Two days of intermittent rain showers finally brought an end to NASCAR’s fall race at Talladega Superspeedway and with it gave us the Cup Series’ second-ever Black winner in 23XI’s Bubba Wallace.
The Talladega race was delayed from Sunday afternoon to Monday due to rain, but that didn’t stop the clouds from opening up and bringing out a handful of red flags that punctuated the race. But as stage two neared its end, a shower of heavier rain rolled in. Ryan Preece was spun, hit the wall, and came back down to collect William Byron and Matt DiBenedetto. Race officials waved a yellow flag for the accident that quickly turned red with three laps remaining in the stage.
That red flag ultimately brought an early end to the event. And with Wallace leading the race as the crash brought out the flag, he became a first-time race winner and the second Black driver to take victory in NASCAR’s top-level series.
Wallace had worked his way up to the front of the field and ultimately took the lead as the second stage wound to a close. He maintained that lead with some pushes from Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski but was understandably hesitant to get his hopes up after the race was flagged — even though his fellow drivers made an effort to shake his hand. There was a sense of finality in the air.
This is the first season of the 23XI team created by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin; Wallace was pegged to be the driver for the car after a turbulent 2020 season with Richard Petty Motorsport. The team has since attracted talent like Kurt Busch for 2022.
Wallace is the second Black driver to win a top-level NASCAR race since Wendell Scott took victory at race for what was then known as the Grand National Series. That win came at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida on Dec. 1, 1963. Scott, however, was denied his trophy, which was instead handed to a white man that was initially declared a winner. Scott’s family has only recently been reunited with the well-earned trophy.
Wallace hasn’t has an entirely smooth path in NASCAR, either; as the only Black driver in the series and a vocal advocate for Black rights, Wallace has received a serious amount of racially-motivated anger. It was at Talladega in the summer of 2020 that NASCAR put on a touching display of solidarity with Wallace during an investigation for what was, at the time, thought to be a noose intentionally placed in his garage.
His first win, too, wasn’t easy. During the red flag period, the rain lightened enough that NASCAR saw fit to send a fleet of jet dryers out on the track to attempt to dry it and restart the race. But it didn’t take long before Wallace was eventually declared the winner.