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Determined Wallace Produces Royal Effort, Third-Place Finish for ‘The King’ at Brickyard

Just 13 laps in, and Bubba Wallace was thinking, “Oh, no, not again.”

For a few anxious seconds on pit road, he feared his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tendency to find misfortune had returned after he was bumped from behind on pit lane by Chase Elliott in the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line on Sunday.

His No. 43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet was sliding toward the pitted Chevrolet of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Not only did Wallace avoid disaster, he rebounded to make history in a memorable drive for not just himself but Richard Petty Motorsports. His third place was the best-ever Brickyard finish for an African-American driver and the highest RPM result in this annual Indianapolis Motor Speedway stop since Elliott Sadler was fourth in 2008.

“I thought our day was over with,” he said. “And I thought that was how our luck had been summed up all year: having really fast cars and some dumb luck takes us out. But hey, it didn’t.

“It's an unforgettable day here in Indy.”

Wallace’s perseverance inspired a beaming smile on the face of his legendary 82-year-old boss, Richard “The King” Petty. Granted, the series’ all-time win leader with 200 wasn’t going to gush too much about a third place, but he appreciated the effort.

“It’s better than fourth,” Petty said with a laugh as he walked down pit lane. “He drove really good. Everything flowed our way. We had a good day.

“He just stayed with it. They could run faster than he could, but he just finally wore most of ‘em all out except two.”

Wallace, 25, displayed determination to stay with the lead pack, something he hasn’t done for quite a while. This was just his second top-five finish since bursting into his first full-time NASCAR Cup Series season with a second in the 2018 Daytona 500.

Petty teased Wallace about the pit road incident.

“He questioned why I wrecked his race car,” Wallace said. “I’m like, ‘Hell, when I wrecked it the last time (at Daytona), we finished second.’ So I might need to start wrecking more often.

“What a hell of a day, a hell of a day for my team. We needed this. We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed. Hell, I was bragging to everybody like, ‘Man, this 43 could be kissing some bricks come Sunday afternoon.’ We were just shy of it.”

This was quite an improvement from his previous best result this season, 14th at Bristol. He improved to 27th in the points.

“It's incredible to think about where the season started and where we were at the first 10 races in,” Wallace said. “Ever since Charlotte, we’ve still been bringing some heat. It's just the passion and the drive that my team has. It's a freaking blast coming to the racetrack, being away from the racetrack with my guys. Smaller teams, you know you're more like family, and that truly means a lot.”

Wallace then peered up at the IMS Scoring Pylon and smiled. He attached significant relevance to seeing his name in lights along with winner Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing, runner-up Joey Logano of Team Penske, fourth-place William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports and fifth-place Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I see a big team, big team, very, very small team, big team, big team,” he said. “We’re that very, very small team, so I’m pumped.”

Wallace had fun racing against buddy Ryan Blaney of Team Penske near the end. Blaney faded to seventh while Wallace stayed a solid third.

“We’re racing for a job; he’s racing for his position,” Wallace said of Blaney, who had already clinched a playoff spot and was 10th in points. “He’s in the Playoffs; I’m trying to get in. It's like a confidence booster, a mentality booster, knowing we can run with these guys on, I wouldn’t say any given day, but when all the stars are aligned this is what we can do.”

Perspective came easy at a time like this.

“Some days you’re going to be the ball, and some days you’re going to be the bat,” Wallace said. “Today, we happened to be the bat, although our car looked like the bat.

“We kept our heads in it and were able to come out near the top.”

Petty, an understated boss with that economy for words, did express his appreciation with more than just that proud facial expression.

“I got a big bear hug,” Wallace said, “so it was good.”

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