|SCREENSHOT: Seth Eggert, Kickin' The Tires|
Entering this, his third full-time season with Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace’s best finish of the season was a strong 6th back in Las Vegas, following a 15th in the Daytona 500. He then struggled in the following two rounds, finishing 27th at Fontana and 19th at Phoenix, but thus far has completed all but two laps in the abbreviated 2020 season. Following the suspension of track activities, Wallace joined the iRacing action at Homestead, where he ran 7th, then took 25th at Texas.
This past week, Wallace carried sponsorship from Blu-Emu, the same pain reliever which has continued to back Landon Cassill’s #89 Chevrolet in his digital efforts. Cassill debuted a new look to his sim rig on Sunday, featuring two wall decorations to resemble the inside of a race car. Wallace’s own Blue-Emu machine would be run on a familiar red-and-blue throwback paint scheme, reminiscent of some of Richard Petty’s old STP cars from the 1970s. Wallace had himself enjoyed one of the best runs of his first full season two years ago, leading his first six laps in the Food City 500.
In qualifying, Wallace ran 16th fastest, 0.222 second off the fastest lap by eventual race winner William Byron. He lined up in 8th for Heat Race 2 and finished in the same spot, just over seven seconds back of a photo finish between John Hunter Nemechek and Ryan Preece. This put the #43 in the 16th spot on the grid for the 150-lap main event. No drivers failed to qualify as the extra entrants ran yesterday’s Saturday Night Thunder on the same track.
Starting 32nd and last was Clint Bowyer, who ran teammate Aric Almirola’s Smithfield scheme on his #14 Ford this week. Bowyer struggled right from the start. He spun in qualifying and turned the slowest time, a full 1.4 seconds off the pole speed. This lined him up next-to-last in Heat Race 2, but fell behind last-place starter Bobby Labonte at the green flag. He climbed up to 12th on Lap 22, but that time by hit the wall, and soon after tangled with Labonte in a race for position. Now one lap down, Bowyer said “I broke my give a damn” and started bumping several drivers. He ultimately wrecked down the backstretch and took last from Labonte with six to go in the 50-lap heat.
Bowyer started alongside Erik Jones, whose #20 DeWalt Toyota finished last in Heat Race 1 after an internet connection issue prevented him from turning a single lap. The issue returned around five laps into the main event as Jones’ #20 was shown three circuits down on Lap 8. It seemed Jones would join Noah Gragson at Atlanta and Ty Majeski at Kansas as drivers to recently finish last due to internet issues.
However, that soon changed as Bubba Wallace ran the outside lane to pass Bowyer for position. On Lap 10, Bowyer twice crossed into Wallace’s path, stuffing the #43 into the outside wall. Frustrated, Wallace pulled low on the backstretch, summoned his car to the pits, and called it a day. “All right – you have a good one,” he said. “That’s it. That’s why I don’t take this shit serious.”
Moments later, Jones surprisingly returned to action, at least 10 laps down. Around Lap 25, he passed the exiting Wallace, dropping the #43 to last place. Jones completed just five more laps before he, too, disconnected, leaving him 31st.
The 30th spot fell to Chase Elliott, whose #9 NAPA Chevrolet was involved in several incidents. Kyle Larson took 29th when his #42 McDonald’s Chevrolet was parked by iRacing for trying to wreck Daniel Suarez, who was parked last week in Texas. Suarez just worked his way past Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to climb out of the Bottom Five, leaving the #47 Kroger Chevrolet in 28th. Both Stenhouse and Suarez were credited with 72 completed laps.
*Car #43 has never finished last in a Cup Series race at Bristol, a track where Richard Petty won three times including a season sweep in 1975.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #43-Bubba Wallace / 9 laps / ragequit
31) #20-Erik Jones / 14 laps / internet
30) #9-Chase Elliott / 31 laps / disconnected
29) #42-Kyle Larson / 71 laps / parked
28) #47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 72 laps / disconnected