Editor‘s note: This continues the series of season reviews for select 2022 NASCAR Cup Series drivers.
Driver: Bubba Wallace
Car: No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota Camry TRD
Crew chief: Bootie Barker
Final 2022 ranking: 19th
Key stats: 1 win, 5 top fives, 10 top 10s, 1 pole, 150 laps led
How 2022 ended: Without a playoff appearance six years into his Cup Series tenure, Wallace still accomplished his best season to date, which was highlighted by his dominant performance in September at Kansas Speedway to net his second career win at NASCAR’s premier level. However, the end of the year was one the 29-year-old will want to forget after serving a one-race suspension for wrecking Kyle Larson during the Las Vegas playoff race in October.
Best race: Kansas Speedway on Sept. 11. The Round of 16 in the Cup Series playoffs was filled with surprises, and after Erik Jones took the checkered flag in a thrilling Southern 500, Wallace kept up the momentum for non-playoff drivers, controlling the Final Stage and leading 58 laps en route to his only win of 2022 and second in the series. He also ran up front for most of the race, finishing in the top five in the first two Stages.
Other season highlights: Wallace’s 2022 season nearly started off in Victory Lane as he came just .036 seconds behind Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric. It was the second time Wallace finished runner-up in the Great American Race (2018). During the summer, the driver of the No. 23 Toyota went on the best stretch of races in his career with four straight top-10 finishes from New Hampshire to Michigan. The run included three top-five finishes and his first career pole at Michigan. The impressive run wasn’t enough to get Wallace into the playoffs, but it put the rest of the Cup field on notice as he grew into one of the better drivers on intermediate tracks throughout the year.
Stat to know: 18.3 average finish. With his impressive second half in 2022, Wallace improved his average finishing position from 2021 by 1.4. It’s not just Wallace finishing well; he ran consistently up toward the front in a handful of races compared to 2021. According to NASCAR’s loop data, Wallace was inside the top 15 during 88% or more of six races this season. The most he ran inside the top 15 during a single race in 2021 was 80.5% at that year’s Coca-Cola 600.
Quotable: “It‘s been hell for me the last month, so good to come out with a top five. … This sport humbles you, so there‘s really no surprises. Have to keep the task at hand and be mindful of your surroundings and do your job.” — Wallace on rebounding at New Hampshire after a slump that lasted from the Coke 600 to Road America.
Looking ahead: Building off momentum will be on the mind of Wallace and the No. 23 team entering 2023. After an impressive second half of 2022 that was highlighted by a win at Kansas, making the playoffs will not just be the goal for the team but a requirement as Wallace enters his sixth full-time Cup season. He knows his capabilities at superspeedways, and now it appears that intermediate tracks are becoming a forte for the 29-year-old. If Wallace can put it all together next season, he’ll be one of the 16 drivers going for the 2023 title.