Milestone for Bubba Wallace as he earns his first NASCAR victory


Updated 2 hours and 13 minutes ago

TALLADEGA, Alabama (AP) – The hard part wasn’t avoiding an accident and then heading to the front of the pack at the Talladega Superspeedway. It was just an instinct for Bubba Wallace.

The challenge was the 45 minutes after Wallace took the lead, when the skies opened up and he sat anxiously in the rain – hoping, wishing, praying – that NASCAR would cancel Monday’s rescheduled race and declare it. winner.

With a crowd gathered behind his stand chanting their support – a man told his 6-year-old son, dressed in a Wallace shirt and jumping along the fence, that he was “witnessing history” – NASCAR has unplugged and Wallace became only the second black driver to win a Cup Series level race.

“I have some credibility to my name now,” said Wallace, a first-time Cup winner in his 143 starts. “I’m like ‘Finally I’m a winner and I’m a Cup winner’, and it’s just like ‘Hell yeah!’ It was a huge weight that took me off my shoulders. “

It was more than a first victory.

Wallace is the first black driver to win at the highest level of the elite stock car series since Wendell Scott in 1963, a race where he was not declared the winner until long after Buck Baker had already received the trophy. NASCAR finally presented Scott’s family with their trophy from this race two months ago.

“You can’t swim standing on the bank !!” tweeted Warrick Scott Sr., who is Scott’s grandson. “RIP Wendell Scott. Congratulations @bubbawallace !!” A second message showed her grandfather leaning against a car and saying, “PaPa was there all the time relaxing in the rain.”

Wallace’s victory earned praise from rapper Big Sean, the University of Tennessee football team and Bill Lester, a black driver who raced intermittently in NASCAR from 1999 to a Trucks Series start this season. , among others.

“Finally, it’s official, you did it! Lester posted. “So proud of you and what you have accomplished. Your victory moves the needle forward @NASCAR on many fronts. I’m glad I was a witness.

The race was highlighted on NBC’s “Nightly News” at the top of Monday’s show, illustrating how culturally important Wallace’s victory was to NASCAR, a predominantly white sport with deep Southern roots and membership. long-standing to Confederate symbols.

As much as Wallace wanted the moment to be purely on his first career victory, he couldn’t ignore the significance.

“It’s been definitely tough going on some tracks this year, we’re getting the most boos now,” Wallace said. “Everyone says as long as they make noise it’s fine, but you know I get booed for different reasons and that’s the hard thing to swallow.” I appreciate everyone who was there to do the rain dance with us, shoot for us, support me my whole career, but especially those who supported me with everything that happened in the 15-16 last months.

In June 2020 in Talladega, NASCAR discovered a noose in the garage assigned to Wallace. The discovery came just a week after NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from its events at Wallace’s behest.

The FBI investigated and found the noose was tied to the end of the garage door pull and had been there for months, meaning Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime. Still, the series rallied to him and showed solidarity with Wallace leading the grid before the race.

The flag ban continues to be an issue in Talladega, where a convoy of vehicles has paraded down Speedway Boulevard past the main entrance to the speedway during the four race weekends since NASCAR announced the ban. The convoy was back this weekend and included a car pulling a trailer containing a Civil War-era cannon.

Wallace called the noose incident a low point and he was the victim of online harassment which last year even included a tweet from then-President Donald Trump who falsely accused Wallace of having invented the noose. Although Wallace never saw the noose and was told by NASCAR President Steve Phelps that after the FBI was summoned to investigate he was accused by many citizens of having orchestrated a hoax.

When Monday’s race was halted with Wallace as the leader, social media was on fire with comments attacking the Alabama native, 27, whose birthday is later this week.

“They are just enemies. That’s all you can really say about it, ”said Denny Hamlin, Wallace team co-owner and fellow rider. “I try to tell him, ‘Don’t motivate yourself to try to prove the enemies wrong. Instead, derive your motivation from trying to make the people who support you proud.’

“That’s where the motivation is going to come from, are the people who are going to support you through the good times and the bad,” Hamlin said.

Wallace had driven through a crash and ahead of the field five laps before the second rain stop of the race. When he leapt forward, and as the whole field realized the rain could stop the race at any moment, runner-up Brad Keselowski admitted that Wallace had probably just won the race with his pass.

“I thought, ‘Oh, damn it. I wish I had made that gesture, ”Keselowski said. “(Hers) was the right move at the right time. “

NASCAR tried to dry the track for almost 45 minutes, but canceled as the sun approached and the rain showed no signs of stopping.

Wallace was waiting at the top of his booth and celebrated wildly with his crew when the decision came. Wallace is in his first season driving for 23X1 Racing, a team owned by both Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

“I’m so happy for Bubba and our whole 23XI Racing team. This is an important milestone and a historic victory for us, ”Jordan said in a tweeted statement. “From the day we signed him I knew Bubba had the talent to win and Denny and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Let’s go! “

Wallace broke down in tears after returning to his parked No. 23 Toyota, the car number chosen for Jordan, who wore 23 in the NBA.

“It’s for all the kids who want to have an opportunity and whatever they want to accomplish, and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said, choking back tears. “You’re going to go through a lot of (BS). But you must always stay true to your path and not let nonsense get to you.

“Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry. I have had many times where I have wanted to give up.

Wallace took to a makeshift victory lane inside an empty garage to celebrate with his team, who made a personnel change three races ago and named Bootie Barker his team leader. It was Barker’s first victory in more than 400 races as the Cup team manager.

The organization was formed a year ago and Wallace was the centerpiece of all of the companies that entered NASCAR to support Wallace and his social justice efforts. 23XI will expand to two cars next season with former series champion Kurt Busch joining the team.

No playoff driver has won a race at Talladega this weekend – Trucks, Xfinity and Cup all had first-time winners on the same track the same weekend – and only Hamlin is stranded in the third Cup playoff round. next week’s playoff race in Charlotte, NC.

Three-time Daytona 500 winner Hamlin celebrated with Wallace after his own seventh place finish.

“It’s just a lot more emotional because I know how difficult it is. These guys have worked so hard over the last 10 months to put together this team, ”Hamlin said. “We are still in the early stages of our team. We are still growing. We have great things on the horizon. It’s just a good morale booster for everyone.

Keselowski finished second and was followed by Penske teammate Joey Logano in a pair of Fords. Busch finished fourth in a Chevrolet.

Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman and William Byron head to Charlotte in danger of elimination.

FOLLOWING

The final race of the second round of the playoffs takes place at the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The hybrid / oval road course is where the field of 12 will be reduced to eight. Chase Elliott is the two-time winner of the reigning race at Roval. His victory last October was the first of three wins in the last five races that saw Elliott win his first Cup championship.

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More AP auto races: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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