Why Bubba Wallace Jr. could be the man to beat in 2021

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 Second Practice
NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500 Second Practice

Bubba Wallace Jr. is one of the most polarizing names in NASCAR. But that doesn't take away from just how talented he is. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to consider him as a future Hall of Famer, much in the same way as Wendell Scott.

However, it's not just because he fought for racial equality in NASCAR, but also based on what he has shown on track so far, and the number of wins he stands to accrue over the course of his career. As much as his detractors want to drown this out as white noise, his stats speak for themselves.

Of course, some will claim he has done absolutely nothing since coming to the Cup Series in 2017, but one simply has to look at those numbers in context. In fact, between not being with a heavily-funded team and having a steep learning curve to climb, Bubba Wallace had his work cut out for him.

Take a look at his Truck Series stats. Bubba Wallace nabbed a win, five top 5 finishes, 12 top 10s and one pole in his first season. He was running for Kyle Busch Motorsports at the time and took his first win at Gateway Speedway that year. He would go on to finish eighth in the standings that year.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Bubba Wallace won four races and grabbed nine top 5s, 14 top 10s, two poles and a third-place finish in the standings with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Keep in mind that Bubba Wallace won the Eldora Dirt Race that year and even finished the season with a win at Homestead Miami Speedway.

While all this was going on, Bubba Wallace also made waves in the Xfinity Series with three top 10 finishes in four races during the 2012 Xfinity Series season. he didn't have a lot of opportunities in 2013 at the Xfinity level but earned one top 10 that year in two races.

The start of Bubba Wallace Jr.'s troubles in NASCAR

Around this point, his story took a very unfortunate turn. Something that probably shouldn't have happened to someone as talented as he is, but got lost in the shuffle due to the do-or-die nature of NASCAR.

Joe Gibbs claimed to have a big program for Bubba Wallace, but sponsorship ultimately fell through and JGR granted him an early release from his contract.

This led to Bubba Wallace moving to Roush Fenway Racing in 2016, which ended up being a nice change in scenery for the young driver. Unfortunately for Wallace, he failed to win during the next three years of his career, but he put up consistent numbers every single year, and that's what a lot of people don't realize.

Many conservative fans focused on the fact that he called for the Rebel Flag to be banned, or that NASCAR listened and did so. Either that, or they just think he's a fraud after the infamous incident in Talladega, where a door rope tied up like a noose was discovered in his garage. What they don't realize, though, is that Bubba Wallace Jr. didn't even report the incident.

According to the investigation, Darrell Wallace Jr. never saw the noose until it was shown to him by NASCAR officials. One also has to remember that a crew member found the rope and immediately called officials.

And while some fans are going to think that he was using it to help his career, they seem to have forgotten the other possibilities. One has to consider that an unfortunate level of hatred came about from some quarters after he spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It even sparked a debate in NASCAR that rages on to this day.

Darrell Wallace Jr is a proud man and an incredible competitor. He is also African-American, which makes him a statistical minority in the sport of NASCAR. Now, that doesn't mean that the sport hasn't improved in this regard with its Drive for Diversity program, but he had a very select group of the country looking up to him for hope at that time.

One could even argue that Bubba Wallace Jr. was essentially a beacon of hope for African-American fans looking for a hero. He spoke out against the brutalities happening to people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and even got the sport to ban a symbol of hate in the Confederate flag.

Some even believe it was a publicity stunt to further his Cup Series career, and maybe even gain him some temporary relevance. What critics somehow failed to realize, though, is that Darrell Wallace Jr. wasn't going to let his fans down.

He stood up to what he thought was racial discrimination at the time, and told everyone he wasn't going to stand for it. Bubba Wallace even walked his No. 43 Chevrolet to the top of the grid in a show of defiance towards the hate crime. He was joined by the rest of the Cup Series field, who all stood in support of him.

Not only was that an extremely powerful message to give to fans, it also showed that the entire Cup Series garage supported Bubba Wallace. This doesn't mean everyone agreed with his opinions, or even with his political stances, but they did agree that NASCAR wasn't going to stand for that kind of hate.

Fast-forward one more time and Bubba Wallace is now in a top-tier ride with 23XI Racing, which is co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. As if that wasn't enough to bring in big sponsor money, the team is a Joe Gibbs Racing affiliate team, meaning that they can share resources.

Bubba Wallace Jr. has considerable talent but more importantly, he can help bring about wholesale changes in the sport. The only question left to answer is whether fans will agree that Bubba Wallace is the the man to beat in 2021.

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Edited by Sandeep Banerjee
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