In his sixth full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Bubba Wallace is primed to achieve a milestone start. By competing in this weekend’s Cup event at Nashville Superspeedway, the driver of the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota TRD Camry will achieve 200 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native of Mobile, Alabama, Wallace made his inaugural presence in NASCAR’s premier series at Pocono Raceway in June when he was named an interim competitor of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion in place of Aric Almirola, who was recovering from a compression fracture to his T5 Vertebra after being involved in a vicious multi-car wreck at Kansas Speedway in May. By then, Wallace, who had recently lost his ride at Roush Fenway Racing in the Xfinity Series due to sponsorship issues, became the first African-American competitor to compete in a Cup Series event since Bill Lester made the last accomplishment at Michigan International Speedway in June 2006. During his Cup debut at Pocono, Wallace started 16th and finished 26th after serving multiple pit road speeding penalties. He returned for the following three of four Cup events, where he finished 19th at Michigan International Speedway in June, 15th at Daytona International Speedway and a season-best 11th at Kentucky Speedway in July, respectively, before Almirola returned to competition and Wallace was left without a full-time ride for the remainder of the season.
In late October 2017, Wallace was named a full-time competitor of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the 2018 Cup season, thus making him the first African-American competitor to compete on a full-time basis in NASCAR’s premier series since the late NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott made the last accomplishment in 1971. Making his Daytona Speedweeks debut in February, Wallace notched a strong third-place result in the first of two Daytona Duel events as he lined up in seventh place for the 60th running of the Daytona 500. He then edged veteran Denny Hamlin by 0.002 seconds in a two-lap shootout to finish in second place behind race winner Austin Dillon in the 500, which made him the highest-finishing African-American competitor in the Daytona 500’s history as he eclipsed the previous record made by Scott’s 13th-place result in 1966.
Commencing his first full-time Cup season on a strong note at Daytona, Wallace then finished no higher than 20th during the following five scheduled events before posting his second career top-10 result at Texas Motor Speedway in April. He then led six laps during the following scheduled event at Bristol Motor Speedway before falling back to 16th place in the final scoreboard. Finishing no higher than 14th for the remaining 18 regular-season events, Wallace did not clinch a spot to the 2018 Cup Playoffs. After finishing no higher than 19th throughout the Playoffs, Wallace managed to finish 10th in the penultimate event at Phoenix Raceway in November before capping off the season in 21st at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ultimately, he capped off his first full-time Cup campaign in 28th place in the final standings and in the runner-up spot behind William Byron in the rookie standings on the strength of three top-10 results, 10 top-20 results, 19 total laps led and an average-finishing result of 24.5.
Through the first 12 events of the 2019 season, Wallace achieved only two top-20 results and finished no higher than 17th, which occurred at Martinsville in March. Then during the All-Star weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, he and the No. 43 RPM team rose to the occasion as the Alabama native fended off Daniel Suarez in a two-lap shootout to win the second stage of the All-Star Open and transfer to his first career appearance in the All-Star Race, where he went on to finish in fifth place. From the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May through the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in September, Wallace notched a total of two top-15 results before achieving his second career top-five result in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which marked his second top-three run in NASCAR’s crown-jewel events. The top-three result at Indy, however, was not enough for him to make the 2019 Cup Playoffs. Managing only two additional top-15 results throughout the 10-race Playoff stretch, Wallace concluded his sophomore season in 28th place in the final standings and with an average-finishing result of 23.9.
In 2020, which marked his third Cup season driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace commenced the season by finishing 15th in the 62nd running of the Daytona 500. He then posted a strong sixth-place result at Las Vegas Motor Speedway following a late strategic call to remain on worn tires during a two-lap shootout before finishing 27th and 19th during the following two scheduled events at Auto Club Speedway and Phoenix. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic season that initially paused all racing activities until May and throughout the Carolinas, Wallace finished no higher than 16th during his next four scheduled starts before notching a 10th-place result at Bristol Motor Speedway in June. He then earned an additional three top-15 results throughout the following four events before finishing ninth at Indianapolis in July and ninth at Michigan in August. Despite achieving his lone top-five result in the regular-season finale at Daytona in August, Wallace fell short of making the Playoffs for a third consecutive season. With a total of two top-20 results throughout the 2020 Playoffs, Wallace capped off his junior Cup season in 22nd place in the final standings as he also achieved a total of five top-10 results and an average-finishing result of 21.1. By then, he surpassed 100 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
In September 2020, Wallace was named a full-time competitor of the newly formed No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota Camry team that was formed by NBA legend Michael Jordan and NASCAR veteran Denny Hamlin for the 2021 Cup season. Despite finishing second in the second of two Bluegreen Vacation Duels, Wallace’s first run with 23XI commenced on a fiery note after being involved in a multi-car wreck on the final lap of the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 and settling in 17th place in the final running order. He then finished no higher than 11th during his next 18-scheduled starts before notching his first top-five result of the season at Pocono Raceway in July by finishing fifth. Wallace’s top-five run occurred through fuel strategy as he remained on the track with enough fuel to finish.
After posting three top-20 results during the following five events, he ended up in second place in the regular-season finale at Daytona in August, but fell one spot short of racing his way into the 2021 Cup Playoffs. Five races later at Talladega in October, though, Wallace achieved his first career win in NASCAR’s premier series after the event was concluded 71 laps shy of the full distance due to inclement weather, where Wallace made a late surge to the lead before fending off Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano amid the draft. By recording the first career win for 23XI Racing, Wallace became the 198th different competitor to win in NASCAR’s premier series and the first African-American competitor to win in NASCAR’s premier series since Wendell Scott made the first accomplishment in 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. Managing two 14th-place results for the final five scheduled events, Wallace capped off the season in 21st place in the final standings on the strength of his Talladega victory, three top-five results, 62 total laps led and an average-finishing result of 19.7.
Remaining at 23XI Racing for the 2022 season, Wallace commenced the season on a high note by finishing in second place in the 64th running of the Daytona 500 after being beaten by rookie Austin Cindric by 0.036 seconds. He, however, finished no higher than 13th through the following 11-scheduled events before recording his second top-10 result of the season at Kansas Speedway in May. By then, Wallace and the No. 23 team had achieved a total of seven top-20 results. After finishing no higher than 12th during the next six events, he then ignited a hot streak by notching four consecutive top-eight results. This included a third-place result at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a fifth-place run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in July. He also posted a strong runner-up result at Michigan in August after starting on pole position for the first time in his career. With two top-13 results in the final three regular-season events, however, Wallace fell short of making the Playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
Then prior to the Playoffs, Wallace was moved to pilot 23XI Racing’s No. 45 entry that was competing for the owner’s title. Commencing the Playoffs with a ninth-place result in the Southern 500, Wallace earned his second Cup career victory at Kansas in September after leading 58 of 267 laps and beating owner Hamlin by a full second. The Kansas victory, which transferred the No. 45 team from the Round of 16 to 12 in the owner’s standings, made him the first African-American competitor to achieve multiple victories in NASCAR’s premier series and the 18th different winner of the 2022 campaign. The team’s entry, however, was eliminated from the owner’s battle after finishing no higher than seventh during the Round of 12. Then at Las Vegas in October, Wallace experienced a low point to his career by intentionally wrecking reigning champion Kyle Larson across the frontstretch and engaging in a shoving match with Larson following earlier contact with Larson that led to the incident. The wreck prompted NASCAR to suspend Wallace for the following event at Homestead as John Hunter Nemechek piloted the No. 45 entry. Returning for the final two events, Wallace capped off his strongest season to date by finishing eighth and 22nd at Martinsville and Phoenix, respectively, before ending up in 19th place in the final standings. By then, Wallace had achieved career-high stats in top fives (five), top 10s (10) and laps led in a season (150) while also achieving a career-best average-finishing result of 18.3.
Through the first 16-scheduled events of the 2023 Cup Series season, Wallace is off to his strongest starts of a season to date. He and the No. 23 team have rallied from posting back-to-back DNFs through the first two scheduled events by finishing fourth at Las Vegas in March. After posting two top-14 results for the following five scheduled events, he then notched a ninth-place run at Martinsville in April. A week later, he was leading on the final lap at Talladega when he and fellow competitor Ryan Blaney made contact that resulted with Wallace triggering a multi-car wreck and ending up 28th in the final running order. Wallace, though, rallied by finishing 12th, fourth, fifth and fourth, respectively during the proceeding four events. Despite coming off two consecutive results outside the top 15 in 30th and 17th, respectively, he is currently ranked in 15th place in the driver’s standings and is inside the top-16 cutline to make the 2023 Cup Playoffs by 26 points.
Through 199 previous Cup starts, Wallace has achieved two victories, one pole, 15 top-five results, 27 top-10 results, 299 laps led and an average-finishing result of 21.1.
Wallace is scheduled to make his 200th Cup Series career start at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 25, with the event’s coverage to occur at 7 p.m. ET on NBC.