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NASCAR Cup Talladega II

Wallace on playoff fight: "We just have to survive" Talladega

Bubba Wallace is trying not to dwell on what could have been last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, now focused ahead with goal of surviving Talladega and getting one step closer to the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title.

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Camry

Wallace enters Talladega just two points below the cut-line in the playoffs. He started this round 14pts out, so a strong third at Texas helped him gain valuable ground.

But Wallace did lead a race-high 111 laps and was in control on the final restart before a three-wide pass down the backstretch secured William Byron the victory. While others may look at Talladega with trepidation, Wallace likely sees opportunity.

The 23XI Racing driver earned his first career Cup win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway in 2021, and was leading on the final lap in NASCAR's last visit to Talladega in April of this year. He crashed trying to defend the lead, but his strength on drafting tracks has been evident throughout his career. But in the end, luck plays a major role in this race as well.

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Camry spins

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Camry spins

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

“It’s Talladega, you are not safe," he said on Saturday. "Anything can happen. I think for us, if we do what we did at Daytona, and the first Talladega race – and finish where we were running, we will be okay. We just have to survive. We put a lot of scenarios in play – talking with our Toyota teammates on what we do and how we execute with it all. I was like we need to survive. There is usually on three Toyotas that finish the race, and there is only six of us. I was like – let’s get to the final 10 laps and then we can start to worry about this stuff. You don’t treat it any differently, you go out and do what you are capable of doing and try to execute the best you can. That is all you can do.”

Wallace and Brad Keselowski are the only two drivers still in the playoffs who have yet to win a race this year. Although collecting points is always important, the current format rewards winning over all else.

"A win would be great," said Wallace. "I would love to continue to advance by winning, not pointing our way in. But advancing is advancing – no matter how you do it. I don’t think the mindset changes. I thought last weekend was all-around one of our cleanest and greenest races from the 23’s perspective. I thought Bootie (Barker, crew chief), the pit crew, to me – we all kind of executed the way we should have. It’s like – if that is what it is like, leading a hundred laps and finishing third – you do that every week – and it’s hard to do, but that is what we are capable of. When you are in the top-three every week, they say your win is bound to come. I do believe that. We have to just keep putting out name in the hat and keeping doing what we know we are capable of doing.”

What makes Talladega even more vital for Wallace's title hopes is the fact that it is immediately followed by the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Although he has improved on road courses, they remain his weakest link on the schedule.

Of the five road/street courses run so far this year, a 12th-place finish at Watkins Glen was his best showing. Speaking on his preparation for the elimination race at the Roval, he said: "So, I worked on a little bit of that in the sim and picked up some speed and find some decent momentum. It’s all virtual right now until you get there next weekend but looking forward to it. We’ve run well there the last couple of times at the Roval. It’s just a matter of surviving and not trying too hard and getting caught up in somebody else’s accidents.”

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, McDonald's Toyota Camry

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, McDonald's Toyota Camry

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

It's a similar strategy for Talladega, putting yourself into position and just hoping luck is on your side. Wallace believes that the No. 23 group has always been capable of being a a top-five team, and that it simply comes down to putting all the pieces together.

"No, I believed that this entire time," he declared. "It’s just a matter is everyone on their A-game this weekend. I guess if you divide it between three pieces of the pie – driver, pit crew, crew chief – I feel like a lot of times, we’re showing up with two of the three slices. We never had all three. So, we started to do that more and more, and look at what we are doing. It’s not because we are trying harder or whatever – it’s just show up and bring our A-game and we will take what we can get. It’s understanding that and appreciating that are two different things.

"It goes a long way. It helps team morale, and when you fight as one team – this sounds very bland – but you fight as one team, you show up to the race track and you are ready to battle with whatever circumstances come your way and that is what makes us so good is we feel like we can overcome anything if we don’t take ourselves out. The races can get super long, and you can doubt yourself right out, but if you have the right people in the right place to help you out, it makes that transition easy.”

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