Netflix series a sign of Bubba Wallace’s growing influence beyond NASCAR

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bubba Wallace had the location selected, a friend to serve as photographer and a cover story to ensure that his proposal to Amanda Carter would be a surprise.

But things didn’t go as planned last July. 

The cover story worked. Wallace and Carter flew to Oregon to finalize Wallace’s line of clothing that Columbia Sportswear recently launched. 

They stayed a few extra days in the Pacific Northwest with NASCAR off for the Olympic break. Wallace hid the engagement ring in his golf bag — “The only bag I cared about on the trip,” he told NBC Sports.

He had alerted Carter’s sister of his plans. She had one request for her future brother-in-law.

“Make sure you say something and don’t just freeze and say, ‘Will you marry me?’’’ She told Wallace.

“That’s the easy part,” he responded. 

Wallace knew what he would say when the moment came. They stopped at Multnomah Falls to take a picture. That was the setup. 

But the spray from the falls splashed Carter. As she implored Wallace to “hurry up” and take the picture, he scrambled to get the ring from his pocket. 

Carter walked away from the spot. 

Wallace called for her to stop, dropped to one knee and …

“I just sat there and did the exact opposite her sister said, and I froze and didn’t say a word,” Wallace said. “I didn’t ask if she would marry me. I just had the terrified deer in the headlights look. I wasn’t terrified. I was excited. 

“She said yes.”

That Wallace’s proposal didn’t go as expected mirrors his racing career, which had early success sidetracked by lack of sponsorship before he moved to Cup. Even in NASCAR’s premier series, he struggled with a lower-funded team before he joined Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin at 23XI Racing and won at Talladega last season.

Wallace never imagined himself an activist until seeing the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing. As the lone Black driver competing full-time in Cup, Wallace pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its events in 2020. He’s attracted new fans, but also has been booed at driver introductions by others. 

Wallace likes to say “What you see is what you get” with him, a sentiment he’ll share on his Nextflix docu-series that debuts Feb. 22. It’s just a part of Wallace’s growing influence as he heads into Sunday’s Daytona 500 and his second season with 23XI Racing.

NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
Fans hold a sign in support of Bubba Wallace at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2020. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Years ago, NASCAR claimed 75 million fans. Netflix had 222 million subscribers in the last quarter of last year. 

The potential reach for Wallace with the six-episode Netflix series titled “Race: Bubba Wallace” gives him and NASCAR the chance to be seen by people who might not be as familiar with the sport. The hope is to engage people as Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” Formula 1 series, which has been credited with increasing interest in that series in the U.S.

“I think it would be a success if we could get the people who aren’t my biggest fans to actually tune in to see what is Bubba Wallace, who is Bubba Wallace, really,” he told NBC Sports.

Erik Parker, who directed the series, wanted to show the challenges Wallace faced on and off the track. Parker told Wallace’s story through last season’s events while also going back to 2020 when Wallace moved to the forefront in the sport and the push for diversity, equity and inclusion.

That’s something that we, a lot of times, take for granted when we see somebody who is a public figure and they’re dealing with a lot of different people and a lot of different situations,” Parker told NBC Sports. “You’re not realizing what’s exactly happening on the inside and how they’re being pulled and what they’re doing to just maintain. How he does that is kind of inspiring in a lot of ways.”

Wallace’s reach stretches beyond a streaming platform. Columbia Sportswear launched the Bubba Wallace Collection of outdoor activewear Feb. 2 and marked the company’s first signature collection developed with a sponsored athlete. Wallace worked with Columbia’s design team on a lightweight puffer jacket, a special edition shoe, long sleeve shirt and crew neck sweatshirt, among other items.

NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 - Practice
Bubba Wallace with 23XI Racing team members at Daytona. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

“It’s got the reds, the whites and golds in there,” Wallace said. “Gold is like a sense of royalty, so, to be able to provide people with that feeling is special because we all want that feeling in our lives. When they put a piece of BW wear on, the collection there, they can feel that, hopefully, and they can see that I thought about everybody in this collection, making them feel special.”

McDonald’s debuted a limited edition collection with 23XI Racing on Wednesday that will be available to purchase beginning Friday. Items included a custom bomber jacket, limited edition T-shirts and basketball shorts. All proceeds benefit the 23XI Institute, the team’s educational and professional development focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

While there’s much marketing around Wallace — he had a brief cameo in the McDonald’s Super Bowl commercial —  he still needs to perform. He finished 21st in points last year, missing the playoffs. 

Shortly after forming 23XI Racing, Jordan told NBC Sports in 2020, Jordan expressed his expectations for the team.

“My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there just to go around the races and just go around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th,” Jordan said. “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.”

While Wallace and the 23XI Racing bring in various sponsors and marketing opportunities, the team must balance on-track and off-track duties for the 28-year-old Wallace.

We work really hard on making sure that the focus is where the focus needs to be and that is him winning races and being competitive and doing what he needs to do to prepare and do his best on the track,” said Steve Lauletta, president of 23XI Racing, about Wallace. “We try to make sure that we don’t make that balance too far away from the track. 

“There are a lot of demands, and I think he handles them brilliantly. He knows how to be the Bubba Wallace that the brands have relied on and want to market to build their business. He knows when he has to be prepared for that. He hasn’t missed a beat with any of our (partners) last year and the new ones we brought on this year. I feel like we’ve got to continue to do that. 

“We can’t take the eye off the ball and have him be just the personality. He needs to be the playoff driver, the winning driver and, hopefully, the championship driver and those other things will continue to be there when that happens vs. the other way around.”

NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash - Qualifying Heat
Bubba Wallace is beginning his 10th season in NASCAR’s national series and his fifth full-time Cup season. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wallace is beginning his 10th season in NASCAR’s national series. He won his first Camping World Truck Series race as a rookie in 2013, taking the checkered flag at Martinsville Speedway. He won four times the following season and finished third in the points. 

Wallace moved to Xfinity in 2015. He finished seventh in points but was winless. He also did not win in 2016. Wallace lost his ride in 2017 when Roush Fenway Racing could not find enough sponsorship for the car and disbanded the team after 13 races.

Suddenly available, Wallace filled in for four Cup races in 2017 at Richard Petty Motorsports after Aric Almirola was injured in a crash at Kansas. When Almirola left the team after that season, Wallace took over the ride. He drove the No. 43 car for three years before moving to 23XI Racing last year.

Expectations were high a year ago for Wallace at 23XI Racing, even though it was the team’s first season. The partnership with Toyota and alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing fed the fervor. Wallace said before the season that his goal was two wins. 

As the team enters a second season and has added former champion Kurt Busch to be Wallace’s teammate, the goals are not as bold — at least publicly. 

NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash - Qualifying Heat
Bubba Wallace and team owner Denny Hamlin earlier this month at the Clash at the Colisuem. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Hamlin talks about both drivers making the playoffs instead of victory totals.

“I think we look at bigger picture,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “Bringing Dave Rogers on board (as performance director.), we actually went to lunch and we had a good heart to heart with each other. …  We talked about goals and expectations. I said top 10, to be consistent top 10.

“If you’re in the top 10, you’re in the playoffs. If you’re in the playoffs, you’re going to get some traction and some momentum. 

“For me, it’s just big picture. We take what the season will give us, not try too hard, not focus on two wins. Just go out and when the opportunities are right we capitalize.”

Just as he did last year at Talladega, becoming the first Black driver to win in Cup since Wendell Scott’s victory in December 1963. 

“I wish I could have been there today with him,” Frank Scott, son of Wendell Scott, told NBC Sports from his Danville, Virginia, home that day as family members celebrated in the background.

“But we were there with him. Not physically, but we were with him spiritually and emotionally. It was great, man.”

It was a special moment, but there are more races to run and that can mean more opportunities to win.

“I’m sure he’s not satisfied yet with where he is in spite of winning,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, about Wallace. 

Wilson said that the addition of Busch as a teammate and mentor, will make a difference for Wallace.

“Having Kurt on the shop floor right next to him and having Kurt as a mentor, as a confidant, as somebody that he can lean on is different than Denny because Denny is his owner first and foremost,” Wilson said. “Yes, (Hamlin) drives, but I think Kurt will help Bubba. I think Bubba will help Kurt. We expect that will help improve his consistency in his performance and we’re looking forward to seeing that.”

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.