Brooklyn – Bubba Wallace topped the field in his first career NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Saturday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway at FireKeepers Casino 400, collecting a 190,703 mph lap around the two-mile D-shaped oval track.
Wallace, 28, is in his second year driving the #23 Toyota Camry for the 23XI Racing Team owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan and star driver Joe Gibbs Racing Denny Hamlin.
Now, Wallace feels the time is right for his first win of the season, as he feels he has momentum from a pair of top five places in the previous three races, third in New Hampshire and fifth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. last weekend.
Wallace is currently 20th in points, and needs a win to make the 16-driver qualifier for the right to fight for the series championship during the final 10 races of the season.
And Wallace would want nothing more than to be a Toyota driver to end Ford’s streak of seven straight MIS wins.
Sunday’s race at MIS is one of the last four races before qualifying. Drivers automatically punch in their tickets in qualifying by winning the race. 14 drivers have won one or more races, including Wallace’s teammate Kurt Busch who is currently suffering from a concussion.
Wallace was the first driver to achieve a qualifying lap of over 190 mph in the new next-generation car.
“Fast man, sweetheart,” Wallace said during the press conference following the start of the tournament. “It is a nice. I’m proud of my team, I keep showing up and fighting and giving everything we got. Obviously that’s the goal every time you start the season. No matter what is thrown at you all season, you have to keep looking and wearing that face and execution.
‘Difficult Situation’: Kyle Busch heads to MIS with sponsor uncertainty, and an uncertain future
“Man, we were one of the best teams in the last two weeks. I came on the radio after the first round (qualifiers) and said it was fun to have fun and it’s so much fun now.”
Wallace was one of several drivers who took part in the GoodYear tire test at MIS last spring. The tire that was used in the test was thrown aside for another tire due to problems.
“We were a little slower, so that affected the speed and it felt a little different,” Wallace said of the tire change. “Going into this deal with MJ, Curtis, and Denny, they wanted to win, to win races, not the poles, the poles being good, but to do that you have to hire the best and smartest people, and as soon as we heard about the tire change, we quickly went. To work out how much we need to change the car to tune in, Bootie (Crew Chief Parker) and our team hit it right on the head.
“The car looks great. It feels good in race trim. Obviously qualifying went really well for us. It just shows the testimony to people that we’re back in the shop that puts these cars together and lets me go out and do what I can do.”
So what does Wallace expect in the race?
“It’s going to be hard to get past that good thing we started out front,” said Wallace, whose only win came in the fall race at Talladega last year. “The aerodynamic sensitivity of these cars is just huge, so you have to take the right time, put yourself in the right place. With the resin, it creates for us a slightly wider racing surface, but it’s still a challenge. If we can hold the center of the circuit all day and win it, I would be good at that.
“I think with the speed we have there is no reason why we can’t go out and win. I think we will fight our Toyota teammates based on the test.”
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell was the second fastest driver in his #20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, followed by JGR teammate Kyle Busch with his Penske teammates Joey Logano and Austin Cindric for fourth and fifth in the Ford Mustangs. Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Riddick, who has won two of the last five races, will start sixth in his Chevrolet Camaro. Byron, Michigan, Eric Jones starting 10th in his Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet.
Brad Keselowski of Rochester Hills, now owner/driver of RFK Racing (Roush/Fenway/Keselowski) and 2012 Cup Series champion, is looking for his first cup win at MIS in 25 starts. 33 will start in the 37-car arena with series points leader Chase Elliott starting 13th.
MORE: Brad Keselowski ready to run at MIS for the first time as driver/owner
Hamlin is proud of Wallace. Hamlin will start in ninth or fifth grade alongside Jones.
“Okay, now he’s got booth #1, that’s big, he’s going to help his team out,” Hamlin said of Wallace. “It will be all about executions and no fouls. I think they will be very fast and they will really be a force to deal with when it comes to winning this race, especially if they carry out. I think it will be a good day for this team tomorrow, but I hope they finish second. I hope we win. .
“It’s a huge step and it’s really a testament to the guys who are back in the shop who are working on making these cars as fast as they can. Overall, I’ve been happy with the progress they’re making. Obviously the second half of this year is really starting to progress. I’m glad what we’re working on. It’s starting to pay off. You want to see results any time you put in a lot of effort, and I think we’re definitely starting to see it with our team now and the speed we’re starting to show.”
When asked how he was able to handle being the owner of one team and driver of another, Hamlin replied: “You just have to attack everything when it comes to you. Sometimes the email about the car is 11, sometimes the email is about 45 or 23 and I go Back and forth, but I feel like I’m trying to devote more time to Car 11 on the weekends, and really focus on my 23 and 45 in the middle of the week.”
Kevin Harvick also needs a win to make qualifying in his #4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. He won the August race at MIS in 2018, and then again in 2019 before sweeping a double header (consecutive days) during the pandemic year of 2020 at a two-mile super-fast.
Harvick, who has 58 career cup wins and the 2014 Series Championship, is currently in the midst of 65 consecutive races without a win and will start in 16th.
“It felt like the speed in our car was very good and it handled really well, I just missed out of the maneuvering situation there in qualifying, but I think the speed looks good,” Harvick said.
When asked how his five MIS victories—Harvick also won an August race in 2010—translate with the next generation car versus the previous one, he replied, “There is no translation. You just don’t know how the race will go. You don’t know the style of racing. You don’t know Where would you be able to run on a racetrack. You don’t know the characteristics of a car. There are a lot of things you have to find out and the only way to find out is to race.”