With everything Bubba Wallace has been involved with off the track the past year, it might be surprising to learn he still believes his biggest challenges remain on it.
As he enters the 2021 season with his most competitive ride in the NASCAR Cup Series to date, Wallace is desperately trying to remain focused on getting the most out of the opportunity presented to him.
“It’s just delivering results,” Wallace said when asked what he thought his biggest challenge would be this season. “This, for me, is the one and potentially last opportunity for me.
“We have a solid foundation underneath us to make this program better and to grow this team and make this a household name in the sport and make it a pinnacle name of our sport.”
Wallace, 27, is the only fulltime African-American driver in the Cup Series and will compete this season in the No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing, a joint venture founded by NASCAR star Denny Hamlin and NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.
The new team will have top-notch equipment from Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing and will be fully-sponsored, meaning Wallace should have all the resources necessary to compete on the highest level.
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing livery
Photo by: 23XI Racing
Wallace was also swept into the public eye last season as a leading voice in NASCAR’s response to social injustice protests across the country, including his call for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at tracks.
Last June, NASCAR adapted a policy prohibiting the flag from all NASCAR events and properties.
With his increased voice, also came increased scrutiny, including being on the receiving end of a lot of vitriol on social media.
“I’ve lost seven pounds from everything that happened last year, so much stress and pressure. And now I think everything happens for a reason,” Wallace said. “When it’s your time to go at the end of your lifetime, it’d be interesting to see if you could get a piece of paper handed to you saying that here’s everything that happened and why it happened and what came out of that.
“We’ll never know, that’s why we just live life. Every day is a new day, a new opportunity to go out and capitalize on. So that’s how I’m looking at it.”
Wallace has had his most competitive season in 2020 in Cup since his fulltime debut in 2018 with Richard Petty Motorsports.
He had one top-five and five top-10 finishes and ended up a career-best 22nd in the series standings. Wallace also owns six career wins in the NASCAR Truck Series and six in K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA East).
Wallace said he has set a “personal goal” of winning two races this season but is most determined to see a new team – including himself – develop into a regular contenders for wins and making the playoffs.
“Do I expect to jump in and win right off the bat? No, not at all. I know the sport, if it was that easy, a lot of people would be doing it, but it’s not that easy. And I know the competition that we go up against it’s tougher than it’s ever been,” Wallace said.
“So, I’m excited to get under way and just see where we stack up. We start to build a resume at Daytona and build off that and continue to get better for our team. It’s going to take a couple of races, just like any new team will to get everything underneath us.
“There’s a lot riding on us, you know, I’ve had personal goals of two wins. I think you just have to go out and be competitive and I’ve felt more competitive and more passion, more drive than I ever have with everything that’s right out in front of me with this opportunity.”
And what about the pressure to win considering the opportunity with which he’s been given?
“There’s been pressure ever since I got into the league to win,” Wallace said. “So just another year, new car, no different.
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