Runner-up finish elicits different emotion for Bubba Wallace from 2018

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There were no tears Sunday night for Bubba Wallace, unlike the first time he finished second in the Daytona 500.

This time, he hung his head after finishing 36-thousandths of a second behind Austin Cindric for the Daytona 500 win.

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in this race as a rookie. “2022 was not awesome.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

Wallace’s mood improved the more he talked Sunday to the media on pit road after the race, but he admitted that it will take “maybe two days, maybe three, probably a freaking week before I’ll get over this.”

As the field roared through Turn 3 on the final lap, Wallace, running fourth, got a big push from Aric Almirola. That carried Wallace to the back of Ryan Blaney’s car on the bottom lane, as Cindric led.

NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500
Bubba Wallace congratulates Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric in victory lane. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wallace got past Brad Keselowski for third as they exited Turn 4. Blaney made his move and Cindric blocked, sending Blaney into the wall. Wallace moved underneath Blaney to take second place. Suddenly, Wallace, who won at Talladega last fall, was in position to win a second consecutive speedway race.

Wallace clipped the left rear of Cindric’s car, but Cindric held on to earn his first career Cup victory.

When Wallace got to pit road, he sat on the door of his car and hung his head. He stayed there momentarily before slowly climbing from his car. Team members hugged and consoled him.

In 2018, Wallace got emotional after his mother interrupted his runner-up press conference to congratulate him on the finish. When Wallace told his mom she was acting as if he won that night, she told him: “We did. We did. We did win that race.”

His sister embraced him and Wallace then broke down crying that night four years ago.

There was no such jubilation in the aftermath of Sunday’s race. 

While he’ll go back and contemplate the moves he might have made, his performance reaffirmed what he can do in the car. Making it stand out more is that he nearly won despite being the only the only Toyota in a top five that featured four Fords. That’s significant in speedway racing, where manufacturers emphasize working together.

Mike Wheeler, competition director for 23XI Racing, said how Wallace handled himself throughout the race stood out to him the most Sunday.

“I thought we’ve had good speedway cars as a group for a while,” Wheeler told NBC Sports of the previous car. “I thought he got in them and made the most of them.

“This one is more a common car, so to see him still excel amongst the group was impressive.”

At some point Wallace may see that, but after the race, coming so close left him gasping for what could have been.

“Damn,” he simply said.