The Greatest 2nd Place Finish Ever
Bubba Wallace is the hero NASCAR so desperately needs
Oh yeah. I’m jumping straight into hyperbole. Best ever 2nd place finish. No debate.
Story always trumps performance. The narrative aspect of sports is the reason we watch, the reason we are so invested.
Watching NASCAR as a 7-year old, my rooting interests were simple. Jeff Gordon had flames on his car and they looked really freaking cool. For the next decade up until his retirement, I remained a fan of Gordon. Every year, another legend hangs it up. Gordon, Stewart, Dale Jr.
Much like when golf lost Tiger Woods, NASCAR has become a sport of young guns vs. veterans (I think we last did this storyline circa 2004). It takes years for a secondary American sport to find or regain its marketability. Woods sold himself, and frankly still does. Dale Jr. was an enigma, despite never being dominant or winning, he remained the most popular NASCAR driver for his entire career.
As Junior and Gordon fans have found themselves aimlessly lost in the proverbial fandom woods, wondering who will provide the resurgence in stock car racing, I can finally say look no further.
If only God may will it, let 2018 be NASCAR’s Year of the Bubba.
Austin Dillon may have won the 2018 Daytona 500, but that didn’t stop Darrell Wallace Jr.’s mom, Desiree, from celebrating Bubba’s second place finish as if he had won.
“You did your thing baby. I’m so proud of YOU baby, I’m so proud of you,” Wallace Jr.’s mom says as she embraces her son. Ms. Wallace weeps in her son’s arms and the words they exchange next sold me that there has never been a greater second place finish in NASCAR history.
“I’ve waited so long baby,” she says. Without missing a beat, Bubba responds.
“You act like we just won the race,” Bubba says.
Laughing hysterically amidst the tears Ms. Wallace exclaims, “We did!”
“We did win that race baby.”
There are times when sports aren’t about the teams or individuals that won the championship or a marquis event. The best sports moments come from the rare occurrences that won our hearts. These are the moments that cannot be trivialized or scripted.
These moments are the ones worth celebrating for years to come.
Darrell Wallace Jr. was already a popular story being NASCAR’s one African American driver being given an opportunity in its top series by the King of the sport, Richard Petty. Bubba openly acknowledges it.
Bubba already made history by being the highest finishing African American driver in the Great American Race. But even the context of making history had to take a backseat to the importance of family and perseverance.
As Bubba returns to his seat and refocuses on his media duties, he asks for the interviewer to restate the question that has long since been forgotten inside a room full of people tearing up or barely holding them back. The interviewer audibles and says forget the finals laps. Instead, he asks Bubba about the moment he just shared with this mother. Good journalists have a keen sense of when the narrative flips.
Bubba cries into his towel before bursting out laughing. Bubba gives as good an answer to the question as he can fighting back breaking down again. He intimates how important it was to have his family there and he hopes to make them proud.
There’s been a running theme that NASCAR is a traditional league where successful drivers only come through a distinguished family lineage. The Earnhardt family, the Petty family, the Childress family (Austin Dillon’s grandfather is team owner Richard Childress), the Elliott family, and the list goes on.
In a world polarized by the effects of diversity, and in a sport that’s been dominated supremely by white men since its inception, I see nothing but positives for growing a fan base by adding some flavor. Many will gawk and squalor over the racing career of Danica Patrick, but no one can take away the impact she had on young women who don’t wonder anymore if it’s okay to race with the boys.
2018 may witness the rise of prominent young Mexican driver Daniel Suarez. Suarez is in a Gibbs car so I expect some good finishes from him this year. There’s no question he’s talented.
Last year, Brehanna Daniels made history being the first African American female to be on pit road during a NASCAR race. She was a tire changer in an Xfinity and Truck series race last year at Dover.
I had taken a NASCAR hiatus since Gordon’s retirement. I was at a loss for rooting interest like many others. I sit here today with more interest than ever. I haven’t even mentioned that Wallace Jr. managed to get into a feud with Denny Hamlin! I did my best to defend you last time Denny. I don’t think I can jump off the deep end with you on this one.
Bubba’s second-place finish came in photo finish fashion after a battle to the line with Hamlin where Bubba cut a tire on Hamlin’s car. Hamlin was quite upset after hearing Bubba crack a joke on him in his post-race comments, and the two had some words about it in the infield. Afterwards, NASCAR went full basketball Twitter. I love it!
Denny Hamlin goes scorched Earth on the “idiots on Twitter”!
Richard Petty Motorsports watches from the sideline with excited NFL players.
And Migos is giving out their collective love to Dillon and Bubba. What a world…
Yet throughout all the carnage-causing crashes, the growing diversity, the last-lap drama, and the legacy of Dale Earnhardt, Desiree Wallace won the Great American Race by reminding us about what is really important in life.
The 60th running of the Daytona 500 was all about a mother being proud of her son.