Bubba Wallace is different this year. For the first time in his Cup Series career, he is noticeably confident, and it’s largely thanks to the support he’s had from 23XI Racing co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin.
While Wallace hasn’t won a race in 2023, he’s been more consistent than in the past and he has a career-high 285 laps led, more than his previous five full-time seasons combined. The No. 23 Toyota is a threat to win on a weekly basis, as the 30-year-old racer has focused on improving his craft at all types of tracks, especially road courses.
“It’s just been fun to show up to the racetrack and to be competitive this year,” Wallace said. “We knocked off a lot of things on our bucket list.
“It’s just a confidence builder each and every weekend, knowing you have the car, the people and the capability. It all adds up, and that’s what produces results. I’m trusting the process along the way.”
Wallace narrowly qualified for the playoffs this year for the first time in his career, locking in following the season finale at Daytona. While he won a race in both 2021 and 2022, the wins took place after the cutoff for the playoffs. For Wallace to become a playoff contender, it required an additional level of consistency during the regular season.
While Wallace was just one of two drivers to qualify for the playoffs based on points — the other being Kevin Harvick — he had high expectations. He escaped the first round of the playoffs and advanced to the Round of 12, a major accomplishment especially with reigning champion Joey Logano failing to advance.
At Texas Motor Speedway, which was the first race in the Round of 12, Wallace had the dominant car. He sat on the pole and led 111 laps before William Byron and Ross Chastain got around him in the closing laps after a hard battle with Kyle Larson. Wallace finished third.
“That one still stings a little bit, knowing we could’ve won that race and locked into the Round of 8,” Wallace said. “I made a mistake there late that cost us a shot at winning. But it was a great outing for our team. It showcased what we’re made of, and there’s a lot to build off of. As bad as it was for me, it was a really good day for our team.”
Wallace has grown significantly as a racer this year. He is processing information better, he explained. He can evaluate the situations he’s put in when he’s in the midst of making a decision on the track. These are the steps that need to be taken to become a champion.
Some of that growth is thanks to Jordan, the six-time NBA champion, who has been attending races more frequently.
“To the outsiders, Michael Jordan is a massive deal,” Wallace said. “To me, he’s just another guy that I happen to race for. He’s a massive supporter of what we have going on here at 23XI. He’s a massive fan of the sport and he loves competing. He loves what this sport is all about.
“He’s a glass half full guy. Sometimes, you get caught up in the glass half empty. He always says to try to turn all of the negatives into positives.”
With Wallace’s success, his partners have also boosted their support of the No. 23 team. Among them is Xfinity, which is the title sponsor of Nascar’s version of Triple-A. At Martinsville Speedway, Xfinity will be featured on his car with the faces of 65 Xfinity Rewards members. It's a unique partnership, one that Wallace is proud to be a part of to enhance fan engagement.
“Xfinity has done a lot for the sport, and I’ve been able to grow a great relationship with Xfinity,” Wallace said. “For Martinsville, having a mosaic scheme with deep purple is special. I hope I don’t damage their faces too much.”
As Wallace rounds out the 2023 season at Martinsville and Phoenix, he’s already looking ahead to 2024. The expectations are already high for next year, and he’s ready to show why this team can be a title contender.
“We’ve shown that we can win multiple races,” he said. “We have to start out the wick a little bit hotter. We have to get a win early in the season and get ourselves locked in. We’ve done a lot of learning and growing. We know what we can expect next year.”