KANSAS CITY, Kans. — Winning is always special, but drivers have said, particularly those with one Cup win, that winning a second series race was important because it showed that they were not just a one-hit wonder.
Bubba Wallace passed beyond that with his second career Cup victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
MORE: Bubba Wallace to be on MotorMouths Monday (6-7 p.m. ET on Peacock)
“I think winning at this level is the hardest thing in life for us race car drivers,” said Wallace, who has won a Cup race two consecutive seasons.
“To be able to say we’re winners (Sunday) here at Kansas through the year that we’ve had and what we’ve been able to do the last couple of months is incredible. … To come out winners, I knew it was only a matter of time. Had a lot of people telling me that. So it’s finally cool to see it come to fruition. Two times is better than one time.”
The victory is not surprising. Wallace had arguably the best car at Kansas in May but two penalties by his pit crew caused him to restart twice at the back of the field. He went on to finish 10th. 23XI Racing teammate Kurt Busch won that race.
At Michigan last month, Wallace was on the front row for the final restart but could not keep Kevin Harvick from getting by. Wallace then was mired in a battle to keep second and never got the chance to challenge Harvick, placing second.
That Wallace is becoming a factor at more than superspeedways — his first career Cup win was last year at Talladega and he has three runner-up finishes at Daytona — shows the growth he and his team are making.
“We’re talked about when we go to the speedways and kind of not so much the rest of the tracks, so I want to start changing that,” Wallace said after his sixth top-10 finish in the last nine races. “We’ve been able to show up these last two months or so, all different types of racetracks, and be talked about. That’s cool. It’s a step in the right direction.
“We just can’t get complacent. We have to keep going, keep pushing for more. This is great, but we have to continue to go back out and battle. I appreciate the opportunity that I’m in right now with the team that I have and keep going.”
A couple of key moments in Sunday’s race went against Denny Hamlin and kept him from having a chance to win.
On what would be the final restart — at the beginning of stage 3 — Hamlin lined up fourth on Lap 172 but quickly fell back to eighth by Lap 174. In a race where track position was critical, this put him in a challenging spot.
Hamlin didn’t get to fifth until Lap 197 in the 267-lap race. He was back up to fourth when he came to pit road on Lap 214 for his final stop.
Hamlin was first playoff car to pit. Crew chief Chris Gabehart said he came early because he was trying to leapfrog Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell.
Hamlin had an 11.5-second pit stop, according to Racing Insights. Leader Bubba Wallace came on the next lap and had a 10.4-second pit stop.
That was only part of what kept Hamlin from having a chance to challenge Wallace for the win at the end.
Gabehart said Wallace’s entry and exit off pit road, compared to Hamlin’s, was a key factor.
“It was roughly a two second delta,” Gabehart told NBC Sports of the difference between Wallace and Hamlin. “Some of that was the pit stop just wasn’t great. And to Bubba’s credit, he’s really good at (pit entry and pit exit). His green flag entries and green flag exits have been good for a long time. And it won him a race.”
Hamlin acknowledged how good Wallace is in that area.
“Bubba, historically on the metrics, has been really good on green flag entries,” Hamlin said. “So I kind of knew that it was going to be tough for me to gain. I kind of focused just on not making a mistake coming to pit road. … He just smashed us pretty bad, I think by about a second. We lost by exactly one second.
Said Wallace: “There’s a lot of metrics in our JGR metric sheet. There’s about 1,000 pages. I take pride in trying to be at the top of those. Some weeks you are. Most weeks I’m not, but pit-in, pit-out, green flag stuff has always been one of my strong suits.
“Honestly, they said, ‘Pit now,’ and I’m like, OK, and just was able to capitalize and that was it. Didn’t do anything fancy, but just one of those high traits that we carry. It worked out for us.”
Martin Truex Jr.’s fifth-place finish was not a result he celebrated.
Truex, who still seeks his first win of the season and is not in the playoffs for the first time since 2014, gave up the lead on Lap 112 when he had to return to pit road so his crew could tighten the left rear tire.
Truex didn’t get back into the top five until seven laps left.
“Too many mistakes,” Truex said.
He said he felt he had the best car in the race.
What could he do better than others?
“Pass cars,” he said. “The longer the race goes, the harder it is to do it and the longer it takes you to get through the field. Just too many mistakes.”
Asked if this was just the way the season has gone, Truex said: “Yep. Ready for the offseason.”
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) September 11, 2022
Sunday marked the first time in 50 years that the same car number won two races at a track in the same season with different drivers, according to Racing Insights. Both Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace drove the No. 45 car to a win this year at Kansas.
The No. 21 car of Wood Brothers Racing won the 1972 Daytona 500 with A.J. Foyt and won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona that July with David Pearson.
The last time the same car number won two races with multiple drivers in the same season was 2002.
Sterling Marlin won in the No. 40 car at Las Vegas and Dover before he suffered a fractured vertebra and missed the final seven races of the season. Jamie McMurray won the fall Charlotte race in his second start in the No. 40 car in place of Marlin that season.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 12, 2022