BRISTOL, Tenn. – Following the 2018 Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Bubba Wallace was not in a happy mood.
“Devastated. Absolutely devastated,” said Wallace, just after his 16th-place finish.
In a phone interview earlier this week, Wallace offered a different perspective on that Bristol run where he led the first six laps of his Cup career.
“To lead at Bristol was a highlight of last year,” Wallace said. “Unfortunately, our tires started shredding apart the last 100 laps.”
Remember that Wallace began last season with a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 – the best ever finish for an African-American driver in the sport’s biggest race.
Wallace, driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports, is hoping for a repeat performance in today’s Food City 500.
“I’ve been racing here for a while and Bristol has been my favorite track for a really long time,” said Wallace, who qualified in the No. 28 spot. “It’s something I’ve adapted to well, but you have to be mindful that it can bite you really quick.”
Flash back to the inaugural Short Track U.S. Nationals in 2017 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Competing against a strong 35-car Super Late Model that included Rusty Wallace’s son Steve and current Xfinity series regular Noah Gragson who was driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports at the time, Wallace earned the attention of car owners by winning in dominating fashion.
“That was big,” Wallace said. “It was away from the NASCAR ranks, but to get in that Super Late Model and win - that was special. I will never forget that sensation of speed driving one of those cars around there.”
That Bristol breakthrough translated into a ride in the Truck Series, where Wallace won the August 2017 race at Michigan Speedway in the No. 99 MDM Motorsports Chevrolet. That was the last of six career Truck victories for Wallace.
Entering today’s road to redemption event at BMS, the 25-year-old Wallace ranks 28th with his underfunded Cup team. He earned a total of three top-10 finishes last season en route to a final ranking of 28th in points.
Wallace has earned praise for his ability to translate the inner workings of his car to crewmen. He hopes that chemistry and his 2018 experience will eventually pay dividends.
“Last year, you’re showing up at places for the first time and learning everything for the weekend,” he said. “We’re continuing to learn on what we did last year.”
According to Wallace, the Bristol experience begins never gets stale.
“You just get that coliseum feel here,” Wallace said. “It’s called The Last Great Colosseum, and when you walk in you are surrounded by stands and fans. The noise is loud, and you are just in a soup bowl running around there - you get kind of dizzy.”
With 175 laps remaining in last year’s Food City 500 at BMS, Wallace appeared headed to an historic performance. Fans were on their feet cheering for Wallace before those tire problems surfaced and eventual race winner Kyle Busch zoomed to the front.
“Hopefully this year, the right front [tire] will hang on over the last 100 laps,” Wallace said.