Race Weekend Central

Bubba Wallace Once Again a Playoff Spoiler, Wins Cup Race at Kansas

For the second week in a row, we have a playoff spoiler.

On Sunday (Sept. 11), in just his second race behind the wheel of the No. 45, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace got his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory with a triumph in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. With the victory, earned by a single second over team co-owner Denny Hamlin, Wallace becomes the first driver in the elimination era to win multiple races without having qualified for the drivers’ championship playoffs.

He is the 18th different Cup Series winner of 2022.

Two weeks after 23XI Racing number-swapped his way into the owner’s playoffs, Wallace entered the Kansas weekend as a favorite for a strong run after showing top-five speed in the spring race at the facility. 

Qualifying sixth, Wallace ran solidly in the top five throughout the first stage, finishing fifth. But, just like in the spring, a loose wheel forced the 23XI Toyota back to pit road. Thankfully for the now-No. 45 crew, it happened in stage two, and Wallace was able to recover into contention by the start of the final stage.

Long-run speed was the strength of the No. 45 Root Insurance Toyota, and although Wallace fell to fourth on a lap 171 restart, he came back with a vengeance, taking back second place with a three-wide move around Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron with 86 laps to go.

With 68 circuits remaining, a power move around the bottom off turn 4 gave Wallace the lead for the first time all afternoon. The No. 45 Root Insurance Toyota opened up a hefty gap on Alex Bowman behind. 

With 54 to go, Wallace’s fellow Toyota drivers Christopher Bell and Hamlin got past the Hendrick duo. After green-flag stops, the Toyota trio locked out the top three. 

With 15 laps to go, Hamlin passed Bell for second and set his sights on the car he co-owns. Through lapped traffic, Hamlin closed all the way to just over a second.

It wasn’t enough.

“Man, [I’m] just so proud of this team, so proud of the effort they put in every week,” Wallace told NBC Sports from the start/finish line. “Just thankful for the opportunity […] the men and women at 23XI [Racing], they work their tails off. Pit crew was awesome today […] just thankful. Thankful to shut the hell up for a lot of people […] I knew Denny was going to be strong […] It’s cool to beat the boss […] it was a lot of fun.” 

“It’s a good overall day,” winning co-owner and runner-up driver Hamlin said. “Still frustrated about the first half of the race, obviously, we just aren’t executing all that well. Really happy for our [No.] 11 Toyota team, they fought hard, they really stepped up that last half, made the car quite a bit better, just really happy about the outcome, really happy for that [No.] 45 team and Bubba Wallace and [crew chief] Bootie [Barker].”

Bell completed a Toyota top-three lockout as Bowman ended his strong day in fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five, while Byron, Ross Chastain, Larson, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 10.

A lengthy list of playoff drivers will be happy to leave Kansas in the rear-view mirror. Austin Dillon, Hamlin, Suarez, Chase Briscoe and Kyle Busch all earned themselves pit road penalties while Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick were eliminated with crash damage in stage one. 

Busch, at least, was able to keep it going after this lap 138 spin on the exit of turn 4, returning to the track a lap behind the leaders.

The younger Busch brother got the free pass on the stage caution, starting the final stage as the last car on the lead lap. 

Reddick led the field to the green, but some early aggressive moves from Alex Bowman brought the No. 48 to the lead. Reddick snatched it back after the competition caution. 

On lap 33, fighting hard at the front with Chastain, Wallace and others, Harvick’s No. 4 suddenly broke loose in turn 4, spearing hard into the SAFER barrier and breaking the right front of the No. 4 Rheem Ford. That sent the 2014 champion behind the wall, out of the race in dead last. 

Shortly thereafter, losing Reddick’s fast Chevrolet to tire issues blew the stage wide open, letting Bell grab the lead on the restart and hold off Blaney to claim his third stage win of the season and his first of the playoffs. 

See also
Playoff Drivers Continue Opening Round Woes at Kansas

There might have been nearly 200 laps to go when the field took the green to start the second stage, but nobody told the drivers. The multi-groove racetrack saw three- and four-wide action even on longer runs, but it was the restarts that got truly crazy, including this multi-car crash on lap 115.

Bowman mastered the chaos to earn just his second stage win of 2022, holding off stage one winner Bell in the closing laps. 

Just like in the spring race, tire issues were a concern all afternoon. Reddick was one of the fastest cars on track through much of the first stage, but a sudden right rear tire failure – while leading – sent the No. 8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet behind the wall.

Later, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was off to a great start, working his way up into the top 10 and eventually challenging Truex for the lead by the middle of the second stage. But, just like Reddick, exiting turn 2 on lap 110 Stenhouse blew a right rear and tagged the wall.

2022 Kansas II Cup Series Results

Entering next week’s cutoff race, Busch is just two points back of Reddick and Austin Cindric for the final transfer position, with Suarez ahead still very much in danger. Austin Dillon and Briscoe are three and nine points back of the line, respectively, with Harvick in a potential must-win scenario in 12th, 35 points back.

On the other end of the table, Bell is locked into the Round of 12 while Byron, Hamlin and Logano all have an advantage of 40 points or more.

2022 Playoff Standings

The Cup Series Playoff Round of 16 concludes next Saturday night (Sept. 17) with the Bass Pro Shops Night Race on the high-banked half-mile at Bristol Motor Speedway. The race will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: KANSAS

About the author

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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6 Comments
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Bill B

Congrats to the 45/23 team. No asterisk on that win. Hard to believe two non-playoff drivers have won the first two races of the playoffs. I hate to use the word because it been over-utilized since the pandemic but, unprecedented.

The bigger story might be how playoff drivers keep shooting themselves in the foot with errors and bad decsions.

Dale EarnHog

These are the “craziest” Playoffs I’ve seen since 2014.

Bill B

The whole year has been crazy thanks to the new car (mostly).

Dale EarnHog

Indeed. Both with on and off track action.

Dale EarnHog

As a Bowman and Bubba fan, this was essentially a perfect day. Made even better by my Saints beating the Falcons!

DoninAjax

I don’t think NA$CAR in their infinite wisdom should use the word “burn” in anything they put out unless it has to do with a fire.

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