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NASCAR Cup Daytona II

Bubba Wallace "just relieved" after clinching final playoff spot

Bubba Wallace will have a shot at the NASCAR Cup Series championship for the first time in his career.

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Camry

Since joining the top level of the sport as a full-time driver in 2018, Wallace has never made the playoffs.

He entered Saturday's race at Daytona with the 16th and final playoff spot within his hands. However, there were 16 other drivers looking to snatch it away. A win by any of them would knock Wallace out of the running.

After avoiding a mid-race wreck, Wallace lingered in the middle of the pack. Although Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott had a shot at the win in the closing laps, neither could prevail against the RFK Racing duo of Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski.

Wallace would finish 12th, and make the playoffs. 

"That was the most stressed but also the most locked in I've ever been," said Wallace post-race.

"Knowing that this place is mostly out of your control, I just tried to focus on doing the things that I could do. Missing that wreck was massive. Appreciate Freddy (spotter Freddie Kraft). He's one of the best up on the roof. Gets us through that a lot. That's what helps our resume here with the speedway stuff.

"Proud to be locked into the Playoffs. 23XI, third year in, getting both cars in the playoffs. We've gone through a lot of trials and tribulations. So proud of the effort we put in. No matter how much we set ourselves back, we know that we have a kick-ass group and can bounce back from everything."

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Camry, Bootie Barker, 23XI Racing, Toyota Camry

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Camry, Bootie Barker, 23XI Racing, Toyota Camry

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

Wallace declined a pre-race interview with NBC, wanting to focus on the difficult task ahead of him. But after the job was done, it was all smiles for the two-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner.

“I’m just relieved. I apologized to my wife (Amanda) all week. I haven’t been myself – I’ve been stressing. Thankful that we are in it. That is the most calm I’ve ever been. It’s ass-backwards. You come to Daytona, and you focus so much on controlling the things that you can control. My stubborn ass never wants to listen to people telling me that. I finally did that, and we are locked in. What an incredible feat for our 23 team.

"I had a heart-to-heart with my team after Atlanta after qualifying – I said if we got our shit together, we can do great things in the playoffs. I’m so proud of the team from top down, very thankful. Back to the team – it took longer than I wanted, but to get the 23 and 45 locked in the playoffs for all our partners, coming off a great week down at the Grove. Just to be here and get it done. Shout to Chris Buescher – I’ll finally let our Dover beef go. Congrats on the win. We are settled. Good job.”

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Asked where this achievement ranks, Wallace was quick to declare that it is "on my Mt. Rushmore. I don’t have a lot of things on my Mt. Rushmore. I got two faces with my two wins, I’ll put the this as the third face up there. It’s pretty special. Just relieved. I don’t have much emotion, just relieved, drained mentally. Glad we’ve got the day off tomorrow, because I’ll be hurting on Monday.”

Among those who congratulated him after the race was 23XI Racing team co-owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Wallace will enter the playoffs in 16th place after the reset with zero bonus points. Positions 13th through 16th will be eliminated after the third race of the playoffs, which includes Kansas Speedway where Wallace is the defending winner.

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