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Bubba Wallace Scores Historical First Cup Pole at Michigan

Bubba Wallace enjoys his maiden Cup pole. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Bubba Wallace enjoys his maiden Cup pole. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

BROOKLYN, Mich. – It may have taken 171 starts for Bubba Wallace. However, the 28-year-old Mobile, Alabama native finally scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series pole on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

Wallace posted a quick lap of 190.703 mph, the first pole qualifying speed of 190 or more in the Next Gen era.

Moreover, he tallied the first pole by an African American racer in the modern era and second in NASCAR’s 74-year history since Wendell Scott’s pole at Savannah Speedway in Savvanah, Georgia for a race on July 20, 1962.

Needless to say, Wallace was jubilant for his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota Camry team and the 23XI Racing campus.

As can be seen, Wallace applied the spurs to his No. 23 McDonald's Toyota Camry in smooth fashion. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

As can be seen, Wallace applied the spurs to his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota Camry in smooth fashion. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, it’s awesome. I’m proud of my team, continuing to show up and battle and give it all we got,” Wallace said. “We know like, that’s obviously the goal every time you start a season. And no matter what, from actually throughout the season, you gotta just keep showing up and putting on that face and executing.

“And man, we’ve been one of the best teams these last couple of weeks. And I came on the radio after the first run and said, ‘It’s fun to have fun.’ And it’s pretty fun right now.”

Certainly, Wallace has cause for celebration for his No. 23 team. After a 35th at Road America, the sixth year Cup racer has finished 14th at Atlanta, third at Loudon, eighth at Pocono and fifth at Indianapolis. As a result, the Alabaman has jumped from 25th to 21st in the points standings.

Of course, Wallace is in pursuit of his second career Cup win, a victory that would catapult him into the Playoff field. Aside from a confident driver, it takes an equally formidable team, an element not lost within Wallace’s purview.

“Poles are good,” he observed. But to do that, you’ve got to hire the best people and the smartest people. And once we heard about the tire change, we quickly went to work on how much we need to change the car to tune for that.

Ba Da Ba Ba Bah, I'm lovin' it. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Ba Da Ba Ba Bah, I’m lovin’ it. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“And Bootie (Robert Barker, crew chief) and our team hit it right on the head. The car feels great, feels good in race trim. Obviously, qualifying went very well for us. So it just shows a testament to the people that we have back at the shop that put these cars together and allow me to go out and do what I can do.”

Right now, Wallace has every reason to believe he’s capable of winning Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET on USA). Surprisingly, his recollection of his pole award winning run may surprise the common individual, particularly with the speed aspect.

“It doesn’t feel that fast,” Wallace shared. “You know, I remember people asked me, one of the best questions for kids, when you’re doing appearances is how fast are you going and I always said 220 to 222. It’s either here or California. And so you definitely felt that getting to the corner.

“So it was a little bit slower feel. But trying to tell yourself to hold wide open, you know, sounds easy, but it’s a challenge, but like I said and keep saying, a good McDonald’s Toyota Camry allows you to do that.”

Prior to Wallace’s strong finishes, the focus was on his No. 23 pit crew’s inept stops. Much like a country song, a promising situation was derailed by heartbreak.

Following a pit crew change prior to the Cup race at Atlanta, the popular Cup racer’s seen some improvement all around on race weekends.

As the NASCAR Cup Series regular season winds down, Wallace understands the urgency with making this year’s Playoff field. All told, he believes in himself and his team to come through in a pressure filled situation, especially when he was asked when he’d likely win his next Cup race.

“Yea, Watkins Glen,” he offered with a mildly amused response from the press. “Why are you all laughing? I’m confident!”

After a moment, Wallace offered a candid perspective about his team’s outlook and serving as a mentor to interim teammate, Ty Gibbs, ahead of Sunday’s race.

Wallace likes his chances at Michigan. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Wallace likes his chances at Michigan. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“No, I think Michigan is obviously a great chance,” Wallace shared. “Richmond, Toyota runs strong there, obviously. So we got a good database, I need to be better at that place. So and then Daytona, obviously, our stats speak for itself. So we just have to… it’s all about execution, right? You can come in with all the right mindset. And there’s one mistake that can cost you. I thought I cost myself the pole chance just by not getting off pit road clean, you know, coming to the green, I felt slow. And that matters. And everything matters.

“You know, I was able to talk to Ty (Gibbs) at Pocono and I was like, ‘Hey, man, look, this this is this is it. You know, this is the Cup level.’ I said, ‘You’re a badass, we all know you’re a badass.’ I said, ‘The strengths that you have, be ready to get basically kicked in the teeth.’ Because, you know, I thought I was a great restarter in the Xfinity Series. I made my first start at Pocono and I went backwards. And I thought I was doing something right. And so the sport teaches you a lot.”

By all means, Wallace continually learns and evolves as a racer and person. He lets his racing efforts speak for the diversity movement of NASCAR while inspiring others pursuing a career in racing.

Ultimately, Wallace knows it’s all about relentlessness and determination at the top level of NASCAR.

Perhaps Wallace makes the turn to a location behind the pit road wall - victory lane. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Perhaps Wallace makes the turn to a location behind the pit road wall – victory lane. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“In the Cup level, there’s no messing around,” he said. “So you have to hit every mark correct. And so it’s just, you know, when you have equipment and cars like this, it makes it a little bit easier to go out and do and it gives you a little bit bigger of a window. So just got to keep it going.”

Editor’s Notes

Jasmine Sharpe contributed to this article directly on-site from Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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