NASCAR at Phoenix: Did crew chief cost Bubba Wallace a top 10?

Bubba Wallace before the Instacart 500 at Phoenix. (Photo by Sean Gardner/23XI Racing via Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace before the Instacart 500 at Phoenix. (Photo by Sean Gardner/23XI Racing via Getty Images)
Ted Fleming

When Bubba Wallace team owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin look back at what happened to Wallace at Phoenix Raceway Sunday, the debrief on Monday might not be too pleasant. That’s because crew chief Mike Wheeler took a calculated risk that backfired almost immediately.

Running P10 when a caution came out at Lap 263, Wheeler left the No. 23 Camry out on the track when most of the leaders came in for fresh tires. Wallace would lead the field to green, taking the inside line for the restart. To say he dropped like a rock would be an understatement because 11 laps after the yellow came out, Wallace had fallen out of the top 10.

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Bubba Wallace was having a good time until ...

Bubba Wallace had been hanging around the top 10 for much of the final stage, and he looked like his first top-10 finish was in sight. His best finish to date was a P17 in the Daytona 500, and nothing has seemed to go right for him since. Three straight top-20s followed, and Phoenix Raceway was proving to be his best outing all year.

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So did Wheeler’s call make a difference? Bubba Wallace didn’t help his own cause when he chose the inside lane with 17 laps on his tires. He spun them and made contact with Joey Logano, losing the lead within feet of the waving green flag. It only took five laps to drop out of the top-five, and he would ultimately end up P16 behind race winner Martin Truex Jr.

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While it was Bubba Wallace’s best finish so far, it doesn’t take away the pain of knowing it could have been much better.

Edited by Jeff Owens


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