By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Although he rebounded from a bad pit stop, Bubba Wallace was left frustrated in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 following late-race calls by NASCAR Cup Series officials.
After avoiding a multi-car wreck with 12 laps to go, Wallace appeared to have moved into the top-five. However, NASCAR officials moved the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota Camry back to ninth for the ensuing restart. Three of the cars that were moved ahead of Wallace, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski were all in the wreck that the 23XI Racing driver avoided.
The three drivers continued with varying levels of damage to each of their cars. That damage was evident on the ensuing restart as they stacked up entering Turn 1. Though that ultimately kept the field from being collected in the wreck between race leaders Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson.
In overtime, those damaged cars once again hindered the progress of both Harrison Burton and Wallace. The Mobile, AL native used the damaged cars to sneak by Burton for fifth. However, he didn’t have enough time to work his way by all of them to challenge for the win.
“It’s just frustrating,” Wallace stated. “The No. 6 and the No. 9 were damaged from a wreck, and they got their spots back. I’ve had many a time where I’ve been in a wreck, and I don’t ever get my spot back. It’sfunny how that works and cost us a couple spots. Cost a shot at, maybe starting on the front row, who knows? It’s frustrating.”
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The fifth-place finish almost didn’t happen. During the break between Stage 1 and 2, Wallace pitted. The right rear tire was loose despite having a tightened lug nut. His crew caught the mistake and quickly fixed it. The damage had been done and Wallace lost 20 spots. A similar issue was not caught on Erik Jones car in the final Stage and resulted in a multi-car accident.
While Wallace started Stage 2 in 23rd, he quickly began moving up the running order. He didn’t finish the Stage inside the top-10, but he climbed up to the top-15. Before the late-race spat of cautions in the final Stage, Wallace had reached 13th.
“I thought we had a second-place car,” Wallace admitted. “I’ll put that down in the debrief. The No. 19 was strong, I don’t know what got him in the back. Pit stops hurt us. That one kind of set us back, but they rebounded and executed the rest of the time. I appreciate that.
“It’s such a big aero place. Even when tires wear out, the groove goes to the top and you’re just trying to find your way. I’m proud of our team for staying in it. Things were starting to fall our way there and ended up fifth, so solid points there. Continuing to climb.”
The fifth-place finish was Wallace’s third top-five in 2023. It was just the second time in his career to earn consecutive top-five finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series. It marked the 29-year-olds 14th career top-five.
The third-place finish in Stage 1 netted Wallace eight additional points. That combined with a top-five finish moved him up from 18th to 15th in the points standings, 136 behind leader Chastain. Wallace is 18-points above the playoff cutline, currently held by Chase Briscoe.
Next for Wallace is the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. He is locked into the main event by virtue of his win at Kansas Speedway last year. Though he has never competed at the historic track, Wallace will get additional seat time as he’ll return to the TRICON Garage No. 1 Toyota Tundra for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
The All-Star Race is scheduled for Sunday, May 21 on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.