This NASCAR Cup Series season has been truly unpredictable as 17 different drivers have won a race heading into Sunday including a non-playoff driver in Erik Jones last week at Darlington. Make that 18 after the 2022 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas.
Bubba Wallace took the checkered flag at Kansas Speedway, giving him his second career Cup Series victory. This one will likely mean even more for Wallace, who claimed his first victory at Talladega in 2021 after rain shortened the end of the race. The No. 45 car has owned Kansas this year, as Kurt Busch won there in May — Wallace switched to No. 45 before the playoffs to keep the car eligible for the NASCAR owner’s championship. Wallace won Sunday in convincing fashion, passing the Stage 2 winner Alex Bowman on Lap 200 for the lead and never looking back.
A driver who has faced plenty of unwarranted criticism over his career, Wallace used his post-race interview to say he’s thankful for his doubters to “shut the hell up.”
Sunday’s result is the culmination of a season-long improvement for Wallace. After dealing with pit road issues for much of the year, Wallace switched crew chiefs in July and hit another metaphorical gear in the process. Over the past 10 races, Wallace has a win, four top-fives and six top-10s. Wallace’s late-season surge came too late for him to make the playoffs, but he and 23XI Racing should feel more than confident about his postseason viability for 2023.
Speaking of 23XI Racing, team owner Denny Hamlin — who was running outside the top five for much of the race — finished right behind Wallace in second after passing Christopher Bell with 16 laps left. Wallace said after the race he wants to start putting together similar performances going forward.
“I knew Denny was going to be strong,” Wallace said. “… He wasn’t that good at the beginning of the day, and he comes up and finishes P2. That’s what I want to start doing. We all don’t have best days, just capitalize on moments like that. It’s cool to beat the boss, but, man, we were just lights out today once we got to the lead.”
With Wallace’s win, not a single playoff driver has earned an automatic berth into the Round of 12. That makes next week’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Speedway must-see television. As it stands, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe and Kevin Harvick would be out if they don’t win at Bristol.
Harvick, who snuck into the playoffs with a late-season win at Michigan on Aug. 7, didn’t get a chance to pull off any magic again at Kansas on Sunday. The 46-year-old registered a DNF after slamming into the wall on Lap 33, giving him three straight DNFs and a career-high seven for the season. Pole sitter Tyler Reddick and Ty Gibbs also failed to finish after suffering tire failures.
The NASCAR Playoffs’ Round of 16 concludes next week at Bristol. Race coverage will begin Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network with streaming available on fuboTV (try for free).
- Bubba Wallace
- Denny Hamlin
- Christopher Bell
- Alex Bowman
- Martin Truex Jr.
- William Byron
- Ross Chastain
- Kyle Larson
- Ryan Blaney
- Daniel Suarez