KANSAS CITY, Kans. — Winning is always special, but drivers have said, especially those with a Cup win, that winning a second series race was important because it showed they weren’t just a one-hit wonder.
Bubba Wallace went beyond that with his second career Cup victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
MORE: Bubba Wallace will be on MotorMouths Monday (6-7 p.m. ET on Peacock)
“I think winning at this level is the hardest thing in life for us race car drivers,” said Wallace, who has won a Cup race two seasons in a row.
“To be able to say we’re a winner (Sunday) here at Kansas the whole year we’ve had and what we’ve been able to do the last two months is unbelievable. … To win, I knew it was only a matter of time. I had a lot of people tell me that. So it’s finally good to see it come to fruition. Twice is better than once.”
The victory is not surprising. Wallace had arguably the best car at Kansas in May, but two penalties from his pit crew caused him to restart twice at the back of the field. He went on to finish 10th. 23XI Racing teammate Kurt Busch won that race.
At Michigan last month, Wallace was on the front row for the final restart but couldn’t hold off Kevin Harvick. Wallace was then mired in a battle to stay second and never had the chance to challenge Harvick, settling for second.
The fact that Wallace is becoming a factor at more than the speedways — his first career Cup win was last year at Talladega and he has three runner-up finishes at Daytona — shows the growth he and his team are making.
“We’re talking when we go to the speedway and not so much the rest of the track, so I want to start changing that,” Wallace said after his sixth top-10 finish in the last nine races. “We’ve been able to showcase these last couple of months, all different types of racetracks and talk about it. This is beautiful. It is a step in the right direction.
“We simply cannot be complacent. We have to keep going, keep pushing for more. That’s great, but we have to keep coming back and fighting. I appreciate the opportunity I have now with the team I have and move on.”
Some key moments in Sunday’s race went up against Denny Hamlin and kept him from having a chance to win.
On what would be the final restart — at the start of Stage 3 — Hamlin lined up fourth on lap 172, but quickly dropped back to eighth on lap 174. In a race where track position was critical, that put him in a challenging location.
Hamlin didn’t finish fifth until lap 197 of the 267-lap race. He was back in fourth place when he came to pit road on lap 214 for his final stop.
Hamlin was the first playoff car in the pit. Crew chief Chris Gabehart said he came in early because he was trying to pass Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell.
Hamlin had a pit stop of 11.5 seconds, according to Racing Insights. Leader Bubba Wallace came on the next lap and had a pit stop of 10.4 seconds.
That was only part of what kept Hamlin from having a chance to challenge Wallace for the win at the end.
Gabehart said Wallace’s off-road entry and exit, compared to Hamlin’s, was a key factor.
“Iit was about a two-second delta,” Gabehart told NBC Sports of the difference between Wallace and Hamlin. “Some of it was the pit stop just wasn’t good. And to Bubba’s credit, he’s really good at (pitching and pitting). His green flag entries and his green flag exits have been good for a long time. And that won him a race.”
Hamlin acknowledged how good Wallace is in that area.
“Bubba, historically in metrics, has been very good at green flag entries,” Hamlin said. “So I kind of knew it was going to be tough for me to win. I kind of just focused on not making a mistake coming to pit road. … He just hit us really bad, I think for a second. We lost by exactly one second.
Said Wallace: “There are a lot of metrics in our JGR metrics sheet. There are about 1,000 pages. I’m proud to try to be on top of them. You’re a few weeks. Most weeks I’m not, but pit-in, pit-out, green flag has always been one of my strong suits.
“Honestly, they said, ‘Pit now,’ and I’m like, OK, and I was just able to capitalize and that was it. I didn’t do anything fancy, just one of those high features we have. It worked for us.”
Martin Truex Jr.’s finish. in fifth place it was not a result he celebrated.
Truex, still seeking his first win of the season and not in the playoffs for the first time since 2014, relinquished the lead on lap 112 when he had to return to pit road, so his crew could tighten the left rear tire.
Truex didn’t get back into the top five until seven laps remained.
“Too many mistakes,” Truex said.
He said he felt he had the best car in the race.
What could he do better than others?
“Pass the cars,” he said. “The longer the race, the harder it is to do it and the more you have to go through the field. Just too many mistakes.”
Asked if that was the way the season has gone, Truex said: “Yeah. Ready for the offseason.”
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) September 11, 2022
Marked Sunday the first time in 50 years that the same car number won two races at a track in the same season with different drivers, according to Racing Insights. Both Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace drove the no. 45 to a win this year at Kansas.
Car no. Wood Brothers Racing’s 21 won the 1972 Daytona 500 with AJ Foyt and won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona that July with David Pearson.
The last time the same car number won two multi-driver races in the same season was 2002.
Sterling Marlin won in car no. 40 at Las Vegas and Dover before suffering a fractured vertebra and missing the final seven races of the season. Jamie McMurray won the fall race at Charlotte in his second start in the No. 40 instead of Marlin that season.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 12, 2022