Bubba Wallace executes strong showing at Martinsville: 'We got the result that we deserved'

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Bubba Wallace has been no stranger to the front of the field this season, but his finishes haven’t often reflected that.

Wallace left nothing to worry about Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

The No. 23 Toyota took the checkered flag fourth after remaining a mainstay at the front of the pack in Sunday’s Cook Out 400, offering to play spoiler in Hendrick Motorsports’ dominant (and prominent) weekend as it celebrated its 40th anniversary.

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Wallace didn’t mind breaking up the brigade to finish second in each of the opening stages and hung around the top five despite the Chevrolets’ charge to the front for a 1-2-3 Hendrick finish. His 23XI Racing Toyota faded to sixth on the penultimate run, but a late-race caution and Denny Hamlin’s decision to pit afforded Wallace fifth place on the overtime restart. Wallace capitalized and snagged a pass on longtime buddy Ryan Blaney to finish fourth, complementing his 3.79 average running position to score his first top-five finish since opening the season with two in a row.

“I appreciate everybody’s effort, you know?” Wallace told “Being able to close the deal out, it’s just — finally, right? It’s one of those moments where it’s like you can let out a big breath because we got the result that we deserved. I was content with finishing sixth there to end it, but you never give up on those restarts. So it’s actually nice to be able to fire off good and actually net positive.”

Evidenced by the loop data, Wallace was a frequent flyer inside the top five at the 0.526-mile oval Sunday. But the No. 23 car was too “swingy,” Wallace described on his radio.

“When you settle into this corner,” Wallace explained as he walked toward Turn 3, “the rear end wants to come around, so you can’t be aggressive. So it sounds like if you slow down to get it [the car] underneath you, that’s fine, but then somebody else can drive around you. So it’s just the little things. It doesn’t take much to put you in the game; it doesn’t take much to take you out of it.”

Bubba Wallace walks pit road at Martinsville Speedway.
Bubba Wallace walks pit road at Martinsville Speedway.

There is a strong case to be made for this marking Wallace’s second straight top five had his Richmond Raceway finish not gone awry. Accidental contact from Wallace to Kyle Larson spun Larson with just two laps remaining in last weekend’s race to bring out the yellow flag. Larson recovered to finish inside the top five — third — but a slow pit stop plummeted Wallace to a 13th-place finish after running fifth at the time of the caution. The final rundown eliminated any proof of Wallace’s good day — a second-place Stage 1 finish, eighth-place in Stage 2 and an average running position of 5.74, fourth-best of the field that day.

There was no derailment at Martinsville, where Wallace has now finished 11th or better in each of his last four starts — including Sunday’s fourth-place finish, his first Martinsville top five.

“It’s just our first green race of the year, our first race with no mistakes,” crew chief Bootie Barker said. “That’s just what we’ve got to do. Speed’s there.”

Nothing about their team’s performance surprised Barker, who is in the midst of his 21st full-time NASCAR Cup Series season, per 23XI Racing’s website. The team advanced into the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs a season ago and went to Victory Lane in each of its first two seasons in 2021 and 2022.

“I mean, we should be good everywhere we go,” Barker said. “If you want to be elite, this is what you’ve got to do.”

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Wallace, Barker and Co. now have momentum heading back to Texas Motor Speedway, where Wallace led 111 laps in the Round of 12 opener in last year’s postseason before a late-race restart wound up with Wallace third. A win in that event would have propelled the No. 23 team into the Round of 8, but the group was ousted from the playoffs two weeks later instead.

So does Martinsville momentum matter to Wallace with a return trip to Fort Worth in store?

“It’s really good going into Texas — the race I still won’t go back and watch,” Wallace said. “Got some redemption to do.”