Bubba Wallace admits his 23XI Racing team has had a “piss poor season” thus far, but there is more than meets the eye.
Despite how bad things are going, Wallace spoke positively Saturday morning at Darlington Raceway about his attitude behind the wheel and what his team is capable of. They’ve not shown much on paper because everyone on the No. 23 Toyota team, driver included, has some cleaning up to do.
The numbers are clear and less than impressive. Wallace has one top-10 finish and 30 laps led, which came on the three superspeedway races of Daytona International Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. His average finish is 20.2.
The good news is that Wallace finally got crew chief Bootie Barker back last week after a four-week suspension because of a wheel that came off at Circuit of the Americas. Although Wallace said Dave Rogers did a great job jumping back into being a Cup crew chief, it was a big absence. There is no replacing what Barker brings to the team and his relationship with Wallace.
“It’s good to have Bootie back,” Wallace said. “We really hit things hard throughout the week to try and figure out how to be better, and if you look at our results, we’ve had a piss poor season and we haven’t had one clean race, I think, besides the Daytona 500. Atlanta may have been OK, but everything else has been mistakes on pit road, whether it’s my mistakes or loose wheels or stuff breaking.
“We had a part break on the car last week and that alters the handling on your car and the outcome of the race. I thought Sunday we were really, really strong at Dover and then Monday is when we think that it broke. We were a 15th, 16th place car, and that’s where we finished. It just caught us by surprise.
“But excuses, excuses. Stuff happens and you’ve got to be able to overcome it. We’re looking forward to Darlington — one of the toughest tracks to have a smooth weekend.”
Last month team co-owner Denny Hamlin bluntly said the performance of both his cars is not acceptable. Hamlin even called out Wallace’s pit crew, saying they were “not doing well.” There have been multiple races where Wallace has complained of loose wheels and COTA was the one that didn’t stay on the car resulting in the suspension.
A runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 is Wallace’s only top 10. He sees signs the team can be a top 10 contender when things don’t go wrong, though.
“No doubt,” he said. “We’ve had 11 races this year and I would say close to 75% of those races, in debriefs, I’m talking about how we were a 10th to 12th place car. If we get a late restart where we’re running 10th, we’re probably going to pick off some spots. Restarts are one of my strengths so we just never have given ourselves a chance at the end of the race, and that’s important for us.”
Wallace sees the effort hasn’t equalled results in his fifth year in the Cup Series.
“I feel like, personally, I’ve had one of my best years in the car in the Cup Series this year, just mentally staying together,” said Wallace. “We have those moments where it’s a loose wheel or I mess up on the track or pit road and it’s like, OK, you can either fold or continue to push on and last year or years prior it would be, ‘We’re done. We’ll finish wherever we finish. I’ll still scrap for whatever spot we were in.’
“I think the on-track stuff for me — even when we’re really good and trying to give feedback — I’ve done the best I have in my career so far. That’s the frustrating part because I feel like I’ve made a step up and put in that effort and the results aren’t there, so it takes every piece of the puzzle to make things right.
“It’s around the corner. Instead of five mistakes last week, we had two, so it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s see if we can go from two to zero this week.'”