Bubba Wallace’s Slow Start to The 2021 Season

As one of the biggest names in NASCAR right now, this was meant to be Bubba Wallace’s best season yet. But what’s going wrong?

Written by Breanna Hammond

March 30, 2021

Bubba Wallace made headlines last season for his push towards social justice issues and diversity in NASCAR. As the only full-time African American driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series, his outspokenness on racial inequalities in motorsport pushed him to the forefront of many conversations going into the 2021 season.


The beginning of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series was supposed to be the opening to Wallace’s best season yet; however, it presented brand new challenges to the young driver. At the end of 2020, Wallace announced he would be leaving his #43 Chevrolet and Richard Petty Motorsports after three seasons to join the brand new 23XI Racing team. The team is run by none other than NBA legend Michael Jordan, and Wallace is racing the #23 Toyota.


Wallace came into the 2021 season with two goals for his new racing team, winning at least two of the Cup Series races and making the playoffs for the first time in his career. Team owner Michael Jordan is well aware of Wallace’s goals and even joked that he “doesn’t sign checks for losers,” meaning Wallace and him have an understanding that they are here to win.


Basketball legend and 23XI Racing owner Michael Jordan (via WikiCommons)


Since the start of the NASCAR Cup Series in February, Wallace has been sitting at 19th in the driver’s standings, three positions out of a playoff spot. Besides having zero wins and only leading seven laps, his best position all season was a DNF at the Daytona 500 caused by a last-lap crash instigated by an unscheduled pit stop. With a 159 point differential to the current 1st position driver, Denny Hamlin, and 26 points to a playoff position, there is some severe ground the 26-year-old driver will need to cover.

What has contributed to Wallace’s slow start, and can he pick up the pace to reach his season goals?

In the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series, Wallace put up impressive marks with one top-five finish and five top-ten finishes. Although those stats may not sound impressive at first glance, Richard Petty Motorsports, his former team, has been on a downward spiral since Richard Petty, team owner and racing legend, left the sport after 30 years. Despite wrecks and countless technical failures during his time at the team, Wallace’s talent gained them small victories.


The question now remains: What has contributed to Wallace’s slow start, and can he pick up the pace to reach his season goals?


Bubba Wallace at Richmond Raceway in 2018 (via WikiCommons)


Critics had high expectations for Wallace this year, so his slow start is having everyone talking. People forget that this is his first season with a brand new racing team, and the expectation of him becoming a top-five driver and winning race after race has no backing and contributes to the narrative of him having a “bad start to the season.” In reality, Wallace is just getting his feet wet in this brand new environment, and a rocky start is to be expected.


However, many NASCAR analysts believe Wallace is still on his way to having a career year despite the many outrageous expectations. Although he is sitting at 19th, that’s already three places higher than his standings just last year. The bar for 23XI Racing is also much higher than what was set for Richard Petty Motorsports, so really, all Wallace can do from here is go up.


Will Wallace reach his first season with 23XI Racing goals, or will they fall short just like the rest? Where do you think Wallace will end up at the end of the 2021 season? We’ll find out as the NASCAR Cup Series continues on April 10th at the Martinsville Speedway for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 only on FS1.


Breanna’s earliest memories of motorsports come from Kyle Busch and his M&M car. Currently, Breanna studies journalism at UNLV, where she one day plans to become a sports journalist/broadcaster in motorsports. Outside of school, you can usually find Breanna crocheting a new blanket or baking cookies.

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