Bubba Wallace now has a new achievement to add to his own Mount Rushmore with the triumphant arrival of his first playoff berth in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Bubba Wallace was indifferent after he survived the night and made it to the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs for the first time in his career. It was the end of a month of intense stress and worry over all the conceivable scenarios that could have happened this weekend at Daytona.
“I don’t have a lot of things on my Mount Rushmore,” Wallace said on Saturday night after the regular-season finale in Daytona.
“I got two faces with my two wins; I’ll put this as the third face up there. It’s pretty special.
“Just relieved. I don’t have much emotion, just relieved, drained mentally. Glad we’ve got the day off tomorrow because I’ll be hurting on Monday.”
The 29-year-old had spent the majority of the summer running close to the playoff cutline before Michael McDowell’s victory at Indianapolis pushed him to the playoff edge. Bubba Wallace remained here for two weeks before another fresh winner outside of the provisional playoff grid eliminated him from championship contention.
The fact that Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola, and AJ Allmendinger were among those who needed to earn their way in over the final two weeks at Watkins Glen and Daytona made that particularly nerve-wracking.
Wallace was battling against Ty Gibbs and Daniel Suarez for the final playoff berth at the same time, but with the limitation that no new victors would appear from the outside looking for a playoff spot.
Wallace turns out to be racer who also addresses openly and honestly about his struggles with mental health issues. Everyone in his circle could sense how much more pressure the playoff struggle had put on him over the past few weeks.
Wallace claimed that he was constantly waking up at 2:30 in the morning, “stressed to the max,” and leaving his wife questioning whether or not she was helping him enough or in the proper way.
“Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up crying, I don’t know,” he said. “My wife was crying. Amanda was crying so she was crying for me. But just proud of the team.
“Having that weight off your shoulders just allows you to breathe. So that’s what I’m focused on. Taking a deep breath and getting ready to go back to work Monday.”
The events of Saturday absolutely had been destined to happen. Wallace could only miss the playoffs due to a new winner since Gibbs crashed out early and Suarez just never contributed to the stage results.
The two Chevrolet drivers then launched a late attack, but because they had been encircled by Fords and unable to maintain lock-on to anyone’s bumper, they faded over the course of the finish.
Wallace was quickly overtaken on pit road by his family and crew, who also included team owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin.
In response to the pressure, the 23XI Racing ownership group stated that their only expectation for this season is that the No. 23 car will make the playoffs. Wallace underwent a metaphorical ringer to get there, but he will be one of the 16 competitors when the playoffs get underway at Darlington Raceway next weekend.
“He went through the toughest tests,” Hamlin said. “The toughest test is you’ve got two road courses that he’s not at the top at, and he’s got a superspeedway and he’s got to lead and he’s got to find a way to hold it, and he held serve to say the least.
“So really happy for that team and Bubba for accomplishing what we set out for a goal for that team at the beginning of the year, and that was to have two cars in the playoffs.
“That was the only goal that that race team had. Now it’s all up to them.”
Wallace has two Cup Series victories, at Talladega and Kansas, both of which came during the postseason but before Wallace was qualified for the title. The No. 23 squad is in a good position going into the next 10 weeks, but as Hamlin noted, it’s now up to them.
“He’s going to have fast cars, I can assure you of that,” Hamlin said. “And so, I think he’s going to be excited and love the challenge that this is going to put in front of them.
“Certainly, I believe that the tracks lay out well for Bubba now, especially the first round, so I think certainly they can find themselves for a threat to go as deep as their execution.
“I think that’s going to be the key is, if they can execute to get some stage points, they can run pretty deep.”