Buoyed by his new Cup ride at 23XI Racing, Bubba Wallace tells NBC Sports that he’s set a goal of two wins this season.
“I know that I need to go out and perform and win races to become a household name on the racetrack,” Wallace said. “I’m a household name off the racetrack because of everything that happened last year. As good and as great as that is, I need to balance that out with on-track performance and the results haven’t been there. Obviously, circumstances and everything.
“Looking at this year and moving forward with what we have, with Toyota, with the partnership with (Joe Gibbs Racing) and just with everything going on at 23XI Racing, there’s no reason why we can’t go out and be good and compete for wins and put ourselves in the playoffs this year. I have written down in a text message two wins this year. That’s solid. That’s doable.”
Wallace admits this is not a goal he’s typically set.
“This is different,” he said. “This is different. Everything is there. No more excuses for me. That’s the motto. All the resources, personnel, equipment, everything, you name it, it is right there to go out and capitalize on.”
Achieving the goal of two victories will please Michael Jordan, who co-owns the team with Denny Hamlin.
Jordan told NBC Sports last September: “My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there just to go around to the races and just go around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th. I want to win. I want to be put in a position for the best chance for us to win. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.
“When we got into this dialogue and I saw that ‘OK, I might have a chance if we can put together the right situation to possibly win.’ That became more intriguing. That was my mindset going into this.”
Jordan also understands the challenges of winning in NASCAR, particularly with a new team.
“I want to win tomorrow – as soon as we get on the track,” he said. “I know it is a process. It’s a process and you’re going to have to learn it. But if every step, each day, you move towards winning the day – tomorrow is better than yesterday – I have hope.”
Wallace’s best Cup finish is his runner-up performance in the 2018 Daytona 500. Just as memorable was his reaction. His emotional press conference was interrupted by tears and an embrace with his mother.
Should Wallace win at least two points races this season, he would become the 10th Cup driver since 2000 to enter a year with no career series victories and score multiple wins that season.
The last driver to enter a year with no career Cup wins and score multiple victories that season was Chase Elliott in 2018. He won three races that year. His first victory came in his 99th career Cup start.
Wallace will make his 113th career Cup start in the Feb. 14 Daytona 500. All of those starts came with Richard Petty Motorsports, a single-car team that had limited funding and resources. Wallace had one top-five finish and five top-10 results with that organization.
While Wallace moves to a single-car team in 23XI Racing, the organization’s ties with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing make it stronger than a typical one-car effort. The team announced its primary sponsors for this season in December. Wallace has spent time the last two weeks in Toyota’s simulator.
“I definitely didn’t get much sim work,” Wallace said of his previous Cup seasons. “We had some sim work up at (Richard Childress Racing, which RPM was aligned with), but it wasn’t manufacturer sim stuff.”
Wallace said his recent sim work has proved valuable.
“I think getting up to speed with everything,” he said. “Getting me acclimated and comfortable and knowing what makes this work and what does not and giving feedback to my crew for them to know, ‘OK this is what Bubba likes, this is what Bubba doesn’t like’ and figuring out how to grow from there.”
Hamlin is one of those drivers who went from zero to multiple wins in one season. He won two races his rookie Cup season in 2006. What does he think about Wallace’s goal for this season?
“I don’t know how we’re going to start, how it’s going to be in the middle,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “What I want to see is a steady progression from week 1 to week 36 and know that when we get to the end we are building something here that is a competitor – a legit competitor – and not just battling within the top 15.
“I want to see him battling inside the top 10 50% of the time. That doesn’t mean finishing there necessarily, but putting your car in those positions where you are giving yourself solid opportunities to ‘Hey you can win this race. With the right strategy call, with the right restart, you can win this race.’ We want to build a castle and honestly, we are in the foundation stages.”
While there are many things in Wallace’s favor with 23XI Racing, being a new team adds challenges. Hamlin and Jordan didn’t announce their team until Sept. 21, 2019 — less than five months before the Daytona 500.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” crew chief Mike Wheeler told NBC Sports earlier this month. “I’m looking forward to getting into the motions of actual racing and not just building a team from scratch. It’s a huge undertaking to start from scratch.”
Regardless, Wallace is ready to go racing. And win.
“I think we’re all anticipating what is 23XI going to do,” Wallace said. “What is the 23 car going to do? What is Bubba going to do?”
DRIVERS WHO HAD NO CAREER CUP WINS AND WON MULTIPLE RACES THAT YEAR
2018 — Chase Elliott (3 wins)
2017 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2 wins)
2006 — Denny Hamlin (2 wins)
2005 — Carl Edwards (4 wins)
2005 — Kyle Busch (2 wins)
2002 — Kurt Busch (4 wins)
2002 — Jimmie Johnson (3 wins)
2001 — Kevin Harvick (2 wins)
2000 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2 wins)