Bubba Wallace can join an elite group of drivers this weekend, and if he does, he likely will use an unconventional strategy to do so.
Wallace comes to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend as the track’s most recent Cup winner, scoring his first career series win in last year’s playoff race.
A runner-up finish at Daytona preceded that Talladega win and a runner-up finish in this year’s Daytona 500 followed it. Sunday, Wallace goes for his fourth consecutive top-two finish at a superspeedway race at Daytona and Talladega.
Only four drivers have accomplished that feat. Three are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame: Cale Yarborough (who did it twice), Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt. One other to reach that milestone was Ernie Irvan. Jarrett was the last to do so, completing his mark in the 2000 Daytona 500.
To score such results, it would seem that a driver would spend much of the race at or near the front. That hasn’t been the case with Wallace.
While Wallace had solid results at Daytona and Talladega shortly after moving to Cup — he finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500 — he admits that he still needed to make better decisions in those races.
“We had speed the rest of the races, and I would make dumb moves and take us out of contention or just be caught up in somebody else’s mess,” he said. “So I just kind of took it as, ‘Hey we fight like hell at the beginning. Wherever we start, if we can get to the lead, get there. If we lose it, we lose it, it’s fine.
“We don’t need to be in the eye of the storm to get our spots back because it’s not worth it. We’d like to get stage points, but at the end of the day, getting a race win is the most important thing for us.”
It worked last year at Talladega.
He took his time to get to the front. Wallace was 25th at Lap 80 and ran 22nd at Lap 100 in a race that would be shortened to 117 laps because of rain.
Wallace ran 14th at Lap 105 before making a charge. He moved to sixth at Lap 110 and took the lead at Lap 113 to win.
“It seems like that has been our trend,” Wallace said of coming through the field. “You’ll see us start midpack, drive up to the lead, go to the back, run around a little bit and not be talked about until the last stage and then we’re there. We’ve just got to continue to do that.”
That strategy also worked at Daytona last year and this year.
In last year’s regular season finale at Daytona, Wallace was 16th near the halfway point of the 165-lap race. He moved to ninth at Lap 100 and led at Lap 130. Wallace was back to 20th after a pit stop under caution at Lap 150. He was ninth at Lap 160 and finished second to Ryan Blaney.
In this year’s Daytona 500, Wallace was 19th at Lap 100 before he climbed to fifth at Lap 125. He never ran lower than 11th after that, placing second to Austin Cindric.
Wallace’s win at Talladega last year made him the second Black driver to win a Cup race in NASCAR’s history. He had to wait through a rain delay before he was declared the winner.
“A nerve-racking experience,” Wallace said. “You just didn’t know. You want to win. It’s so hard to win at this Cup level. It took me five years to get a win. You just cherish every moment of it, highs and lows, good and the bad. I’m ready to hopefully relive that Sunday.”