DOVER, Del. — On paper, an 11th-place finish Sunday at Dover Int’l Speedway may not have been anything to write home about for Bubba Wallace, but it was a sign of progress for 23XI Racing.
Wallace and crew chief Mike Wheeler parlayed late-race pit strategy into the team’s best result of the NASCAR Cup Series season, staying out for track position in the latter stages of the Drydene 400 and then holding on during the final 70-lap green flag run to the finish.
Staying on the lead lap at the end of the second stage allowed Wallace to be in position to try something different when a caution flag waved on lap 314, only five laps after all the lead-lap cars had pitted.
While many cars pitted for fresh tires, Wheeler kept Wallace on track, banking on track position being more important than tire wear with less than a quarter of the race left to run.
For the most part, Wheeler’s decision was on the money.
Though Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano used their fresher tires to get around Wallace for position, the Mobile, Ala., native held 10th place for much of the closing stint after restarting eighth.
It didn’t end that way, as Cole Custer passed Ryan Blaney and Wallace to finish 10th, while Wallace took the checkered flag in 11th for 23XI Racing’s best run in its 13-race history.
The team, co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan, hadn’t had a top-15 finish prior to Sunday, so contending among the frontrunners was something that made Wallace proud.
“I thought our balance was good enough to keep us right there at the edge of the lead lap. Cautions definitely fell our way to keep us in the game,” Wallace tipped. “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 everyone’s fighting for half a tenth to a tenth [of a second].
“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,” Wallace added. “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 and something that we can build on.”
Sunday’s run marked Wallace’s best finish in Cup Series competition since a fifth-place effort at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway last August, during the 2020 regular season finale.
Wallace heads to the inaugural Cup Series race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, 21st in the point standings and 49 behind the final playoff spot held by Tyler Reddick.
The EchoPark Texas Grand Prix is slated for a 2:30 p.m. ET start, with live coverage on FS1, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.