LONG POND, PA — Bubba Wallace has been very solid as of late. His 23XI Racing team has just needed some time to gel because look at what they’ve been doing. Wallace, was turning top 20’s into top 15’s. Coming into this weekend at the Pocono Raceway, Wallace had three top 14 finishes in his last five starts.
On Saturday, he finished 14th again for his third 14th place result in his last four tries. On Sunday, Wallace had a fast race car and had did a great job of saving fuel in the end to score his fifth career top five finish.
“It’s big. A lot of confidence for myself which is huge,” Wallace said. “It came down to fuel strategy there, but I appreciate Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief), J.R. (Houston engineer), Freddie (Kraft, spotter), telling me what to do – 80% there, 60% here, the whole time.
“It got so annoying, but it worked out. That’s what it takes. It takes a team effort to pull off this. Great day for us.”
Wallace, was one of nine drivers to pit on Lap 93 during Sunday’s race. With a debris caution then, why not pit and hope to save a few laps of fuel to make it to the end of the race. If another caution came out, they’d be in great shape.
Well, it proved more costly than good for some of those nine. William Byron and Denny Hamlin both ran out of fuel while leading and had to peel off late. Kurt Busch also did too.
Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez pit one lap later on Lap 94 and it helped them. Busch, had just enough fuel to win. Suarez, finished 15th.
Kyle Larson stretched his fuel to finish second. Both Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick pit after everyone else and were able to come home third and fourth respectively. Wallace, well he stretched his fuel to get his first top 10 of the season and turn a lot of momentum his way.
“Really good weekend for us. We knew that we had the speed. Bossman was here – MJ was here. We had the whole staff out, so it was a good day. Good weekend.”
Heading into this weekend, Austin Dillon (+108), Tyler Reddick (+49) and Chris Buescher (+24) held onto the final three playoff spots. Leaving Pocono, two of the three remain the same but Dillon’s lead dropped to +91 after finishes of 21st and 13th respectively. Reddick only lost one point to +48 (11th and 9th) while Kurt Busch leap frogged Buescher to gain 27 points to go from -24 to +3.
Reddick, maintained by scoring four stage points too, three of which coming on Sunday. Busch, didn’t score any stage points on Sunday but he had 14 on Sunday including a second straight race with a stage win. He’s had 35 stage points in the last four races including three top eight results in his last four tries.
Meanwhile, Buescher scored no stage points on Sunday, nor in the last four races and has finished 16th, 36th, 20th and 19th respectively.
That’s how Busch went from -83 to +3 in four races.
Another big mover is Suarez. He went from -102 four races ago to -48 in making up 54 points in that span. He’s finished ninth, 33rd, 15th, 12th, seventh, 13th and 15th respectively in his last seven races.
Wallace also made a leap in going from -95 to -54 following his fifth place run on Sunday. He’s had three 14th place finishes and a top five in his last five races run on the season.
“We wanted playoffs when we started the season so we got a lot of work to do. We know we’re in a hole, but it’s finishes like this that we have to capitalize on,” he said, adding that he and the team just need to ‘execute’ better when they have fast cars like they did this weekend.
“Today shows what we can do. We’ve got to keep up the momentum.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a mechanical issue towards the end of Sunday’s race and finished last in 38th. That’s a disappointment for him after being sixth in Nashville and 15th in Race 1. Stenhouse, was -62 four races ago to -82 back to -42 then up to -54 again leaving Pocono.
Matt DiBenedetto is also slumping with finishes of 19th, 24th, 23rd, 18th, 23rd, 24th, 32nd and 18th respectively in his last eight races.
With seven races left now in the regular season, the chase for the final few playoff spots may be actually heating up. The RCR duo have to hope they still can maintain while no one behind them wins with Busch, Buescher, Suarez and Wallace there battling for that final wildcard spot.