After their arrival in NASCAR was met with a cavalcade of hype, anticipation and expectations, success did not prove instantaneous for 23XI Racing in what had been a 2021 season full of growing pains. But thanks to Bubba Wallace's performance in crunch time with inclement weather closing in, they will now be able to celebrate a Cup Series victory for the first time.
After taking the lead just before an accident brought the caution out, Wallace was declared the winner of the YellaWood 500 at Talladega as persistent rain prevented NASCAR from drying the racetrack. The race was declared official after 118 of 188 laps, giving Wallace his first career win in the Cup Series and 23XI Racing's first win as a team.
Wallace's victory is a significant one in NASCAR history, as it marks only the second Cup victory for a Black driver and the first in the sport's modern era. NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott won his first and only Cup race at Jacksonville in December of 1963, but was only declared the winner after a scoring issue was sorted out in post-race.
"It brings a lot of emotion, a lot of joy to my family, fans, friends -- It's pretty damn cool. Just proud to be a winner in the Cup Series," Wallace told NBC Sports. "This is to all those kids out there that want to have an opportunity in whatever they want to achieve and be the best at what they want to do."
The deciding moment of the race came on the final run, as Wallace made a charge from the outside line to take the race lead and keep Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano behind him before a multi-car crash brought the caution out. As the field ran under caution, an expected rainstorm began, forcing the red flag to be displayed. As the halfway point had been passed, the race was declared official after the inclement weather prevented NASCAR from drying the racetrack and restarting the race.
Adding to the significance of Wallace's victory was his personal history at Talladega, the site of a June 2020 incident where a garage pull rope in his garage stall fastened in the shape of a noose was feared to be a racist threat towards him. While it was found that no crime had been committed and the rope had been there well before the race weekend, the incident significantly increased Wallace's profile within NASCAR.
"You're gonna go through a lot of bullshit, but you've always got to stay true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you. And stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry," Wallace said. "There have been plenty of times where I've wanted to give up. But you surround yourself with the right people, and it's moments like this that you appreciate."
After rain forced the race to be postponed from Sunday to Monday, the field found themselves racing the weather in addition to racing each other, increasing the urgency throughout the field and leading several Playoff drivers into trouble. Just prior to the end of Stage 1, Kyle Larson's day was ruined when he was collected in a multi-car crash, putting him multiple laps down due to damage suffered to the front of his car. Alex Bowman and William Byron were also taken out in separate accidents that also collected Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
With Wallace winning as a non-playoff driver, no driver was able to secure an automatic berth in the Round of 8. There is one race left to go in the Round of 12, with the elimination race being at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval next Sunday.
Unofficial YellaWood 500 Results
1. #23 - Bubba Wallace
2. #2 - Brad Keselowski
3. #22 - Joey Logano
4. #1 - Kurt Busch
5. #20 - Christopher Bell
6. #17 - Chris Buescher
7. #11 - Denny Hamlin
8. #4 - Kevin Harvick
9. #43 - Erik Jones
10. #38 - Anthony Alfredo
Unofficial NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings
1. #11 – Denny Hamlin (1 win)
2. #5 – Kyle Larson (+22)
3. #22 – Joey Logano (+21)
4. #2 – Brad Keselowski (+20)
5. #19 – Martin Truex Jr. (+20)
6. #12 – Ryan Blaney (+17)
7. #18 – Kyle Busch (+9)
8. #9 – Chase Elliott (+8)
9. #4 – Kevin Harvick (-8)
10. #20 – Christopher Bell (-27)
11. #24 – William Byron (-43)
12. #48 – Alex Bowman (-51)