TALLADEGA, Alabama – Timely caution and a sudden downpour helped make Bubba Wallace the second black driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race.
Wallace held the lead in Monday’s rain-delayed YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway when Ryan Preece veered into the outside wall of Chris Buescher’s Ford’s bumper to cause the event’s fifth warning.
RELATED: Official Results | Track photos
As the cars spun under the yellow, rain flooded the 2.66 mile race track. NASCAR brought the cars to the pit lane on lap 118 of a planned 188. After another downpour thwarted attempts to dry the track, NASCAR called the race and declared Wallace the winner.
Wallace is the first black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s first series since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott won the checkered flag at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla. On December 1, 1963.
It was the first victory for 23XI Racing, a team that debuted this year with driver Denny Hamlin and Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan as co-owners. Drivers outside of the respective playoffs won all three Talladega races in the top three NASCAR divisions this week. All were winners for the first time, a historic first.
Wallace’s victory came on the same track where the sport came together to support him after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and after a noose – which was later revealed not to target Wallace – was discovered in his garage.
“Dude, I’m so proud of everyone at 23XI,” Wallace said. “A new team arrives and obtains a victory at the end of the season. I know a lot of stories have been written today, I think, which is really cool, but it’s about our guys, our team, what’s been done.
“I like Michael Jordan, I appreciate Denny for believing in me and giving me the opportunity.… It’s quite fitting that he comes here to Talladega.
Wallace was stifled when asked about the historical significance of his making.
“I never think about these things, and when you say it like that, it obviously brings a lot of emotions, a lot of joy to my family, my fans, my friends. … You have to stay true to your path and not let nonsense get to you and stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry.
“There were a lot of times I wanted to give up. You surround yourself with the right people and times like this that you enjoy.
Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano improved their chances of advancing to the round of 16 of the playoffs with second and third places. Kurt Busch was fourth, followed by Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
MORE: Wallace’s Road to History
The wreckage that ultimately made Wallace a winner seriously damaged the playoff hopes of William Byron, whose Chevrolet was picked up by Preece’s spinning car. Byron has been relegated to 36th place in the finish order and will likely need a victory Sunday in the Bank of America Roval 400 in Charlotte to advance to the round of 16.
“He (Preece) had just come down the track, and I was sort of trying to run a third track,” Byron said of the wreckage. “Just a part of Talladega. We’ll go to Roval, try to win that one, and move forward that way.
Byron was the last of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers to be killed in an accident. Kyle Larson was the first. By the time the first sudden downpour of the day darkened the asphalt in Turns 1 and 2 and forced a stop on lap 74, Larson’s fortunes had already deteriorated.
A strong push from Byron’s Chevrolet turned Justin Allgaier’s Camaro sideways as the cars headed for the tri-oval on lap 56. Allgaier climbed the track in Larson’s Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports, severely damaging the suspension front and the sheet metal on the driver’s side of the auto.
Larson was able to reach minimum speed after a restart on lap 65. The warning for the five-car wreckage that crippled Larson’s car also encompassed the end of Stage 1, won by non-qualifying driver Buescher.
On lap 67, Larson shredded his right front tire, which was tilted towards the outside wall when he resumed racing. He lost three laps on the pit lane and fell to 39th place as his crew carried out frantic repairs.
Attrition lifted Larson to 37th place at the finish, but he lost the security he had as a six-time series winner this year. The regular season champion leaves Talladega second in the standings but just 22 points above the current knockout line for the round of 16.
RELATED: Cup Playoff Ranking
A chain reaction wreckage of several cars after the action resumed prematurely ended Alex Bowman’s afternoon. On lap 98, Chase Elliott pushed Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Chevrolet into Bowman’s Chevrolet’s rear bumper, turning the # 48 Camaro into the outside wall and out of the race.
“The 9 (Elliott) just pushed me over there one last time, and he lost the 48,” Stenhouse told his team over the radio.
Bowman was fighting for the lead when he was returned by the contact of Stenhouse’s car.
“Yeah, I just ran into the left-back and got us really bad,” Bowman said. “Disappointment for the Ally 48 team. We had a fast car; we were leading there. It’s just superspeedway races and the box we’re put in by these racetracks. You will have that. Disappointed that we tore up the race car, but we’ll move on and try to win the Roval.
Kyle Busch was another victim of the Lap 98 sinking, but the two-time Cup champion remains nine points above the current cup line – tied with defending champion Chase Elliott – heading into the playoff race of the round of 12.
Harvick is nine points below the elimination line, with Bell 28 points behind and Byron and Bowman 44 and 52 points away, respectively.
Next up in the Cup Series is the Round of 12 final, scheduled for Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM) at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course. Four drivers will be eliminated from the playoff field after the event.
To note: The post-race inspection in the NASCAR Cup Series garage ended without a problem on Monday, confirming Wallace’s first victory.
Contribute to staff reports