Bubba Wallace shares with Dale Jr. behind scene stories from Talladega

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Bubba Wallace spent time talking with NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday discussing some of the events of the last few days at Talladega Superspeedway.

Wallace reveals his emotions before the race, the quip Richard Petty told him to help settle his emotions before climbing into the car and celebrating with fans at their first race after the event.

Here is part of the conversation Wallace and Earnhardt had for NASCAR America at Home:

Dale Jr.: What were you thinking as drivers pushed you down pit road before the race?

Bubba Wallace: I had walked out with headphones on just to kind of block out the noise and just kind of escape. Music is my escape, Dale. I forgot who came and tapped me, maybe it was (Corey) LaJoie or someone told me, ‘You ready to roll?’ I think that was when kind of the emotion came through … (That morning) I woke up and jumped on (the driver group chat) and Jimmie Johnson said ‘I’ll be standing next to Bubba during the anthem today’ and I lost it, I lost it right there. It’s not the hate that breaks me, it’s the support, knowing that people out there support me, makes you feel good, it pulls on your heartstrings for sure.

Bubba Wallace with Jimmie Johnson before Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So I think that’s kind the emotion I was running through that whole time. So getting out of the car, I had a lot of emotion there, just going through everything. It sucks to be kind of carrying all of that weight but it’s part of the journey. Being able to turn around and see all the drivers standing there was really cool. I don’t know what made me look and see if the whole garage was there. Jimmie had talked to me about it. He had called me a couple of hours before the race and said that people reached out and wanted to be a part of that. So I stood up on the door and I looked and saw basically the entire garage and I lost it. I stood up and almost collapsed. It looked like Atlanta all over again (laughs).

But man, it was something truly incredible to witness and to be a part of.  It makes me proud to have a voice in NASCAR and also be a driver and be a part of this sport, a family sport and we all know it’s family. As much as we give each other crap on the racetrack, I will say for a fact, word for word, I got out of the car and I said I don’t like half you guys but I do appreciate all of this (laughs). It was a true testament of how big a family sport this is.”

Dale Jr.: Tell me a little bit about NASCAR President Steve Phelps. Who is he to you?

Bubba Wallace: He’s becoming a bigger and bigger friend than he is … the president of the sanctioning body. I fired off a text message to him a couple of weeks ago. One of the first things I said, ‘Hey, I look at you as a friend, so if I say anything that offends you, we’re friends.’ … I told him we need to take a big stand. We needed to take a big stand and stand up for what’s right. He quickly called me right after that and we had a really good conversation of where he stood and where he wants the sport to go and where he wants us all to go as a whole. That was pretty powerful there.

“He’s been very transparent with me. … The conversation that I had about what went down Sunday was, one, scared the hell out of me because he called me and it was one of those like you just did something wrong, like, my mind was racing, what interview did I do did I say the wrong thing … he was like we needed to talk in person. He comes over to the bus and he walks in and he’s kind of got of that really quiet mellow voice. I said, ‘Hey Steve, how is it going?’ (He said) ‘not good.’ …

When he finally looked up at me, he had tears in his eyes. I don’t know what’s going on, what he’s about to say, what I’m getting at is showing how much Sunday meant to him and offended him and hurt him, showed the character that he is and the passion that he has behind the sport but also his drivers and his friends. That he was disrespected, he was hurt, he felt threatened. He was not going to let this get away and blow under the rug. He was going to do everything in his power to find justice for this and to this day he is still carrying that and even beyond.”

Dale Jr.: What is your personal support system like? Who is helping you through this?

Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace: One, Amanda, my girlfriend. She has been super supportive. … She knew how much pressure and how much I was going through from Sunday throughout the race, everything that went on the whole pre-race, just the whole couple of days and couple of weeks I’ve been going through. … She has been a huge support so I love her for that. My mom, my sister and my dad. They’ve been all been there. …

“Talked to (Ryan) Blaney a lot. He was over here last week and we had a good conversation, talking about everything that is going on in the sport and the world, how crazy it is and what we could do to be better. I think that small little support group there on top of everybody reaching out, including yourself. … It’s cool to see that support.”

Dale Jr.: What has it been like to see new fans come to the sport?

Bubba Wallace: Man, that has been really cool. I think that was a powerful moment even after the race. I was pumped for Blaney. I was contemplating walking out to the finish line and I was like that’s a long walk. I’ll wait until he drives by. I heard the Bubba chants and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands. I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.

“They were like, ‘We’re all the way from Atlanta, we drove over here to check out our first NASCAR race,’ and they were all so proud of me and proud to be there and happy to be there and it was super cool to witness and be able to do the interview with them in the background screaming and hollering in support was super cool.

“I’ve been saying it for the last couple of weeks and I’ve always stood by this, I want everybody to feel welcome. When I go to a sporting event, when I go to a (Charlotte) Hornets game or a (Carolina) Panthers game, I don’t feel like I’m unwelcome because of who I look like. I want that same feeling for anybody that comes to a NASCAR event, that comes to a race and … the Confederate flag was a thing that kind of held people back and maybe the actions of some fans toward other people held people back. I’m trying to change that narrative and show, hey, come on out. You don’t have to cheer on me. You can cheer on Ryan Blaney, whatever. … Learn about the sport. Learn about the strategy. Know that we’re just not driving in circles because we’re driving on ovals. We go straight a little bit. Learn the pit stops, what it takes, the choreography of that. Learns the ins and outs of the sport. That’s where you get hooked.”

Bubba Wallace with fans after Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Dale Jr.: Is racing a necessary outlet for you at these times?

Bubba Wallace: Absolutely. I told Jimmie (Johnson) after the race, we were walking back to our buses, I told him, man, I wish that race didn’t end, it was a lot of fun. Now the work starts. Racing is not work and you know that.

“(Richard Petty) The King, right before I climbed in, he said, ‘Well, this is your chance to flip off that switch on the back of your head where we shut our brains off and go out.’ He said here’s that little switch you can pull off. We had talked about it when he got there to the track a couple of hours before with him, myself and Brian Moffitt (CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports) were sitting there and talking. Drivers have that switch. Once you put that helmet on it, it hits that switch down and you turn it off. He said, now you get to turn off that switch, so go have fun.”

Ryan Blaney scores dramatic win at Talladega in overtime

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After standing together behind Bubba Wallace as a sign of unity during emotional pre-race ceremonies, drivers scrambled on the final lap, as Ryan Blaney nipped Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the win and Aric Almirola came across the finish line backward in third in a thrilling overtime finish Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Blaney, who won at Talladega last fall, and Erik Jones made contact coming to the finish line as they battled for the win. The contact put Jones up into John Hunter Nemechek‘s car and into the wall. Jones was credited with fifth place, a spot behind Denny Hamlin.

“(Blaney) kind of came up on us there,” Jones said. “He moved us up the track, which in turn, kind of got us turned into the fence. It’s superspeedway racing. He’s doing what he has to win; I’m doing what I have to win, and it didn’t play out in our favor, so at least we were there and had a shot to win one of these things. They aren’t easy to win by any means, so it was nice to be up there.”

MORE: Race results, points report 

After the race, Bubba Wallace, who finished 14th, walked to fans in the stands. Up to 5,000 fans were allowed for this event. Wallace slapped hands with fans through the catchfence.

“This is probably the most badass moment right here,” he told Fox, looking at fans, which included some wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. “It’s been tough. It’s been hectic. Look, first (time) fans right here from Atlanta. That is so cool. This sport is changing. The deal that happened yesterday, sorry I’m not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was you’re not going to take my smile and I’m going to keep on going.”

Wallace got emotional when he talked about the pre-race activities with drivers pushing his car to the front of the grid and standing with him for the invocation and national anthem.

“I’m proud to be part of this sport,” he said.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Tyler Reddick

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored his third top-five finish of the season. He had one top-five result last season. … Chris Buescher placed sixth for his best Talladega finish. … John Hunter Nemechek finished eighth for his best career finish.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Chase Elliott finished 38th after he was involved in an accident and collected Austin Dillon. … Matt Kenseth finished 40th. He has not had a top-10 finish in his last eight starts.

NOTABLE:Aric Almirola finished third, marking the eighth consecutive Talladega race he’s placed in the top 10, tying Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the longest such streak at the track.

NEXT: The series heads to Pocono Raceway for a doubleheader. The series races at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday and 4 p.m. ET Sunday.

Chase Briscoe: Dale Jr. ‘changed my entire outlook’ of superspeedway races

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Before a roughly 45-minute conversation with Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year, Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe “used to despise” competing on superspeedways like Talladega Superspeedway.

“I went there with the mentality I was just gonna ride around and hopefully the wreck would happen and I wouldn’t be in it and I’d maybe finish in the top 10 or whatever,” Briscoe said. “And not that I wasn’t going there to win, but I was just there making laps essentially.”

But early last year Briscoe had a lengthy phone call with Earnhardt, the winner of six Cup Series races and one Xfinity race at Talladega, that “changed my entire outlook on those races.”

The changed perspective in part resulted in Briscoe’s fourth-place finish at Talladega last year in his second Xfinity start at the track.

Before that he had a 16th-place finish in 2018 and he placed 22nd in his lone Truck Series start there in 2017.

“I’ve logged a lot of laps and been up front and in contention and just talking to (Earnhardt) and how he approaches those races and his mentality, just how you race them was the total 180 (degrees) opposite of how I was going to go in there,” Briscoe said. “And I felt like ever since I talked to Dale, it’s been a night and day difference, my outlook going to the races. But typically, whenever I get done, I’m like, ‘Man, that was a lot of fun. I’m ready to keep going,’ where the past I would have never said that.”

Added Briscoe: “A lot of people say for the most part that (doing well in) those races are luck, which there is a certain variable of that, but typically you see the same guys winning at the superspeedways, whether it’s Denny (Hamlin) or Joey (Logano) or Brad (Keselowski) or any of those guys and even Dale back when he was racing. So it’s not a coincidence that he got lucky necessarily that many times, there’s something to it. Talking to Dale I feel like really opened my eyes up a lot.”

What was the biggest piece of advice Earnhardt passed on to the 25-year-old driver?

“Just be the aggressor,” Briscoe said. “Now I go there with mentality, I’m going to try to lead every single lap. If I get hung out to dry or whatever, and I fall back to 30th, that’s fine. I’m going to try to drive right back to the lead anytime I get any kind of a run whatsoever. … I just feel like you almost approach it like you’re going go-kart racing. If you wreck, you wreck. But you’re going there to try to lead every single lap you can and it’s just a different style of racing. On the mile-and-half-stuff that’s the mentality I use, and there’s no reason why on superpeedways I wouldn’t use that same mentality of trying to lead every lap.”

That mentality has resulted in Briscoe earning a series-leading three wins so far this year, at Las Vegas, Darlington and last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That win qualified him to compete for the Dash 4 Cash bonus today at Talladega (5:30 p.m. ET on FS1). He will race against Brandon Jones, Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger for the $100,000 prize.

However, for the second race in a row Briscoe will be without his main crew chief, Richard Boswell. Boswell, the team’s car chief and an engineer were suspended four races after last weekend’s first race at Miami, a result of a piece of ballast falling off Briscoe’s No. 98 Ford during the pace laps.

Boswell was replaced on the pit box on Sunday by Stewart-Haas Racing’s vice president of competition, Greg Zipadelli, who will also be in that position Saturday.

“Right now the point is to have him do it at Talladega,” Briscoe said. “I think that’s kind of all of our goal is to have Zippy do it for the following two races, but it’s just dependent on what is going on on the Cup side. That’s obviously priority No. 1 for him. … It was different in a sense of how Zippy communicates and just some of the lingo he uses and his demeanor compared to Boswell. … Obviously, Zippy, he’s won plenty races and championships in the past. So we know he’s more than capable of the job.

“At the same time, this is the perfect opportunity for an interim chief to step in just because of the situation, we’re not practicing or anything. So Boswell’s still setting the car up and everything at home. He’s just not allowed to go to the racetrack. So all that Zippy has to do is really call the race and get the car through tech. So it’s kind of a blessing in disguise for us if this was going to happen just because of the situation we’re in. The only place that it’ll even affect us is Indy (July 4), where we have practice. But we’re confident Zippy’s more than capable of doing the job. And that’s the great thing about Stewart-Haas, we have so much depth all across companies, if something happens. We always have a perfect backup plan.”

Friday 5: Despite 2 wins in a row, Toyota boss has sharp words for teams

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Although Toyota has won four of 12 Cup races this season, including the past two, the president of Toyota Racing Development used the words “embarrassing,” “dog crap” and “unacceptable” in discussing a recent race, and performance this season.

A third of the way through the Cup season, Toyota has not shown the strength it did last year in winning 19 of 36 points races and the championship.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said this week that the manufacture’s advantage has declined.

“It’s not that we’ve fallen behind as much as they’ve caught up, and there’s no question that that new Chevrolet Camaro and the nose that is on that car has elevated their program,” Wilson said. “The fact that they’re only sitting on two wins right now is shocking to me. I always look at not necessarily the wins, but the potential, what is the true potential of your race cars and that being a function of raw speed. You could argue that we’re punching above our weight right now and they’re not running at their full potential.”

MORE: Toyota executive keen on keeping young Cup drivers

Wilson said even with wins in the last two Cup races, that’s not satisfying because of the performance of the Toyota cars.

“Coming off two wins, I still think we’re on our back foot a little bit,” he said. “In many respects I feel much better about our loss at Atlanta than our win at Martinsville. … The reason I say that is because at Atlanta we had three cars in the top five, we led laps, we had a couple of cars that were good enough to win that race.

David Wilson. (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In Martinsville, we embarrassed ourselves. This is one of the most embarrassing races I can remember for the Toyota family. We weren’t ready for the new tire that Goodyear brought to the racetrack. There’s circumstances behind it, but I’m not going to make excuses for it. We weren’t prepared for it.

“Our engine drivability was terrible. On pit lane and restarts. We could have had our worst finish since 2007 had it not been for Martin (Truex Jr.) hanging on long enough to get the car balanced correctly for the tires and putting himself, ultimately, in a position to win the race.

“I was encouraged at what we saw at (last weekend) Homestead. Where we need to be better is our consistency of how we unload from the haulers across the camp. We’ve had too many guys that are just dog crap for the first stage and use that time to try and catch up. That’s unacceptable. We should be better with the tools that we have, with the experience that we have, we should be better.

“There’s definitely room for improvement. Having said all of that, within our camp, within the JGR camp, we’re still positive because we know that our potential is there to lead laps and win races if we execute consistently on pit lane, if we do a better job with our sim, we will be in a position to win more races.”

Toyota is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Family and Gaunt Brothers Racing. The drivers for JGR and Leavine all have scored significantly fewer points in the first stage compared to the second stage, illustrating Wilson’s frustration with how the teams begin the race.

Erik Jones has scored 12.5% of all his stage points in the first stage. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch has scored 29.6% of all his stage points in the first stage. Martin Truex Jr. has scored 37.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has scored 41.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

To compare, Chase Elliott, who has a series-best 141 stage points this season, has scored 51.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Joey Logano, who is tied with Truex for second with 127 stage points, has scored 49.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

Among manufacturers, Fords have won six of the season’s first 12 races and Chevrolet has won twice this season.

Even if Toyota went on to win 12 Cup races this season, based on its current pace, it would be its fewest wins in a season since 2014. Toyota has averaged 15.6 Cup wins a season since 2015.

2. Looking ahead to 2021

With the Next Gen car’s debut pushed back to 2022, the sport will have an additional year with the current rules. That also means an additional year with a similar workforce. With the move to the Next Gen car, teams are expected to reduce their workforce because of limits on the cars.

Now, teams will keep a similar workforce through next year while finding sponsorship at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the economy.

David Wilson, president of the Toyota Racing Development, said next year will be among the key points discussed in a meeting among the manufacturers with NASCAR next week.

“Part of the agenda is going to be looking at ’21 and how do we as an industry help our teams bridge one more year that wasn’t in the plan,” Wilson said. “We already have enough teams in trouble and on the brink. The focus needs to be not selfishly on us as individual (manufacturers) but on the industry as a whole.”

3. Talladega changes

Rule changes for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will lead to slower speeds as NASCAR looks to reduce the chance of a crash similar to what Ryan Newman experienced at the end of the Daytona 500.

Among the changes is a reduction in the throttle body from 59/64” to  57/64” that is expected to reduce horsepower by 35-40. That would put teams around 510-515 horsepower this weekend.

NASCAR also has eliminated the aero ducts to help reduce the likelihood of tandem drafting.

One change not made was to the spoiler. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, explained why such a change wasn’t made.

“Certainly spoiler changes were looked at,” Probst told reporters this week. “… The items that were under consideration were largely centered around slowing (cars) down, which would usually mean a bigger spoiler.

The spoiler that we have on there now is as tall as we can get them without putting significant bending … on the deck lid to the point at which we’d be worried structurally. From that standpoint, getting larger wasn’t really a good option. The more direct knob for us to turn to slow the cars down is directly to the horsepower.”

Another change is the addition of slip tape to the rear bumper. The contact from Ryan Blaney‘s car to the rear of Newman’s car triggered Newman’s crash.

“We’re trying to make the rear bumper of the car being hit like ice, where they slide across, don’t contact and start influencing the car in front laterally, left to right, if you will,” Probst said.

4. COVID-19 protocols

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked this week if the sport has had anyone test positive for the coronavirus and about the status of protocols NASCAR has in place for each race weekend.

“Everything has been going, actually, remarkably smooth, in terms of the protocols that have been set in place,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve certainly had some folks who may have presented some symptoms that we’ve turned away early. That’s up to them to disclose if there were any issues in terms of did someone have COVID or not, but I would say (the protocols have) worked 100% according to plan.

“We’ve not had challenges during an event where anything has come up where we’ve had to react during the hours that the garage was open. It’s been if there were any issues prior to someone entering the facility, which have been very minimal.

“We expect there will be some challenges. We need to continue to do our due diligence. We need to continue to wear our masks. We need to continue to follow the protocols.”

5. Leader of the pack

Team Penske has won seven of the last 11 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, a 63.6% winning percentage.

Brad Keselowski has won four times during that stretch. Joey Logano has three wins during that time, and Ryan Blaney won last year’s playoff race. 

The races not won by a Team Penske driver during that stretch were won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott.

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Power Rankings after Miami: Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney tied at No. 1

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Ties in NBC Sports’ NASCAR Power Rankings are not unusual. But a tie at the top of the heap is rare.

Yet that’s the case this week after the NASCAR weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as close friends Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are tied for No. 1, as voted upon by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Elliott made the biggest climb, improving from seventh last week, while Blaney was third last week. Also of note, Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his first race start in nearly 10 months, scored eighth in this week’s rankings after finishing fifth in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Kevin Harvick suffered the biggest drop, falling from No. 1 to tied for ninth this week.

Here’s how this week’s rankings look:

(tie) 1. Chase Elliott (27 points): Scored top-five finishes at Martinsville and Miami, giving him four top-five results, including a win, in the last six races. It could have been more if not for the crash with Joey Logano while racing for the lead late at Bristol. Last week: seventh.

(tie) 1. Ryan Blaney (27 points): With five top-five finishes in his last six starts, Blaney is knocking on victory’s door. He won the last Cup race at Talladega last fall. Can history repeat Sunday? Last week: third.

3. Brad Keselowski (24 points): Leads the Cup Series with seven top-10 finishes (all consecutive), including wins in Coca-Cola 600 and at Bristol. Last week: fourth.

4. Denny Hamlin (22 points): Ran poorly at Martinsville and then came back to win Miami. Three times he’s finished 20th or worse this season. In each of the races that followed those poor results, he has a win, a runner-up and a fifth-place finish. Last week: ninth.

5. Martin Truex Jr. (17 points): Finished 12th at Miami but probably could have wound up with a top 10 if he would have a break or two more. Last week: sixth.

6. Chase Briscoe (13 points): Started Saturday’s Xfinity race six laps down after ballast fell out of his car on the pace laps. He recovered to finish on the lead lap in seventh. The next day, without his suspended crew chief, Briscoe won the Xfinity race. Quite a weekend. Last week: unranked.

7. Kyle Busch (12 points): Had an up-and-down weekend. Won Truck race easily but continues to struggle in pursuit of first Cup win of season. Last week: second.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6 points): Hadn’t raced since last August at Darlington but made it look easy at Miami. A few twists of fate and he might have pulled off the win. Instead, he finished fifth. Hinted that this could be his last NASCAR race. Last week: unranked.

(tie) 9. Kevin Harvick (5 points): Martinsville and Miami were forgettable. It’s on to Talladega. Last week: first.

(tie) 9. Harrison Burton (5 points): Continues to have tremendous rookie season in the Xfinity Series, including win and eighth-place finish at Homestead. Has not finished lower than ninth in any race this season. Last week: unranked.

Others receiving votes: Kurt Busch (4 points), Austin Dillon (3 points), William Byron (2 points)