The NASCAR Cup Series‘ YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway saw drivers race against not only each other, but against Mother Nature. Originally scheduled for Sunday, the race was pushed to Monday before being marred by further interference from the rain. When the weather returned yet again, it cut the race short after 117 laps. Bubba Wallace was the leader at the time of the delay and was declared the winner for his maiden Cup victory.
A Joe Gibbs Racing front row of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch led the field to green, while Quin Houff and Joey Gase were ordered to the rear for failing pre-race inspection twice and James Davison did so for a driver change from David Starr (though all three were already starting at the back). Attempts to start the race on Sunday failed as rain resulted in just a handful of pace laps before being pushed to Monday.
Upon finally getting underway a day later, the lead traded hands multiple times as expected from a superspeedway: by the lap 25 competition caution, there were nine lead changes between eight drivers with Cole Custer as the last. Kevin Harvick led the field to the restart on lap 30. Hamlin, Kurt Busch, and Brad Keselowski also led laps.
Chris Buescher took the lead on lap 54 shortly before Justin Allgaier was spun in the middle lane of a pack and slammed into Kyle Larson on the outside. The ensuing caution ended the opening stage with Buescher leading Joey Logano, Keselowski, Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain, and Busch. Buescher, Reddick, Chastain, and Busch were non-playoff drivers.
Larson’s woes continued into Stage #2 when his right-front tyre went down and sent him into the turn two wall, though his team was able to keep the car within minimum speed and avoid retirement. Cody Ware elected to stay out during the resulting yellow flag and thus became the new leader when rain returned and forced another red flag. Ware, a self-professed fan of anime and goth girls, certainly enjoyed his first lap led since Darlington in May as he quipped the experience was “mega poggers, very poggers.”
The red flag lasted eighteen minutes and twenty seconds before being lifted. Ware pitted and Justin Haley became the new leader for the restart. Christopher Bell and JGR team-mate Hamlin would take over the inside line while Bowman led the outside as the race crossed the halfway point.
However, Bowman would not reach the triple-digit-lap mark as on lap 97, he went around while working with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who in turn was being pushed by Elliott, entering turn three and hit the outside wall before bouncing into the pack. Bowman then collided with Chastain who went into Reddick and Kyle Busch. Martin Truex Jr. made contact with Ryan Preece while trying to avoid Bowman and also spun, as did Josh Bilicki who bumped with Rick Ware Racing ally Ware.
Bell and Stenhouse comprised the top row for the lap 103 restart. Kurt Busch, aided by future 23XI Racing partner Wallace, surged to the front on lap 108. Wallace claimed the lead with eight laps remaining in the stage.
As the stage conclusion reached five-to-go, Preece was turned and collected William Byron and Matt DiBenedetto. Rain reached the speedway shortly after, leading to another red flag. Further track drying efforts did not bear fruit, and as lightning struck near the track, NASCAR elected to end the race. As the leader, Wallace was declared the victor. Team Penske‘s Keselowski and Logano finished behind him, with the former having won the spring race while the latter was the highest-placing playoff driver. Anthony Alfredo notched his first Cup top ten as he nabbed the final spot.
Wallace is the first Black driver to win a Cup race since Wendell Scott in 1963. The result has proven popular in the racing world, especially in regards to his home track Talladega after the events of the 2020 June race. Many of Wallace’s peers including best friend Blaney celebrated with him on pit road while Jimmie Johnson, who organised the Talladega grid walk of solidarity in 2020, was among those who congratulated him online. Black figures and groups such as F1’s Lewis Hamilton, NFL running back and NASCAR Growth and Engagement Advisor Alvin Kamara, and the NAACP also gave their commendations.
Besides being the first Cup victory for Wallace, 23XI and crew chief Bootie Barker, Wallace joins Tate Fogleman (Truck Series) and Brandon Brown (Xfinity Series) to complete a NASCAR national series weekend sweep of first-time winners; at the regional level, Jesse Love won his maiden ARCA Menards Series race at Salem to make four new NASCAR victors over past three days. Such a feat was last achieved in 2016 with Larson winning the Cup race and Brett Moffitt taking the Trucks at Michigan, along with Michael McDowell in the Xfinity Series at Road America on 27/28 August 2016; however, this weekend is the first where it happened at the same track. Primary sponsor McDonald’s also finally wins a race for the first time since Jimmy Spencer at Talladega in 1994. Fittingly, Spencer also used to race with #23, which last won a race with Al Keller in 1954; Frank Mundy, who notched two victories in 1952, is the only other driver to win with the number.
“Just so proud of everybody at 23XI, new team coming in and getting a win late in the season,” Wallace told NBC. “Reminds me kind of 2013. Waited so long to get that first Truck win. I know a lot of history was made today I believe, which is really cool. But it’s about my guys, about our team, what we’ve done. Appreciate (23XI co-owner) Michael Jordan, appreciate Denny for believing in me, giving me an opportunity. […]
“This is for all those kids out there that want to have an opportunity in whatever they want to achieve, be the best at what they do. You’re going to go through a lot of bullshit, but you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you, stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry. Been plenty of times where I wanted to give up. You surround yourself with the right people, it’s moments like this that you appreciate.”
While eliminated drivers have won races since the introduction of the current format in 2014, Wallace is the first to miss the playoffs entirely but win a postseason race since 23XI co-owner Hamlin won the 2013 season finale. Wallace joins Brian Vickers (2006) and Clint Bowyer (2007) as those who won their first career Cup races in playoff events, with Vickers also being a non-playoff contender who won at Talladega.
“This win didn’t put us in the playoffs or anything, but there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” added Wallace in his post-race press conference.
|1||19||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||117||Running|
|2||7||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||117||Running|
|3||8||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||117||Running|
|4||14||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|5||12||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||117||Running|
|6||24||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|7||1||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||117||Running|
|8||9||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|9||26||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|10||30||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||117||Running|
|11||16||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|12||6||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||117||Running|
|13||28||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|14||17||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|15||4||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||117||Running|
|16||21||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|17||22||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||117||Running|
|18||3||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|19||35||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|20||38||16||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|21||25||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|22||29||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|23||18||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|24||40||96||Landon Cassill*||Gaunt Brothers Racing||Toyota||117||Running|
|25||36||53||Joey Gase*||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|26||20||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|27||2||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||117||Running|
|28||31||51||Cody Ware*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|29||37||15||Garrett Smithley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||117||Running|
|30||32||78||B.J. McLeod*||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||117||Running|
|31||34||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||117||Running|
|32||27||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||116||Accident|
|33||23||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||116||Running|
|34||39||66||James Davison||MBM Motorsports||Ford||116||Running|
|35||15||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||115||Accident|
|36||10||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||115||Accident|
|37||5||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||113||Running|
|38||11||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||97||Accident|
|39||13||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||97||Accident|
|40||33||77||Justin Allgaier*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||55||Accident|
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points