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December 18, 2023

Bubba Wallace savors last season’s ‘massive jump,’ aims for win-column return


Bubba Wallace talks with his 23XI Racing crew during a break in practice at Michigan International Speedway
Meg Oliphant
Getty Images

Bubba Wallace described the change in his year-ending points position – from 19th in 2022 to 10th last season – as “a massive jump” as he assessed his campaign during NASCAR Champion’s Week last month in Nashville. The placement was his highest in six full seasons at the NASCAR Cup Series level, but he noted one significant missing piece.

Wallace had scored one victory in each of the previous two seasons, since his start with 23XI Racing in 2021. Last season, Wallace found himself with noticeable improvement – or at least a hold-steady clip – in several key statistics, including average finish and laps led. The rise in performance led to his first appearance in the Cup Series Playoffs, but without a win to show for his final tally.

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“Everybody I see in the industry the last couple days have come up to me and continued to remind me how good the season was, and it is when you peel back the layers and look at it,” said Wallace, who last won at Kansas in September 2022 — 43 races ago. “We checked a lot of boxes, but I don’t know if it’s just me being young and hungry, but I got zero wins. So that bugs the hell out of me.

“But yeah, I mean, we made a good run, proud of the efforts from the team. It was a really, really good year. I’m so excited to … not get it started yet because I’m enjoying the downtime, but I’m excited for the next one to start.”

The offseason so far has meant taking some time to explore the town of Banff in Alberta, Canada and its surrounding high peaks. But it’s also meant a period of reflection in the wake of the season-ending event at Phoenix Raceway, where he watched close friend Ryan Blaney clinch his first Cup Series title and where he lamented unintentional contact with Brad Keselowski, prompting a post-race apology.

That capped a campaign that sent Wallace into the Round of 12 before his postseason eligibility expired. The 30-year-old driver’s strongest chances of winning cropped up at a variety of tracks — an overtime bid that went south at Talladega in April, early power that faded at Richmond in July, and a show of dominance that evaporated late at Texas in September.

Those outings could bode well for Wallace next season, as he and 23XI teammate Tyler Reddick return with some newness approaching. The organization is moving toward setting up shop in a new headquarters building, and a new 23XI logo will adorn the team’s gear. The group will also have a reinvigorated Toyota body style for 2024 with the Next Gen Camry XSE set to debut.

What’s not new is the driver lineup, which gains another year of experience and stands to benefit from that core continuity.

“I think moving forward, with Tyler having a year with us and figuring it all out, I think it’s only going to expedite the process on where we want to be,” Wallace says. “I think, there’s a lot of races where we were the top performing two as a team, and I think we want to do that more. And so, we’ve got all the right people in the right spot. The new shop’s going to pump some new life into our guys and into ourselves, and we’re gonna go out and work our asses off this year.”

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