Sports

Bubba Wallace Talks Daytona And How Surreal It Is To Be Driving For Michael Jordan

Bubba Wallace became a household name in 2020, as he used his platform as NASCAR’s only Black driver in the Cup Series to push for some much-needed changes in the sport. While he became a face and name folks knew for what he was doing to push the sport forward into being more inclusive and welcoming to people of all backgrounds, he was also having one of his best seasons on the track in his young career.

Wallace had five top-10 finishes with Richard Petty Motorsports, including a fifth place finish at the Daytona fall race, and had his highest finish in the points race at 22nd. With his contract up with RPM, Wallace chose to join a new venture, becoming the lone driver for 23XI Racing, with a star-studded ownership group of Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. The team has a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing, where Hamlin still runs, giving them the equipment to immediately compete with the best. It’ll be Wallace’s task to see how high he can take this new team in their first season.

On Wednesday night, they got off to a strong start placing fourth in qualifying, which puts them on the front row for the second of Thursday night’s Duel at Daytona (7:00 p.m. ET on FS1), and will hope to stay near the front to get a top position for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Last week, we got a chance to talk to Wallace on behalf of Kingsford to get his thoughts on getting to start something brand new, working with Hamlin, how surreal it is driving for MJ, and why he’s trying to “get lucky” once again at Daytona.

You’ve got Daytona coming up next week. That’s a place that you’ve had success in the past. What are you looking forward to this week in getting the chance to run at a track that you’ve had success at as you start your career with this new team?

Yeah, just really, making sure we hit the ground with our feet running. But now just making sure we’re ready to go. I’m trying to get down there early just to kind of get acclimated to everything and get comfortable. But doing the work here at the shop, doing the work here, on the phones, you know, just getting the word out there that season’s here, and that we’re excited. Just a lot of good things, a lot of things — A LOT of things — that are moving right now that we’re trying to nail down. But all in all, it’s coming together quite nice.

Is there anything that you can put your finger on about Daytona that makes it a place that you feel comfortable at and is a place that you’ve had the success you’ve had?

Man, it’s really just surviving somehow, some way. I look at Denny, obviously, being the best going for a three-peat here. And Denny and Joey are kind of the best at it, and I feel like they know what they’re doing. And I feel like I’m just lost, but somehow I end up making my way and endin’ up being there at the end of races. So just excited to hopefully continue that tradition and just win one. I mean, it’s not that hard, right?

Right. Sure.

[laughs]

You mention Denny and getting the chance to work with him on this new team. What are the things that you’ve been able to learn from him and your discussions as y’all get this thing started with the wealth of knowledge and experience that he’s able to impart to you?

Yeah, I think you know, the way this deal kind of come about he’s really been hands on just making sure that we’re doing everything the right way and the correct way, and also getting feedback of how we should do certain things. So, it’ll be it’ll be a great partnership. And it’ll be fun competing against but, you know, also racing for him and MJ, and just an incredible opportunity that I’m excited for. We have a lot of good things coming our way. A lot of great partners involved to make our deal successful, both on and off track. So we’re just trying to keep hammering home the right way.

It’s not something that that a lot of folks get a chance to do, especially in in NASCAR, getting to start a new team and really lay the groundwork for something brand new. How much did that play a role in your excitement for making this thing happen and getting the chance to do something with a new venture?

Yeah, that was … whew, I didn’t envy the guys who were doing the dirty work of getting the shop located, getting all the cars and pieces and people in the right place. So I know they had a lot more work than I had to do, but it all come together. It’s cool actually being here at the shop today and and seeing race cars on the floor. People work and finishing up last minute things on our 500 car. So it’s all coming together pretty dang cool. Seeing my name on the doors never get old.

The last thing on this, you’re somebody that grew up in the same era as me. I mean, how cool is it to just start something with Michael Jordan like this?

Yeah, I mean, it’s MJ. Having been able to watch The Last Dance and really kind of get motivated from that was cool. And now to see how it’s transitioned into what it is right now, him being an owner and I’m racing for him, like that it’s kind of surreal. So just going to go out and try to live up to his expectations and just do the best that we can. I know that we all want to see this organization win. We have to do it you know methodically and not get ahead of ourselves.

You’ve got this partnership with Kingsford and what they’re doing with the Preserve The Pit initiative. How did that come together and what drew you to working them on what’s what’s a pretty cool initiative they’ve got going on here?

Yeah, so we’ve been working together for the past year now and and it’s been a lot of fun doing a lot of cool and fun things, but this Preserve The Pit is really special, just because it’s getting the gospel out there about barbecuin’ and making people want to be a part of it and learn how to be better at barbecuin’ — and I need all the help that I can get. But I feel like I’m pretty good at certain things. Cookin’ a steak, I feel like I’m up there, my game is pretty strong. Venturing out, that’s where I start to struggle. So becoming more diverse, I guess in my craft is huge. And that’s what Preserve The Pit’s about. It’s about shining light on people and stories that have made barbecue what it is today, and helping barbecue entrepreneurs through a fellowship. And it’s giving you an immersive training, like a one-on-one mentorship really with the industry leaders throughout the year.

So I think that’s pretty cool. Having professional grill masters out there helping you show their craft, help you get better is really cool. So just be sure for the people that will see this to apply by March 1, 2021 at Kingsford.com/preserve-the-pit and you can be a part of it. I think it’s really cool. Just getting out there and making you want to cook some good food. A knowing that you did it? I mean, who’s not proud of what they cook?

Yeah, I was gonna ask if you were to have to craft a menu for a barbecue? I mean, what’s your go to? You mentioned steaks so I assume that’s on there?

Yeah, steaks. I’m a New York Strip guy, but I’ve cooked a little bit everything from pork butt to chicken to ribs. I’ve even had the honor of doing a Thanksgiving ham. So I’ve kind of ventured out a little bit, not saying it’s the best — not as good as my steak game — but I’ve gotten some stuff out there.

Lastly, I know you’re focused on what’s coming in the future, but what are the things you’ll take away from the last year that you look at as things you can reflect on and grow from as a person and as a driver?

Yeah, I think if we just continue to help one another, help, listen, and understand and show some compassion for one another is huge. Have a lot of empathy for one another is big. And so everything that went on last year I’ve grown from it, learned from it, and, you know, trying to just be bigger and better moving forward. Always looking ahead.

×