TALLADEGA, Ala. — More than 55 years after Wendell Scott became the first African-American NASCAR Cup Series race winner, Bubba Wallace became the second.
Wallace, driving for Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing, was the race leader under caution when it began to rain for the second time Monday afternoon during the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The race, which was postponed Sunday due to persistent rain showers, was red flagged and the field was brought down pit road with 117 laps complete.
The rain eventually slowed and NASCAR attempted to dry the track, only for it to begin to rain again. That forced the hands of NASCAR officials, who declared the race over and named Wallace the victor.
“Part of me is sitting there waiting. It’s not over with. Just sit there, bide our time. If we go back racing that’s fine, lets put ourselves in position,” Wallace explained about the wait for NASCAR to call the race. “We had so many cool fans behind us at the pit box just cheering for it to rain, so that kind of amped up the intensity a little bit.
“Just so proud of everybody at 23XI. New team coming in and getting a win late in the season reminds me of 2013. I waited so long to get that first Truck win. I know a lot of history was made today I believe, but it’s about my guys, it’s about our team, it’s about what we’ve done.”
Wallace was brought to tears as he spoke about becoming the second African-American race winner in NASCAR Cup Series history. Scott earned his lone NASCAR Cup Series win in 1963 in Jacksonville, Fla.
“You never think about those things,” said Wallace, who won his first NASCAR Cup Series race in his 143rd start. “It’s obviously brings a lot emotion, a lot of joy to my family, fans, friends. It’s pretty damn cool. Just proud to be a winner in the Cup Series.”
The 28-year-old native of Mobile, Ala., worked his way into position to win after avoiding a crash earlier in the race that saw Alex Bowman get turned into the outside wall as the field entered turn three.
Bowman’s car came back down the track and collected several other cars and Wallace narrowly avoided making contact in the melee, slipping past Bowman and others who were collected in the crash.
Later, with spotters and crew chiefs reporting that rain was imminent, the action picked up. Wallace had navigated his way to the front of the field and was doing everything in his power to stay there, blocking both lanes to the best of his ability.
On lap 116 Wallace was still the leader as the field roared down the backstretch towards turn three. Just as the field reached turn three Ryan Preece got turned out of the pack after contact with Chris Buescher and slammed into the outside wall before collecting the cars of Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron.
The caution flag waved with Wallace clearly in front of the field and it didn’t take long for the rain to begin. From there it was a waiting game for Wallace, a waiting game that ended with him celebrating his first NASCAR Cup Series victory.
“This is for all those kids out there who want to have an opportunity at whatever they want to achieve and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said. “You’ve always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense and get to you. Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry.
“There have been plenty of times I’ve wanted to give up,” Wallace continued. “If you surround yourself with the right people, it’s moments like this that you appreciate it.”
It wasn’t just the first NASCAR Cup Series victory for Wallace, it was also the first victory for 23XI Racing co-owners Hamlin and Jordan. For Hamlin, it was a victory that was well worth the wait.
“It’s just way more emotional because I know how difficult it is,” said Hamlin. “These guys have worked so hard over the last 10 months to put this team together. We’ve spent a lot of hours getting this all put together and it’s great to see the results of all the hard work from these team guys.”
The victory was also the first in NASCAR Cup Series competition for Bootie Barker, who recently became Wallace’s new crew chief at 23XI Racing. For Wallace’s primary sponsor McDonald’s, it was the first win at NASCAR’s top level since Jimmy Spencer won at Talladega driving for Junior Johnson in 1994.
Wallace’s victory also made history in a different way. This is the first time in NASCAR history drivers in each of NASCAR’s three national divisions earned their first victories at the same race track on the same weekend.
Tate Fogleman won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Saturday, with Brandon Brown winning the Xfinity Series race later Saturday afternoon.
Finishing behind Wallace was, Brad Keselowski who was scored second in Monday’s race.His Team Penske teammate Joey Logano finished third. Kurt Busch and Christopher Bell completed the top-five finishers.
The NASCAR Cup Series now heads to the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL next Sunday for an elimination race in the playoffs. Four drivers will be eliminated from playoff contention following the conclusion of the Bank of America ROVAL 400.