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After 167 races spent more or less in a rut, Bubba Wallace is finally in a groove. Unfortunately for the driver of the No. 23 Toyota, it’s not yet enough to get him to the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Wallace is going to have to win one of the three remaining regular-season races to qualify. Even then, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, or Austin Dillon could make a ride onto Victory Lane before the end of the month an exercise in futility.

Bubba Wallace is posting the best run of his Cup Series career

Bubba Wallace walks the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 23, 2022. | Logan Riely/Getty Images
Bubba Wallace walks the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 23, 2022. | Logan Riely/Getty Images

When Bubba Wallace left Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, on July 3 after brake failure ended his day eight laps short of the finish, he ranked 25th in points. Though he finished only 14th the following week in Atlanta, it was nevertheless the start of an impressive run.

In the four weeks since, Wallace’s results log looks like this:

  • Third place at Loudon after qualifying fourth.
  • Eighth at Pocono after qualifying seventh.
  • Fifth at Indianapolis after starting 19th.
  • Second at Michigan after winning the pole for the first time in 171 starts.

It’s easily the best month of the 23XI Racing driver’s NASCAR Cup Series career and boosted him to 19th in points. Wallace, who began in the Cup Series in 2017, is the only driver to have finished in the top 10 in each of the past four races; Martin Truex Jr. is the only other competitor with as many as three top-10 showings in that span.

Bubba Wallace leaves Michigan bitterly disappointed: ‘I failed everybody’


Is Bubba Wallace’s Job at 23XI Racing in Jeopardy With Tyler Reddick’s Bombshell Announcement?

Bubba Wallace is in must-win mode as he looks to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs for the first time. With 15 winners in 23 races, no more than one driver can qualify on points, and Wallace cannot mathematically catch the winless Ryan Blaney to qualify via that route. Worse, if Wallace and a winless driver ahead of him in points somehow triumph in the final three races, one of the 17 winners will miss the playoffs. It will come down to season-long points.

Kurt Busch is the only winner behind Wallace in points, but the margin is a mere eight points despite his 23XI teammate missing the past three races with concussion-like symptoms. If Busch gains medical approval to resume racing this weekend at Richmond, it’s entirely plausible he’ll make up the eight-point gap despite Wallace’s hot streak.

It all helps explain why Wallace was heartbroken as he exited his car following the second-place showing at Michigan International Speedway. Winning the pole and leading a season-high 22 laps while repping a major team sponsor didn’t accomplish the objective: winning.

“All in all, an incredible weekend,” he told NBC Sports on pit lane. “Appreciate my team. Wish we could have got Toyota in Victory Lane. Wish we got McDonald’s back in Victory Lane. She was fast all week, man.

“I’ll wear this one on my heart for a while. I failed everybody. “

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