Via USA Today - April 20, 2022
While many NASCAR fans are pumped when drivers get behind the wheel at Talladega Superspeedway, not every driver enjoys the all-but-guaranteed chaos and unpredictability that comes with racing there or at Daytona International Speedway — two of NASCAR’s longest oval tracks.
Bubba Wallace, however, loves superspeedway racing, but that wasn’t always the case.
When recently asked if he looks forward to the superspeedway races now — like Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega — compared with previous seasons, Wallace didn’t hesitate: “Oh, absolutely.”
Sure, his answer follows his first career Cup Series victory at Talladega in October. But, as he explained, his appreciation for racing at NASCAR’s biggest tracks also comes with his mentality of embracing the chaos of races where the tiniest on-track mistake can ignite a huge wreck, known as “The Big One,” and take out a large chunk of the field.
About his strategy for Sunday’s race, the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota driver said, via FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass:
“We fight like hell at the beginning. Wherever we start, if we can get to the lead, get there, and if we lose it, we lose it. It’s fine. We don’t need to be in the eye of the storm to get our spots back because it’s not worth it.
“We would like to get stage points, but at the end of the day, getting a race win is the most important thing for us. So it seems like that’s been our trend. You’ll see us start mid-pack, drive up to the lead, go to the back, ride around a little bit, not be talked about until the last stage and then we’re there. So we just gotta continue to do that.
“We have these meetings and meetings and meetings about what to do and what not to do. And I’m just sitting there like, in one ear out the other because I’m like, doesn’t matter. You can call the game plans. [Expletive] goes through the roof when they drop the green flag starts. So just continue to do what we do. That’s what I tell [spotter] Freddie [Kraft] every time we climb in the cars.”
At Talladega last year, Wallace’s win was, by far, his best finish at the 2.66-mile track, marking his only top-10 finish there in eight Cup starts so far.
While he’s still racing for his first Daytona win, his stats there are much better. In 10 career starts, he has four top-5 finishes with three second-place finishes, including in the 2018 and 2022 Daytona 500s.
Wallace said in the past when his cars had speed, he “would make dumb moves and take us out of contention or just be caught up in somebody else’s mess.” The latter cannot be avoided sometimes with common big wrecks, but Wallace said he and his No. 23 team have a plan that works for them.
To improve, he explained he’s learned to be patient — a tactic noticed by other drivers.
“Most of the time, he’s pretty patient on letting the race come to him,” Joey Logano, the No. 22 Team Penske Ford driver, said last week about Wallace. “He used to be a lot more aggressive, make moves, and a lot of times, that didn’t work. They weren’t fully calculated and made him, obviously, fairly easy to beat.
Avoiding “The Big One” or even smaller wrecks and being in contention to win by the end of the 500-mile race is arguably the greatest challenge Talladega presents.
But Wallace now loves it nonetheless, explaining, via FOX Sports’ Pockrass:
“I remember [at Daytona in] 2015, I wrecked out in the Xfinity [Series] race, and it was a July race. And Warped Tour was going on down in Orlando. I remember my interview, I was like, ‘I hate this [expletive]. I’m going to Warped Tour.’
“I actually love speedway racing now. Actually, I’m excited about it. I love — I’m excited for Talladega and we kick off the season at Daytona. It is out of your control 90 percent of the time, but the unknown factor…
“I climb in the car, and what excites me the most is you sit there, and it’s like, ‘Damn, one of us is gonna win today. Who’s gonna be?’ Then you get to find out, so that just magnifies when you go to the speedway stuff. So that’s why I enjoy so much.”
“Now, it’s not quite like that anymore, where he’s upped his game and kind of found his own niche of speedway racing that works for him. And he does a good job of surviving them. … He does a good job of getting to the end.”