16. Bubba Wallace

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When co-owner of 23XI Racing Michael Jordan proclaimed he wanted a win, people were quick to caution him about such a lofty goal. This was a new team that had to learn to walk before they could run. Perhaps the only person in the garage area during last year's Daytona 500 that thought he could make Jordan's wish come true, was Bubba Wallace.

Wallace has always been a solid superspeedway racer. In his rookie season of 2018, he scraped alongside Denny Hamlin for second place as Austin Dillon scored his second Cup win. At the time, Hamlin thought it was too aggressive a move, but during the next two seasons he apparently saw something in Wallace that attracted him. Hamlin signed Wallace for the team's foray into the Cup series.

That was Wallace's only top-five of 2018 in the Richard Petty Motorsports iconic No. 43, but he would add top-10s at Texas Motor Speedway in Round 7 and Phoenix Raceway in Round 35.

His inaugural Daytona 500 was not the only time Wallace came close to winning. He also finished second in the Coke Zero 400 in 2021 and had he been able to make that final pass on his friend, Ryan Blaney, Wallace would have been one of the Round of 16 playoff performers.

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Wallace also finished third in the 2019 Brickyard 400 to show that he was more than just a plate racer.

It was his Talladega Superspeedway win that put this team on the map, however. It did not matter this was a rain-shortened race because Wallace ran with the leaders most of the afternoon. And it certainly didn't matter that Talladega is prone to first-time winners, boasting 12 over the course of its history. In fact, both factors may have added to the excitement.

The most important people to become excited about the victory were the decision makers at McDonald's who saw just how deep the fan engagement was following the victory.

So Wallace learned to run in 2021, but he stumbled when he walked. Earning three top-fives doubled his career output and had to imbue a ton of confidence. But long-term success comes with running consistently and that was lacking for Wallace last year.

In terms of top-10s, last year was not his best. In his final season with Petty, he scored five of those; only one was a top-five. Last year, his three top-fives were his only top-10s. He came close on one other occasion with an 11th at Dover International Speedway and a 13th on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The most common block of finishes was in the mid-teens. Wallace finished between 14th and 17th on 12 occasions last year. He just needs a little improvement to become a weekly threat to finish in the top 10. And that is potentially where Kurt Busch can play a role. Last week, we suggested that Busch may thrive as a mentor. The common opinion about the fiery veteran is that he makes teams better when he joins and his time at Chip Ganassi Racing gave him the opportunity to work with a much younger and less experienced driver in Ross Chastain.

If Wallace can improve his top-15s to -10s, he could make the playoffs for the first time in his career on points. He may also have another superspeedway win coming in 2022 with an assist from Busch.

Three Best Tracks *
Daytona (13.7 in 9 attempts)
Bristol (19.4 in 7)
Talladega (19.5 in 8)

Three Worst Tracks *
Kansas (26.0 in 8)
Charlotte (26.0 in 5)
Auto Club (25.7 in 3)

2021 Stats
Victories: Talladega 2
Top-fives: 3 (.083)
Top-10s: 3 (.083)
Top-15s: 11 (.306)
Top-20s: 20 (.556)

2021 Finishes at or above rank = 16 (44.4%)

* Active tracks with three or more starts

Other Posts Featuring Bubba Wallace
2021 Season End: 21-30

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18: Kurt Busch: New Team, Same Results
19. Aric Almirola: Righting the Ship
20: Ross Chastain: Riding the Rollercoaster
21. Harrison Burton: On the Fast Track
22. Erik Jones: Schrödinger's Race Team
23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Consistency is King
24. Daniel Suarez: On Track for Success
25. Chase Briscoe: 2021 ROTY
26. Justin Haley: New Team, New Dream
27. Cole Custer: Tale of Two Seasons
28. Ty Dillon: Second Chances
29. Michael McDowell: Early Momentum
30. Corey LaJoie: Look Deeper