By Dustin Albino

Bubba Wallace is known for his skills on superspeedways. After all, his lone Cup Series win thus far came at Talladega Superspeedway.

Those skills make Wallace a favorite for the win any time NASCAR heads to a superspeedway. And the No. 23 car was in the midst again when the checkered flag flew in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Wallace took the initial green flag from 16th position. By the end of the opening stage, the No. 23 Toyota and dodged an eight-car wreck to finish 11th. During the second stage, Wallace earned eight stage points by finishing third.

But that all set up for the final stint of the race, as Wallace worked with Toyota teammate Kyle Busch. By numbers of association, those were the final two in the running, despite Martin Truex Jr. winning both stages.

On lap 196, Brad Keselowski got into the rear of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., turning the No. 47 Chevrolet into Wallace. At that point, Wallace was concerned.

“The tow got knocked out,” Wallace said. “I was worried about that, but I was also worried about a flat tire. [Busch] and Blaney confirmed that everything was OK, nothing was going to rub and the tow was knocked out. I was like, ‘Here we go, the tow is off here and we‘ll have to go get it.‘”

On the overtime restart, Wallace was third, behind Team Penske teammates Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney. Wallace stayed tucked in behind Blaney until he got a shove from Aric Almirola on the final lap. And when the No. 12 Ford attempted to make a pass on Cindric for the win, Wallace was able to knock his way up to second, just a fender short of missing out on the Daytona 500.

“What could have been, right?” Wallace said. “Just dejected, but the thing that keeps me up is just the hard work that we put into our speedway stuff and the hard work from everybody at 23XI.

“It’s always the first race of the season and you’re getting through everything, but when you come out of the gates like that, it’s empowering, it’s encouraging. I’m going to be pissed off about this one for a while.”

Going down the backstretch, Wallace thought he had a realistic shot of getting to the lead. He said he told himself, “Alright pal, this could either end really bad or end really good. This could hurt or the victory would be sweet.”

But the runner-up finish was his second such finish in the Daytona 500 over the last five tries.

That stings.

“I think I‘d rather get wrecked out than finish second,” Wallace added. “I was happy on the first second place we got a couple years ago. This one sucks when you’re that close.”

Either way, Wallace knows the season has just begun. He noted the team will be ready when the Cup Series picks back up next week at Auto Club Speedway.

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