DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (WGHP) — Twice now Bubba Wallace has taken second place in the Daytona 500, but you won’t catch him sweating as he readies for Sunday’s return to the Great American Race.
Wallace is driving the No. 23 car, notably the number of NBA legend Michael Jordan who co-founded 23XI racing alongside three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.
During Wednesday’s Countdown to Daytona show, WGHP’s Kevin Connolly and Danny Harnden asked if his two near-wins—2018 and 2021—are the races that “keep you up at night.”
“Yes and no,” Wallace said. ” … Probably a month out from Sunday, people will start replaying last year’s finish or some of the greatest finishes for the 500, and I think I’ve been able to be a part of a few of those, so you get to relive it indirectly. It’s just something that’s hard to go back and, ‘Yeah, this time I’ll do this differently.’ There are so many circumstances that have to happen leading up to the end of the finish that you can’t really plan out these races. You just have to survive and be smart about every move that you make.”
In addition to good driving, Wallace adds that Sunday will be about luck.
“There’s so much luck that goes into this race,” he said. “The first time I came second, in 2018, I dodged three wrecks. There’s a picture of me shooting sparks sideways on the apron and it’s like, ‘How am I not wrecked right here?’ so you just never know.”
But despite the prestige behind this race and the pressure of fans watching to see if he can claim that number one spot, Wallace is still coasting off his win at Kansas Speedway back in September. He led 58 laps and seized the second win of his career.
“My wife and I talked about this last night at dinner,” he said. “… She was like, ‘Is this going to be bigger than Kansas?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t think so,’ you know. It’s just crazy because the way we won Kansas was such a dominant fashion and something different from our Talladega win or a speedway win where I’d say a majority of the cars on the field have a shot at winning if you can survive, right? Then it takes that skill aspect to actually win it.
“But I think that winning the 500 is, for me, just another race. … Don’t get me wrong, it would be incredible to win this race, but just the factor, the mentality after leaving Kansas was, ‘Great job. Good job.'”
But that victory isn’t the only reason Wallace is breathing easy in the days before the Daytona 500. When asked about the fuel behind his speedway success, he passed the buck to luck and his team.
“Play your cards right,” he said. “I guess I need to go get a lottery ticket. I don’t know. We survive. I told you, we were wrecked sideways in the 500 and we ended up second, so you just survive and you’re just a part of good finishes, and it’s a testament to the team and the car that we built, right?”
Wallace has full faith in his team heading into the 2023 season with his team poised for a big year. 2023 will be 23XI Racing‘s first year with Tyler Reddick, formerly of RCR Racing, in the driver’s seat.
“Yeah, I’m putting the stamp on it,” he said. “This is our year. This is our breakout year. I’m excited, the most excited, the most confident I’ve gone into a season, and it starts here with the 500.”