After rain forced the delay of the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway from its originally scheduled Sunday date to a Monday afternoon affair, precipitation, once, again interfered on Monday, shortening the race from 188 laps to 117 laps.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. was in the lead when NASCAR called the race official to claim his first-career NASCAR Cup Series win and the first victory for 23XI Racing.
“Part of me is just sitting there waiting – it’s not over with,” Wallace said of the anticipation of waiting for NASCAR to call the race. “Just sit there and bide our time and if we go back racing, let’s put ourselves in position. So many cool fans behind us at the pit box just cheering for it to rain so that kind of amped up the intensity a little bit.
“Just so proud of everyone at 23XI Racing. New team and coming in here getting a win late in the season reminds me of 2013. Waited so long to get that first truck win. I know a lot of history was made today, which is really cool, but it’s about my guys and it’s about our team and about what we’ve done. Appreciate Michael Jordan, appreciate Denny [Hamlin] for giving me an opportunity and believing in me. Like we talked, it’s pretty fitting that it comes here at Talladega.”
With the win, Wallace is only the second African-American driver to win a race in NASCAR’s premier series, the first since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott’s in in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963.
“I never think about those things, but when you say it like that, it obviously brings a lot of emotion on and joy to my family, fans, friends,” Wallace said. “It’s pretty damn cool. Just proud to be a winner in the Cup Series.”
Team Penske duo Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished second and third, respectively. Kurt Busch was fourth, Christopher Bell rounded out the top-five.
“It was a good day for us, not the win,” Keselowski said. “Gosh, if I would have known it was gonna rain right then I had a move I could have made and I was like, ‘No, we’ve got five laps in the stage left, I don’t want to burn that move yet,’ and then it rains, so I feel like I kind of let one slip away here. All in all, it’s still a great day. We scored a lot of stage points, which is really positive and put ourselves in a good position next week to go to the Roval.”
After a fourth caution on lap 98 for a crash involving playoff drivers Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., along with Tyler Reddick, Matt DiBenedetto, Ross Chastain, Quin Houff, B.J. McLeod and Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bell traded the lead back-and-fourth before Kurt Busch took the lead on lap 108. A few laps later, Wallace took the lead before a lap-116 incident involving Preece DiBenedetto and Bowman.
“Just dumped over on the left-rear and turned us around really bad,” Bowman said. “Bummer for the Ally 48 team. We had a fast car; we were leading, there. That’s just superspeedway racing and the box that we’re put in by these race tracks. You’ll have that. Bummed to have torn up race car, but we’ll move on and try to go win the Roval.”
The race was still under the caution for the lap-116 crash when it was red-flagged for rain and, ultimately, called official. The end of the race came three laps shy of the scheduled conclusion of stage two, so the finishing order was used to determine second-stage points, also making Wallace the official stage-two winner.
Chris Buescher won stage one under caution. The yellow flag waved for the second time, the first for an on-track incident, on lap 56 for an incident involving Justin Allgaier, Preece, Chase Briscoe and playoff driver Kyle Larson.
Kevin Harvick and Logano each led 13 laps in the first stage, most of any driver. After Kyle Busch started on the front row alongside pole sitter and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, he took the lead on the opening lap. Other lap leaders in the first stage included DiBenedetto, Truex, Wallace, Cole Custer, Kurt Busch, Hamlin and Keselowski.
“We went up there early and led some and were feeling our car out,” DiBenedetto said. “We had good speed and was as good as always. The Quick Lane Mustang and Wood Brothers always bring really fast race cars here and really wanted to feel it out. We got shuffled a little and was just riding. We were committed to that before the day started. Leverage the situation to our advantage that we don’t need stage points, so we were gonna cruise and let the wrecks happen and then in stage three go and try to run up front and go for the win, but Mother Nature threw a little kink in our plans here and obviously we see what happened.”
Hamlin’s time up front came after recovery from sliding through his pit box during a lap-25 caution.
Soon after the race restarted for the second stage, a tire issue for Larson resulted in a caution on lap 67. That yellow flag was exchanged for the red flag because of light precipitation that halted the race four about 18-and-a-half minutes.
When the race went back under caution before a restart, most drivers pitted to top-off their gas tanks, but Justin Haley stayed out to lead a few laps before drivers like Buescher, Bell, Hamlin and Harvick returned to the front to lead laps.
Buescher finished sixth, Hamlin was seventh, Harvick eighth, Erik Jones ninth, and Austin Dillon finished 10th.
“We got a little bit behind,” Harvick said. “I got shuffled out there too late for the rain storm, but our Ford Mustang was fast and we were able to make up some ground and get back up closer to where we needed to be. I hate that it started raining. Our car was fast.”