Bubba Wallace became just the second Black driver to win at Nascar’s top Cup Series level when rain stopped Monday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Wallace had driven through a crash and to the front of the field five laps before the second rain stoppage of the race. Nascar tried to dry the track for nearly 45 minutes, but up against sundown and the rain not showing any signs of ceasing, the race was called off.
Wallace had been waiting atop his pit stand for Nascar to make a decision and exploded in celebration with his crew when the race was called at the hallowed Alabama track. Wallace is in his first season driving for 23X1 Racing, a team owned by both Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
He’s the first Black driver to win at Nascar’s elite Cup level since Wendell Scott in 1963 – a race where he wasn’t declared the victor for several months. Nascar at last presented Scott’s family with his trophy from that race two months ago.
Wallace broke down in tears after he’d returned to his parked No 23 Toyota. The car number was picked for co-owner Jordan, who wore 23 in the NBA.
“This is for all the kids out there that want to have an opportunity and whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said as he choked back tears. “You’re going to go through a lot of (BS). But you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you.
“Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry. Been plenty of times when I wanted to give up.”
Bill Lester, a Black driver who raced intermittently in NASCAR from 1999 through one Trucks Series start this season, tweeted his congratulations to Wallace.
“Finally, it’s official, you’ve done it!” he posted. “So proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. Your win moves the @NASCAR needle forward on so many fronts. Glad I was a witness.”
In June 2020 at Talladega, Nascar discovered a noose in the garage stall assigned to Wallace. The finding came just a week after Nascar had banned the Confederate flag at its events at Wallace’s urging.
The FBI investigated and found that the noose was tied at the end of the garage door pull and Wallace was not a victim of a hate crime. The entire industry rallied around him, though, and stood in solidarity with Wallace at his car at the front of the grid before the race.
The flag ban has been an issue at Talladega, where a convoy of vehicles has paraded up and down Speedway Boulevard outside the main entrance of the speedway in all four race weekends since NASCAR said it would not permit the symbol inside its tracks. The convoy was back this weekend and included one car pulling a trailer that contained a Civil War-era cannon.
Wallace has called the noose incident a low point in his life. He’s been subjected to nonstop online harassment that last year even included a tweet from then-US president Donald Trump that falsely accused Wallace of making up the noose.
“Has @BubbaWallace apologised to all of those great Nascar drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?” the president tweeted in July 2020.
Referring to Nascar’s decision to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events, the president added: “That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”
In fact, Nascar’s television ratings had risen over the previous two months.
Trump’s tweet echoed conspiracy theories aimed at Wallace. An FBI investigation found the driver was not a victim of a hate crime and the noose had been fashioned as a door pull last fall, long before his team had been assigned the garage at Talladega.
Quite why Wallace should have to apologise is a mystery: he did not find or report the noose. One of Wallace’s fellow drivers, Tyler Reddick, duly pushed back at the president.
“We don’t need an apology,” wrote Reddick. “We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support.”
Wallace himself responded to Trump later on Monday in a message on Twitter addressed to “the next generation and little ones following my foot steps.”
Wallace urged those looking to him as an example to “keep your head held high and walk proudly on the path you have chosen.” Wallace concluded the message, “Always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE. Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS.”
Wallace’s win on Monday was his first in 142 career Cup starts, though he had six victories in the Truck Series from 2013 through 2015.
No playoff drivers won a race at Talladega this weekend and only Hamlin is already locked into the third round of the playoffs headed into next week’s elimination race at Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, celebrated with Wallace following his seventh-place finish.
“It’s just way more emotional because I know how difficult it is. These guys have worked so hard over the last 10 months to put this team together,” Hamlin said. “We’re still in the beginning stages of our team. We’re still growing. We’ve got some great things on the horizon. It’s just a great morale booster for everyone.”
Brad Keselowski finished second and was followed by Team Penske teammate Joey Logano in a pair of Fords. Busch was fourth in a Chevrolet.
Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman and William Byron head to Charlotte in danger of elimination.