Struggles continue for Bubba Wallace, despite pit crew swap

Bubba Wallace - NASCAR
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Despite some very strong runs at multiple races, Bubba Wallace only has two top-10 finishes in 2022. Why is that? The easiest sign to point to is his struggles on pit road.

It’s a tale as old as racing itself. A driver puts in a great performance on track, and their pit crew ruins it with sloppy work on pit road. It happens to every driver in every series, at some point, but in a series as unforgiving as the NASCAR Cup Series, it winds up the difference between a spot in the playoffs and a failed season.

That sums up the season of one Bubba Wallace.

23XI Racing’s Wallace showcased how much a poor performance from the boys and girls on pit road can harm a driver’s season, this year. Hence why the 28-year-old, donning a windbreaker to protect himself from the rain, spoke in quiet, seemingly exhausted tones to FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass, Saturday, in Atlanta.

“We’re trying to improve all aspects of our race team,” he said.

Presumably, this was the reason that 23XI swapped crews with Joe Gibbs Racing, beginning in Atlanta, with Wallace’s crew moved over to the No. 20 car of Christopher Bell.

The issues

As I wrote this, I realized that Wallace’s issues with his pit crew were too plentiful to cover in this article. To make a long story short, however, his crew incurred penalties at Auto Club, COTA, both Atlanta races, Martinsville, Talladega, Kansas, Texas and Nashville, among others.

In many of these races, he ran in or around the top-10.

He salvaged a few of those races for decent results, including a top-10 finish at Kansas. But having that many races where your own pit crew fails you is detrimental, not only for a driver’s results, but also a driver’s mentality. Following a loose wheel in Nashville, Wallace went off on the radio and told crew chief Bootie Barker to not talk to him for the rest of the race.

In an interview, 23XI team owner Denny Hamlin said “You can’t embarrass your race team,” when discussing the aforementioned radio outburst. However, when this has happened so many times to a singular driver in one season, it is somewhat understandable.

The fix

To aid this prevalent issue, both 23XI and Joe Gibbs swapped the crews of the No. 23 and No.20 cars. This being possible, due to a technical alliance between the teams. Many people on social media questioned this move, as Bell occupies a spot in the playoffs, while Wallace doesn’t.

The two teams made the switch, however, for Sunday’s Atlanta race, and issues were immediately brought to light.

Bell, with Wallace’s former pit crew, suffered a loose wheel on pit road, essentially damning him to a 19th-place finish. However, things weren’t all peachy for Bubba Wallace. During a round of pit stops early in the race, Bell pulled out of his pit stall in front of Wallace. Which forced him to stop and reverse back into his pit stall.

The future for Bubba Wallace

At press time, the two teams are sticking with this crew swap for the rest of the season, as it wouldn’t make sense to switch the crews once more, after you already have done so. However, both driver and crew alike must get in sync to find the most success they possibly can for the rest of the year.

Both Bell and Wallace are talented drivers. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if  both win a race before the season ends. However, it takes a lot more than just racecraft to achieve success in this league. It takes near-perfect competency from everyone involved with a team and its machinery.

That is the difference in both drivers’s seasons.

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TOP IMAGE: Jeff Curry/Getty Images