With a 12th-place finish in the Go Bowling at The Glen on Sunday, August 20, Bubba Wallace is one race away from claiming a potential spot in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Meanwhile, time is running low for a multitude of stars vying for the final vacant spot in the Playoffs currently occupied by Wallace. Among those within striking distance is rookie Ty Gibbs, who is still looking from the outside despite achieving another strong top-five result in his first full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series.
Wallace, the 29-year-old Wallace from Mobile, Alabama, rolled off the starting grid in 12th place but was able to gain the early pace needed to race his way into the top 10 on the track. At the conclusion of the first stage’s period on Lap 20, Wallace notched three stage points to his possession after being scored in eighth place. After pitting under green on Lap 21 with the front-runners, he emerged in ninth place nearing the Lap 30 mark and would retain the spot at the second stage’s conclusion on Lap 40 to collect two additional stage points and accumulate five stage points throughout the event.
An untimely caution with 35 laps remaining when Chase Elliott ran out of fuel and came to a stop on the course while Wallace moved up to second place resulted in Wallace having to pit along with select others during the caution period. Despite restarting 16th during a restart with 30 laps remaining, Wallace used the stretch to gain four spots on the track and pilot his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota TRD Camry to the checkered flag in 12th place, which marked his 13th top-15 result of the season and the fourth time where he finished 12th.
As a result of the finish and with William Byron, a four-time race winner of this season, winning Sunday’s event at Watkins Glen, Wallace, who dropped to the bubble zone towards the Playoff cutline last weekend after Michael McDowell won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, leaves The Glen with a 32-point advantage for the 16th and final vacant spot to the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs.
Currently, the 2023 regular-season stretch marks Wallace’s strongest to date with four top-five results, six top-10 results, a career-high 159 laps led and an average-finishing result of 17.0 through 25 scheduled events. While Wallace is looking to race his way into the Playoffs for the first time in his career and join 23XI Racing teammate Tyler Reddick in the postseason field, he is also seeking his first Cup victory of the season, with his latest victory occurring at Kansas Speedway in September 2022.
“I’m proud of myself,” Wallace said on USA Network. “That’s the first time I felt proud of myself at a road course race. I just executed and didn’t lose focus. Maybe one time, and that’s the difference maker. You’ve got to stay on it, especially at these places. Just hats off to my team for sticking with me and believing in me on these road courses. I know we still have one more [regular-season race] to go, but we wanted to maintain our gap and not lose too many, and we gained. Hats off to everybody, the effort that we put in, Toyota for believing in me,…all of our partners involved. Just a great day for the No. 23 team. Now we get to go into Daytona [International Speedway], still stressful as hell, but that takes a little bit of the edge off, for sure.”
Rookie Ty Gibbs, the reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion from Charlotte, North Carolina, started in fourth place, which marked his second-best starting spot of this season. He proceeded to finish fourth in the first stage and third in the second stage, where he accumulated 15 stage points and kept his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry running toward the front.
Restarting fifth during a 30-lap dash to the finish, Gibbs briefly lost a spot to teammate Martin Truex Jr. before he reclaimed fifth place. From there, he trailed AJ Allmendinger to the finish and claimed the checkered flag in fifth place, which marked his second top-five result of the season and of his youthful Cup Series career.
The strong top-five result, however, was not enough for Gibbs to boost himself inside the top-16 cutline to make the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs as he trails the cutline by 32 points behind Wallace entering the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. With Gibbs looking to notch his first victory in the Cup circuit and make his first Playoff appearance, he is also looking to join his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates consisting of Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. into the postseason field.
“I felt like we were really fast,” Gibbs said. “We had a really fast Monster Toyota Camry. I just didn’t do a good job getting through the guys in front of us. I feel like we were much faster than the three in front of us. And I just couldn’t get by them. I feel like I just need to do a better job at that, but feel like our car was really good and really capable of doing that. I don’t really know what mindset to have going in [to Daytona]. Just stay clean and try to make it to the end and have a good finish.”
In addition to Ty Gibbs, a host of names that include Daniel Suarez, AJ Allmendinger, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Austin Cindric, Justin Haley, Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola, Todd Gilliland, Corey LaJoie, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Harrison Burton, Chase Briscoe and Ty Dillon.
Currently, Wallace maintains the 16th and final vacant spot to the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs by 32 points over Ty Gibbs entering the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero Sugar 400, which will officially determine the 16-driver field of this year’s Cup Series Playoffs. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, August 26, at 7 p.m. ET on NBC.