By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The progress continued for Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing as they earned their best result of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season to date at Dover International Speedway.
Under caution for Aric Almirola popping a tire and slamming the outside wall, Wallace brought his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota Camry to the attention of his Mike Wheeler-led team. While the entire field pitted on lap 304, the strategies were split on the next caution.
When Anthony Alfredo crashed on the backstretch, Wheeler kept Wallace on track. Their Toyota were one of just eight to stay on track during that caution. On the restart Wallace jumped to the inside making it three-wide entering turn one. He held firm in eighth from team co-owner Denny Hamlin until the final caution waved on lap 326.
During the final 70-lap green flag run, Wallace initially kept Hamlin at bay. However, Hamlin, and Joey Logano, both on fresher tires, worked their way by the Mobile, AL native. Wallace spent the next 20 laps successfully holding off Ryan Blaney for 10th.
Cole Custer passed Blaney before catching and passing Wallace with 18 laps to go. The 27-year-old battled with Custer and Daniel Suarez throughout the final 18 laps. On old tires, Wallace stayed in contact with his NASCAR Cup Series competitors before taking the checkered flag in 11th.
“I thought our balance was good enough to keep us right there at the edge of the lead lap,” explained Wallace. “Cautions definitely fell our way to keep us in the game. That gave us a mental reset, but as the runs went on, we noticed that our speed was top-10 lap times. It’s just so hard to pass and make ground when everybody’s fighting for half-a-tenth to a tenth.
“It was a good call by Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and the team to keep us out late, and I was able to hang on. I had to fight some guys off to salvage that finish but that is what it takes. You have to stay mentally tough all day long. Everybody’s going to test you. It was a good day for our McDonald’s Toyota team.”
Due to NASCAR’s metric qualifying formula, Wallace started 22nd. He climbed into the top-15 in the first Stage. The second Stage saw Wallace slip backward, but he managed to stay on the lead lap. That put him and Wheeler in position to stay out on the final Stage.
The 11th-place finish is the first top-15 finish for Wallace this season and the first in the history of 23XI Racing. The 11th-place is also his best finish since the 2020 regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway where he finished fifth.
Wallace remains 21st in the points standings, 49 behind the playoff cutoff, held by Tyler Reddick. He is 325-points behind leader Hamlin.
Feature Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo