Bubba Wallace could see an automatic bid into the Round of 8 staring him down. It would upset many playoff grids, as he entered the postseason as the No. 16 seed.
All Wallace needed to do was execute the final restart in Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway. By all metrics, he’s the best restarter in the Cup Series — and had Chase Briscoe on his inside, who has had a down season at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Wallace was in the catbird seat, primarily because Kyle Larson, who dominated the second half of the race, wrecked while battling the No. 23 car for the lead on a restart with 17 laps remaining. The two drivers ran side-by-side for more than a lap and Larson got loose entering Turn 1, backing into the outside wall. He finished 31st.
“It was fun until it wasn’t, obviously more for him” Wallace told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long, following the race. “We were both going for it. I was like, ‘Oh, damn, it actually stuck on the top and I think he was like, ‘Oh, it stuck on the bottom.’ I thought it was going to be a dogfight all the way until the end. We both sent it down in there.
“I think Turn 1 is a little bit better opportunity for a side job and I wasn’t lifting until he lifted. I was listening to his throttle application and brake application and matching downshifts. Next thing you know, we were almost wrecked. Just fighting hard for a win.”
With Larson out of the picture, Wallace was able to hang on to the lead on the next restart. A multi-car pileup lined the field up again for a late restart, with Briscoe choosing the front row, underneath Wallace.
Briscoe nearly cleared Wallace for the lead on the restart, but slide wide, forcing Wallace to move up the track. William Byron passed both drivers to take the lead and sail off into the warm Texas night. The No. 24 car would lead the final six laps of the race and score Hendrick Motorsports’ 300th victory.
“[Briscoe] was tight and he sent it off in there,” Wallace said. “Wasn’t going to stick, but that’s what he’s going to do. We’re racing for a win. I just hate it. I should have just kept my line into [Turn] 3 and forced William to get tight.”
Wallace faded to third, dropping behind Ross Chastain in the final rundown. The good news is, it stopped a skid of finishes outside the top five, as Wallace hadn’t earned a top five since the Coca-Cola 600 in late May.
Starting from the pole, Wallace led a career-high 111 laps. And it came down to a late-race restart, something he’s excelled at all year long.
“The best restarter in the game gives it up on a restart. Funny how that works,” Wallace added.
Wallace wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he was frustrated with himself following the third-place run. In the bigger picture, he leaped three positions in the playoff standings, and is only two points behind Larson for the final transfer spot.
“Just upset with myself,” Wallace said. “Really needed a win there, and it was a good showing. I don’t know where that puts us. I don’t really care. But I know what I did and I choked.”
The series heads to Talladega Superspeedway next weekend, where Wallace scored his first victory in 2021. The round ends with the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, a place Wallace dreads going to despite improving his road course skills.