As much as Bubba Wallace was looking forward to a break during last weekend’s NASCAR Cup season finale, he was also looking ahead.
“As much as I’m ready for the off-season, I’m ready for next season to start,” Wallace said.
This wouldn’t have been his sentiment in the first half of the season, which he graded at a C minus. But in the year’s second half, Wallace and 23XI Racing took significant strides in becoming more consistent contenders. Everyone from the driver on down executed better and started getting the results they deserved.
So Wallace graded his team an A or an A minus for the second half of 2022, and the anticipation for 2023 comes from the chance to keep building upon that momentum. Never before has Wallace been as optimistic as he is about the season ahead.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “Just having conversations [recently] about how we are so much better as a team and as a manufacturer from Phoenix [race] one to Phoenix [race] two, it just makes you think about how much better you’ll be starting the year off. It took us all year to figure out this car; we’re still figuring it out day by day. Having the right people in our camp and back at the shop figuring all that out to get us ready and prepped for next year is super exciting.”
The numbers back up Wallace’s words about the two sides of his season. His team failed to finish five times in the first half of the year (18 races) and had two top-10 finishes. Wallace led 31 laps in that stretch.
In the year’s second half, Wallace won at Kansas Speedway and earned eight top-10 finishes and 93 laps led. He had only two DNFs. There was also the harsh reality of watching someone else drive his race car after being suspended one race after his actions in Las Vegas with Kyle Larson.
And that’s not to gloss over NASCAR’s new car – which will continue to evolve – as Wallace admitted he was having “oh [expletive]” moments during the season, realizing what he needed to do. Wallace said one of the keys was some advice he got from Kurt Busch.
“Kurt told me this when I jumped him at Darlington last year,” Wallace said. “He said, ‘Hey man, you get reset every time a caution comes out or a stage comes out. You have to understand what that is and use that.’
“Looking back, it makes so much sense. In the moment, you try to understand that, but you have to go through the trials and tribulations of it all to [realize] this is what the veterans are doing.”
As much as Wallace is looking at what’s to come, 23XI Racing is doing the same. The organization’s preparation for the 2023 season will be the calmest one yet since the team isn’t thrashing to prepare for its debut (2021) or adding another car (2022).
This time around, 23XI Racing has Wallace ready to go and Tyler Reddick will slide into the No. 45 Toyota. Busch, who stepped away from full-time racing in the wake of a heavy crash in July, is still transitioning into a different role outside the car as a mentor and resource to the drivers and the company.
During his recovery, Busch was in the war room at the race shop during race days. But as the year wound down, he became more visible at the racetrack and constantly sought feedback from Wallace to help sort through all the information on what the car was doing.
“That’s the type of veteran leadership that we need,” Wallace said. “He’s not driving, and I know it kills him. It would kill me if I wasn’t driving. Especially with the circumstances that he’s in, but he’s not just lying over. He wants to see this team succeed, and he feels he has an obligation to fulfill in this new, which is important.”
Wallace will go into 2023 off a career year. He finished a career-best 19th in the championship standings with career highs in top-10 finishes (10), top-five finishes (five), laps led (150), average finish (18.3), and having earned his first career pole.