DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Bubba Wallace comes to Daytona Speedweeks with pressure. He feels it. See, this is his best ride that he’s ever had. It’s also one that comes with an even bigger magnifying glass — to hold over the one that’s already over him to begin with.
Wallace is driving for 23XI Racing. Co owners are Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. For a guy with a ton of attention off the race track in Wallace, to have those bosses, well pressure amounts.
Wallace knows that it’s time to perform. He didn’t have the equipment to do so the last time around. This car will.
“It’s just delivering results,” Wallace said. “This for me, is the one and potentially last opportunity for me. We have a solid foundation underneath us to make this program better and to grow this team and make this a household name in the sport. Make it a pinnacle name of our sport.
“There’s a lot riding on us. I’ve had personal goals of two wins. I think you just have to go out and be competitive and I’ve felt more competitive and more passion, more drive than I ever have with everything that’s right out in front of me with this opportunity.”
While saying that, Wallace knows that success may not come that early and that they have to stay the course and just take it week by week. Improvement each race is all that they’re after and allow the success to come from there.
“Do I expect to jump in and win right off the bat? No, not at all,” Wallace continued. “I know the sport. If it was that easy, a lot of people would be doing it. But, it’s not that easy and I know the competition that we go up against. It’s tougher than it’s ever been.”
Does the lofty expectation give him more pressure though, especially with this being a make or break for his future in this sport?
“There’s been pressure ever since I got into the league to win,” said Wallace. “So just another year. New car, no different.”
So far, Wallace is excelling. He was fastest (199.747 mph) in Wednesday lone Cup Series practice session. He was fourth quick in qualifying later that night.
This has boosted his confidence even more heading into Thursday nights Duels, a race he nearly won. He went from the front to the back to front a lot and showed ease and skill at getting back to the front.
“Everything’s shaping up to be a great ending for us, we just have to get through it,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of the same feeling I had in 2018, my first 500. The speed was there, we qualified decent and had a really good Duel and finished second in the 500.
“I think the way things are going, we just have to keep it going, keep the positive momentum going. Everything’s kind of going well in the car. I’m confident. Still getting things worked out but all in all it comes pretty natural when you have a great team behind you.”
Wallace said he got a “very positive” text from Jordan after qualifying and said the basketball superstar arrives in Daytona on Thursday in time for the Duels that will ultimately set the starting lineup for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500.
Hamlin, the three-time defending DAYTONA 500 winner, who is also going for a record third consecutive triumph, was 12th fastest in qualifying. The two joked about Wallace being faster.
“I’m aware,” Hamlin said with a smile, adding, “It’s actually a pretty solid qualifying effort certainly for our FedEx team, just barely out of the top 10 there so that’s a good starting spot for us and we’re excited about it.
“Obviously that was a great run by the 23-team. They just barely missed it there by a tenth or so to get that locked in spot (on the front row). But now they get to go out there and race and get the experience they need to get a good finish on Sunday.”