The conclusion of the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, September 10, generated mixed feelings for 23XI Racing. While Tyler Reddick celebrated an automatic transfer to the Playoff’s Round of 12 by notching his second NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season in overtime, teammate Bubba Wallace was left disappointed. but remained optimistic, on pit road after having a strong start and potential bid for the victory evaporate from a flat right-rear tire that sent Wallace into the outside wall during the second stage and out of contention despite nursing his wounded car to the finish multiple laps down.
At the drop of the green flag, the 29-year-old Wallace from Mobile, Alabama, quickly worked his way to the front from starting 10th. Amid an early caution period on the third lap that knocked Playoff contender Martin Truex Jr. out of contention to the ensuing restart on the ninth lap, Wallace was up to sixth by the Lap 10 mark. Two laps later, Wallace navigated his No. 23 Columbia Sportswear Toyota TRD Camry up to fourth place before moving up to third by Lap 20. Another five laps later, Wallace overtook Bell for the runner-up spot as he tried to gain ground on Playoff contender Kyle Larson for the lead.
Keeping pace behind Larson through the first wave of green flag pit stops that commenced on Lap 36, Wallace capitalized on a caution period on Lap 62 for an incident involving Playoff contender William Byron and the ensuing pit stop to beat Larson off of pit road and assume the lead. Despite leading the field to the ensuing restart on Lap 69, where he led three laps in total, Wallace was quickly overtaken by Larson as he ended up fending off Bell to finish in the runner-up spot and collect nine stage points at the conclusion of the first stage period.
Restarting alongside Larson to start the second stage on Lap 87, Wallace again retained the runner-up spot as he tried to keep Larson within his sights. Then on Lap 107, Wallace’s strong run diminished after he blew a right-rear tire entering Turn 1 and scrubbed the outside wall through the following two turns. The right-side damage was also enough to damage the right-rear toe link from Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota as Wallace dropped out of the lead lap category. Wallace’s pit crew, though, were able to repair and keep the car up to minimum speed despite the damage as he returned to the track while mired three laps down. Despite gaining one of his three lost laps back during another caution period on Lap 114 for an incident involving Austin Cindric, Wallace would lose more laps to the leaders after making additional pit stops to have his car repaired.
For the remainder of the event, Wallace would manage to overtake Harrison Burton, JJ Yeley and Austin Dillon before finishing 32nd when the checkered flag flew as he was scored four laps behind the leaders. As a result, Wallace, who came into the event a single point below the top-12 cutline to transfer to the Round of 12, is now 19 points below the cutline entering next weekend’s Round of 16 finale at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I got loose like five laps before, but I realize that was kind of like my line and my approach next to Turn 4,” Wallace said on USA Network. “Three or four laps later, [the right-rear tire] blew out. No indication going into [Turn] 1. I’m pissed at myself [that] I wasn’t closer to the fence and maybe, we would’ve gotten by with less damage, but you’re never gonna get a flat tire or blow a tire when you’re running 20th. You’re gonna get away really fast and lights out versus the competition.”
This season marks Wallace’s first appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as a title contender, where he made the top-16 cutline on the strength of four top-five finishes, seven top-10 results and 15 top-15 results throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch. Prior to Kansas, he finished seventh during last weekend’s Playoff opener at Darlington Raceway after rallying from a spin at the conclusion of the first stage period.
Wallace’s next NASCAR Cup Series event on the schedule is Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, which will serve as the Round of 16 finale as he aims to leap back above the cutline and keep his title hopes for this season alive. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, September 16, and air at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.