Of all the people eager to get to the Space Coast for the first NASCAR points race of the season, Bubba Wallace might be the driver most pumped about the Daytona 500. Wallace recognizes he to make up for lost time, but he is coming off a victory in his last appearance on a superspeedway and always performs well on the Daytona oval.
If he roars out of the gate at Daytona, absolutely a possibility, Wallace instantly becomes a major story in the early Cup Series season.
Finally, there’s no holding Bubba Wallace back
Nearly every driver who intends to compete in the Daytona 500, the first points race of the season, has participated in at least one of the major offseason tests for the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car. Bubba Wallace is an exception, having missed the tests at Charlotte and Daytona while recovering from surgery.
Speaking to Dustin Long of NBC Sports, Wallace declared himself 100% following the operation to repair a torn labrum about a week after the 2021 season ended.
“Just getting that out of the way was good,” he said about the surgery. “Just wear and tear from my career. I haven’t had anything dramatic (happen) to it.”
Torn labrums are not a foreign concept in the sport, or in the team for that matter. Denny Hamlin, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and is a minority owner of the 23XI Racing team that fields Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota, underwent surgery for the same issue in 2019.
The 23XI Racing driver kept track of the Next Gen testing
After missing the recent Charlotte and Daytona tests, Bubba Wallace finally gets his crack at driving the Next Gen car next week at Phoenix Raceway. Wallace did test on the Charlotte roval in October, but that was before NASCAR determined the final specs for its 2022 schedule: 510 horsepower engines and seven-inch spoilers for the superspeedways and the repaved Atlanta track, and 670 hp and four-inch spoilers everywhere else.
New teammate Kurt Busch represented 23XI Racing in his absence, but Wallace was working the phone and checking in with other drivers, too.
“They said it wasn’t too much different,” Wallace said, “but I think, as a whole, the car is a little bit of a handful to drive, which is good. It puts it back in our hands. So, it will be the best of the best going at it. So, we’ll see how some of my speedway tactics pan out with the new car.”
Bubba Wallace is right to look forward to Daytona
While Bubba Wallace has registered just one top-10 finish on the Daytona oval since joining the NASCAR Cup Series, he has been remarkably consistent. In fact, he has finished 17th or better in all eight races, showing a knack for handling traffic on the superspeedway that hasn’t always been apparent at intermediate tracks.
Interestingly, Wallace’s only victory in the Cup Series came late last season at Talladega, the other superspeedway. But his average finish at the Alabama track is a pedestrian 19.5.
Opening strong at Daytona would be big for any team because it might be indicative of an early edge in figuring out the Next Gen car. For Wallace, getting out of the gate well would keep him at the forefront of the 23XI picture now that he has a teammate in Kurt Bush.
“I think there’s a lot of potential there with our team,” Wallace told Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic. “And the unknowns are kind of exciting, we’re going to be ready for it.”
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.