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History was made on Monday, as Bubba Wallace became the first African American to win a NASCAR Cup Series race since Wendell Scott in Dec. 1963.
Wallace, 27, was declared the winner of the rain shortened YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the fifth race of the NASCAR Playoffs. NASCAR called the race after about an hour of waiting for the rain to pass, making Wallace, who was in first place at the time the red flag was flown, the winner at one of NASCAR’s premier tracks.
Wallace only led five of the 117 laps run but picked a good time to have one of those five be when the rain began to fall with just three laps left in stage two. Wallace was able to fend off Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to remain in the lead before the red flag.
The win is exactly what Michael Jordan envisioned when he founded 23XI Racing last year alongside driver Denny Hamlin. Together, the two chose Wallace to be the first driver of the team, a decision that has finally paid off.
As Wallace got word he was the winner, the moment that followed was one of pure joy from someone who had gone through a lot leading up to his first career victory.
The emotion was evident for Wallace, who was choked up after the race when speaking to NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider. Wallace fought back tears before issuing a powerful message to everyone watching at home.
“This is for all the kids out there that want to have an opportunity and whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said. “You’re going to go through a lot of (BS). But you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you. “Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry. Been plenty of times when I wanted to give up.”
Public opinion on Wallace has been split down the middle since June 2020, when Wallace alleged that he was a victim of a hate crime after he discovered a noose in his garage. The FBI investigated the claim and concluded the knot to be the end of a garage pull. Still, however, NASCAR rallied around Wallace, and he became one of the faces of the sport.
Then there was the 2021 regular season, where Wallace struggled and finished 22nd in the standings with just two top-10 finishes, keeping him out of the playoff hunt. But all of that is in the past for Wallace, who hopes to build on the win for the future.
The win has been met with joy from many of Wallace’s fellow drivers and fans who have been waiting to see the No. 23 McDonald’s/DoorDash car enter victory lane.