BRISTOL, Tenn. — Zero playoff points? No problem. Smacked the wall late in the race? Also, no problem.
Bubba Wallace and Martin Truex Jr. did just enough at Bristol Motor Speedway to advance in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Saturday (Sept. 16) night by four and five points above the cutline, respectively.
Wallace finished 14th and will be seeded 12th for the beginning of the next round, moving on despite not scoring any playoff points throughout the postseason’s first three races. Truex, thanks to his numerous playoff points accumulated in 2023, including 15 for being the regular-season champion, ranks him second despite a subpar Round of 16.
“Man, trying to get out of my thoughts and just emotional,” Wallace said. “I said to myself out loud, not on [the] radio, ‘Proud of you, kid.’ And we all know that I rarely do that. Just way to stick with it.”
Wallace and 23XI Racing teammate Tyler Reddick‘s teams made a strategy call during the first stage, electing to stay out with several other cars. Both finished top five when the green-and-white checkered flag waved.
“Tried to give it away a couple of times,” Wallace said. “Got frustrated at myself, frustrated at others, but it all worked out. Just what you need to do is execute. This is a special day. Gotta cherish it, but can’t get complacent […] we gotta come out swinging.
“I think the strategy at the beginning was the game-changer, staying out there. […] That gave us our buffer.”
The first-time playoff driver was visibly emotional after the race, having missed out on the postseason with the team in 2021 and 2022, but scoring a win during the 10-race playoff stretch each year.
“I beat myself up so many times over the years,” he said. “I sound like some of the people up in the stands, and just to see us continue to march forward is important for my mental, the team’s mentals, everybody involved in this program.
“[…] I think that’s where I got caught up in years past, is trying to prove the doubters wrong — not racing for self, racing for the team. When you race for the team, race for yourself, all that stuff falls in line. That’s cool.”
As if Wallace squeaking into the playoffs at Daytona International Speedway three weeks ago wasn’t high-stakes enough for the No. 23 team, they found themselves on the brink of advancing at Bristol thanks to a crash that eliminated defending champion Joey Logano. The wreck put Wallace in a slightly better spot as the laps wound down.
“I’m just slap-wore out,” Wallace said. “I thought Daytona was stressful. That was stressful.”
Both 23XI cars ended up running towards the back of the top 20 as the race wound on, the strategy fading a bit. But Wallace was followed by Reddick in 15th at the end of the race. Though neither had the race-winning speed of fellow Toyota Denny Hamlin, things played out into the No. 23’s hand.
“You just gotta keep fighting. Races are long and you can’t give up. Others are gonna make mistakes, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of people –“
Wallace was interrupted by a fan shouting something derogatory at him in the background.
“I love dumb idiots, man, it’s awesome,” he said. “A lot of people probably had us circled as trying too hard and making mistakes, and it was the opposite.
“Every round is a chance for something bad to happen. You just gotta let it go.”
Truex, meanwhile, was on the butt end of a caution for him that flew with less than 150 laps remaining. Hamlin had just passed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, whose first round consisted of an 18th at Darlington Raceway before an early crash at Kansas Speedway relegated the No. 19 to a 36th-place finish and a drop below the cutline heading to Bristol.
The 2017 champion got loose as Hamlin passed him on the frontstretch, wobbled and brushed the wall with the right rear. Truex lost speed, but both Kyle Larson and Ty Gibbs avoided his car and the No. 19 was able to continue.
Truex was perplexed by NASCAR’s reason for the yellow.
“I’m not sure why they threw a caution,” Truex said after the race. “I scraped the wall, got sideways, scraped the wall, kept digging. They said the caution was for debris, and then they changed their mind and said it was for me.
“I have no idea why that was a caution. I would’ve really enjoyed getting the free pass there, because the leader was literally barely past me at that point. So it’s kinda weird, but just got loose and scraped the wall. I don’t know what they were thinking.”
About the author
Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.
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