INDIANAPOLIS — In a season where Bubba Wallace has been tearful, despondent and frustrated, Sunday saw the engaging 25-year-old beaming, joking and excited after a season-best third-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“What a helluva day, helluva day for my team,” Wallace said after finishing behind winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Joey Logano. “We needed this. We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed and I was bragging to everybody.
“An unforgettable day at Indy.”
Wallace’s run was his second career top-five finish. He placed second in last year’s Daytona 500.
It didn’t seem as if Wallace — whose best finish this season was 14th at Bristol last month — would have a chance for a strong finish for Richard Petty Motorsports early in the race.
“I had no idea,” Wallace said of what happened. “I knew I was supposed to come around (Chris Buescher) and go long. I saw (Buescher) pull in, and I lifted and went to turn in and next thing you know I’m heading for Jimmie Johnson’s guys and I couldn’t stop. What I should have done, going back on it, is get off the brakes and turn and get away from them.
“Thank God we missed their pit crew and didn’t crush them because I couldn’t stop.”
Wallace said he asked his crew what happened and was told that Elliott “just ran you over.” Wallace admitted he was upset with Elliott for a while “and then I see (Elliott’s) car had damage and I’m like, ‘Nah, that had to be an accordion effect. I thought our day was over with. I thought that was how our luck was summed up all year, having really fast cars and some dumb luck takes us out. And it didn’t.”
Wallace had said earlier this weekend how excited he was and how fast his car was.
He showed how good it was Sunday working his way toward the front. He never was worse than 11th in the final 50 laps.
“It’s incredible to think about where the season started and where we were at the first 10 races in,” Wallace said on pit road after the race. “Ever since Charlotte, we’ve still been bringing some heat. It’s just the passion and the drive my team has and it’s a frickin’ blast coming to the race track and being away from the race track with my guys.”
Wallace knows the challenge a single-car team faces in Cup but left Indy encouraged.
“If we can just have moments like this and weekends like that, we can start to put together runs and generate more funding and resources and get our cars better,” he said.
When Wallace was third on the final restart, he admits he flashed back to a race nearly a decade ago.
“Nine years ago we won at Lee (New Hampshire) Speedway when I restarted third and Ryan Truex and Eddie MacDonald were on the front row. I said on the pace laps these guys are going to overdrive Turn 1 and I’m going to take the lead and that happened.
“I started game-planning (Sunday when he was third). Now this is different plan because it was Joey and Kevin, but I started game-planning. They lined up perfectly and they went into (Turn) 3 and I’m like ‘Yes,’ and they all made it and I’m like, ‘Damn.’ ‘’
Even though he didn’t get the chance to win, it was still a good day for Wallace.
“All we do is just continue to climb up that Mt. Everest hill and we just keep kind of knocking another block off, knocking another step off,” he said.
But had he won, Wallace knew what he would have said in victory lane.
“My mom told me (Saturday), she’s like ‘When you win, tell them haters to kiss those bricks.’ ”