jordan]…everybody at 23XI. They work their tails off. Just so proud. Pit crew was awesome today. We had one loose wheel. Just thankful. Thankful for the opportunity and thankful to shut the hell up for a lot of people.”

“I knew Denny was gonna be strong,” Wallace added. “That’s the things I look at. He wasn’t that good at the beginning of the day, and he comes up and finishes P2. That’s what I wanna start doing. We don’t have the best days. Just capitalize on moments like that. It’s cool to beat the boss, but man, we were just lights out today once we got to the lead. It was a lot of fun. It was just cool, calm and collective, and here we are. True fans that are out there, thank you, guys. I love you. It’s been a tough road. You [fans] are the best. Let’s keep this train rolling.”

The runner-up result provided mixed emotions for Hamlin, positives from an owner’s perspective but disappointment from a driver’s perspective.

“It’s a good overall day,” Hamlin said. “Just still frustrated about the first half of the race, obviously. We just aren’t executing that well. Really happy for our No. 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, Bubba Wallace and [crew chief] Bootie [Barker]. Bubba’s just really worked hard on his craft. We’ve just given him fast race cars and now, he’s showing what he’s got. I nearly wrecked to try to catch him off of [Turn] 4. I got bad loose and hit the fence, but I was driving as hard as I could. Nothing will ever come for free when you’re driving for me. If you think that I’m gonna let you win, you better go get another job. Just what a great day overall for Toyota.”

The third-place finish for Bell felt like a victory for the Oklahoma native as he garnered enough points (58) to become the first Playoff competitor to secure a spot for the Round of 12 in the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs.

“[I] Just got off a little bit on our balance that last run, but overall a great points day and very proud of everyone on this DEWALT No. 20 team,” Bell said. “Great day for Toyota and happy for Bubba to get a win. He was really deserving, really fast all day. Great points day. We’ll move on and try and win one. I’m very happy that we’re finally getting the results that this team deserves. Our speed has been there all year, and I feel like we’ve given up a couple good finishes. Last couple of weeks we’ve been building on it, and hopefully, we can keep the ball rolling.”

Bowman, who led the most laps at 107, came home in fourth place in front of Truex. Byron, Chastain, Larson, Blaney and Daniel Suarez completed the top 10 in the final running order.

There were 16 lead changes for 12 different leaders. The race featured nine cautions for 43 laps.

Results.

1. Bubba Wallace, 58 laps led

2. Denny Hamlin

3. Christopher Bell, 12 laps led, Stage 1 winner

4. Alex Bowman, 107 laps led, Stage 2 winner

5. Martin Truex Jr., 24 laps led

6. William Byron, nine laps led

7. Ross Chastain

8. Kyle Larson

9. Ryan Blaney, two laps led

10. Daniel Suarez, eight laps led

11. Chase Elliott

12. Austin Cindric

13. Chase Briscoe

14. Austin Dillon, three laps led

15. Chris Buescher

16. Michael McDowell, one lap led

17. Joey Logano, one lap down, two laps led

18. Noah Gragson, one lap down

19. Justin Haley, one lap down

20. Ty Dillon, one lap down

21. Aric Almirola, one lap down, three laps led

22. Cole Custer, one lap down

23. Todd Gilliland, one lap down

24. Landon Cassill, one lap down

25. Brad Keselowski, one lap down

26. Kyle Busch, two laps down

27. Cody Ware, two laps down

28. JJ Yeley, three laps down

29. Erik Jones, three laps down

30. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., five laps down

31. BJ McLeod, five laps down

32. Harrison Burton – OUT, Accident

33. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Accident

34. Ty Gibbs – OUT, Accident

35. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Accident, 38 laps led

36. Kevin Harvick – OUT, Accident

*Bold indicates Playoff contenders

Playoff standings

1. Christopher Bell – Advanced

2. William Byron +48

3. Denny Hamlin +47

4. Joey Logano +40

5. Ryan Blaney +36

6. Alex Bowman +30

7. Chase Elliott +28

8. Kyle Larson +27

9. Ross Chastain +26

10. Daniel Suarez +6

11. Tyler Reddick +2

12. Austin Cindric +2

13. Kyle Busch -2

14. Austin Dillon -3

15. Chase Briscoe -9

16. Kevin Harvick -35

Next on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff schedule is Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race and where the first round of eliminations will occur. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, September 17, at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.



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.

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