CONCORD, N.C. — Bubba Wallace hasn’t been having a lot of fun in the last few months.
A difficult start to the season, combined with financial woes at Richard Petty Motorsports, left Wallace doubting himself and his ability. He desperately needed something good to happen to lift his spirts and those of his No. 43 team.
On Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, good things happened for Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports.
Wallace, who admitted he “didn’t give a damn,” muscled his way into the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race for the first time with a determined drive during the Monster Energy Open.
It wasn’t easy, but nothing ever is for Wallace, who has had to fight and scrape for nearly every opportunity he has gotten in racing. On this particular Saturday night, Wallace simply refused to lose.
“We needed this, I needed this,” Wallace lamented after racing into the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. “It’s been tough.”
Strategy was the name of the game for Wallace and his crew chief Derek Stamets. When a caution flag waved with only a few laps left in the first stage of the Monster Energy Open, Stamets called for Wallace to stay out.
He lined up in the second row and pushed Kyle Larson into the lead, but Wallace wasn’t about to let Larson drive away. A tap to Larson’s bumper gave Wallace a run on the inside and somehow Wallace managed to complete the pass.
Unfortunately racing hard with Larson opened the door for fast-closing William Byron, who got to Wallace’s inside and beat him to the finish line to win the first stage and advance into the All-Star Race.
“I was pissed off. I was really pissed off after that. I let that one go. I thought that was it,” Wallace admitted.
But it wasn’t. Somehow, as if by divine intervention, Wallace got another opportunity in the second stage when Daniel Hemric and Ryan Preece crashed racing for third with two laps left.
“The caution came back out again, same scenario. I was like alright, ‘I’m going to get it this time.’ You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Wallace said.
Most of the field pitted and Stamets called for Wallace to stay out, setting him up to restart second alongside Alex Bowman. This time Wallace wasn’t going to let anyone take victory away from him.
He got a push from Daniel Suarez behind him to get out front, but Suarez wanted to win, too. Two laps of intense racing followed, with Wallace managing to best Suarez to hang onto the lead. Suarez tried his best to take the lead from Wallace exiting turn four on the last lap, but Wallace blocked the move and sent Suarez spinning through the infield.
Wallace won and advanced to the All-Star Race.
“Damn it feels good to win something,” Wallace acknowledged.
The joy was evident. Tears flowed and Wallace got a hug from his best friend, fellow NASCAR star Ryan Blaney, in the garage. But perhaps the most important thing that happened in the moments after his triumph in the Monster Energy Open came in a conversation with his mother, Desiree.
“The first thing my mom says to me after the Open, she walks up on the grid here and she’s like, ‘You know who that was, ya know? That was God. He’s not giving up on you yet,’” Wallace said. “I’ve realized that. As many dark moments as I’ve had and telling myself to give up, I know it’s like a broken record, but man it’s been tough. It’s been really tough to keep climbing in and keep going.”
Wallace returned to the track for the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, joining the sports top stars in a battle for a $1 million payday.
The native of Mobile, Ala., backed up his stunning run in the Monster Energy Open with a fifth-place result in the All-Star Race. He didn’t win the $1 million, but he left Charlotte Motor Speedway with a smile on his face and that might have been worth more than the money.
“I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said. “I guess dating back to the Bristol spring race last year. Since then it’s been a struggle. It’s a big night for us. A big night of momentum.
“I’m showing teeth in my smile, so it says a lot.”