Bubba Wallace keeping an eye on both Talladega and Martinsville

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If Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. looks a little cross-eyed this weekend at Talladega, don’t be alarmed.

While sitting behind the wheel of the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, Wallace will have one eye focused on Saturday’s Fred’s 250 Camping World Truck Series, in which he hopes to close the points gap.

Wallace is in fourth place in the standings, 33 points behind series leader Matt Crafton.

“I don’t like to think about points,” Wallace said after Friday’s first practice session at Talladega. “I know what we have to do, but this is a race and a big enough stress ball to worry about.

“So if we can come out of here (unscathed) then maybe we can start talking, but I probably still won’t talk after this race. … Because of incidents happening early on this season, we should be higher up in the standings than where we are now. I can say that for sure.”

Staying out of trouble – particularly wrecks on the 2.66-mile superspeedway – will be the key if Wallace hopes to accomplish his goal and narrow the margin between himself and Crafton.

“It’s Talladega, cautions breed cautions here,” Wallace said after Friday’s first practice. “We just have to be on the plus side of that and on the front end of it.

“Really you’re in trouble anywhere you go. If you’re at the front, the middle or you’re at the back then you can get caught up in it. I just think of where I see Kyle (Busch) running at Talladega and he’s either second or third or leading the race and he ends up winning. That’s what we need to do.”

Wallace then added an understatement that can be applied to any NASCAR vehicle – truck or car – while competing at Talladega.

“You’re never safe until the checkered flag,” Wallace said. “(We) try to control our own destiny and just ride. You feel like you’re doing that already and (then) something happens so you never know.”

As for Wallace’s other eye, he can’t help if he’s looking ahead to next week’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

It was one year ago that Wallace won on the tiny half-mile bullring, becoming the first African-American driver to ever win a Truck race, and the second to win a NASCAR race on any pro level in nearly five decades since Wendell Scott did so in December 1963.

“It’s huge and I’m excited to get back to Martinsville,” Wallace said. “It’s going to be an exciting weekend for sure, a huge media hit for us. We’re coming back to keep the title going. We need to win us another grandfather clock and win us another race. We should have had a couple more before this.”

MORE: Darrell Wallace Jr. takes historic NASCAR Trucks win at Martinsville

To commemorate the anniversary of his breakthrough win, instead of driving his all black No. 54 Tundra, Wallace will be driving a truck with a different paint scheme and truck number (34) at Martinsville, both in honor of Scott, who will be inducted early next year into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The No. 34 was Scott’s number, as was the blue and white paint scheme, during most of his NASCAR racing career.

“I’m excited, the colors look good with the blue and white Toyota Tundra and the No. 34 will be different for sure,” Wallace said. “I’m excited to carry on the Wendell Scott banner and represent their family and his legacy for that weekend.  It’s going to be an exciting weekend.”

The significance of his first win at Martinsville – he’s since added two additional wins earlier this year at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis and in the dirt track race at Eldora Raceway (Ohio) – is not lost on Wallace.

In fact, it’s had a profound effect and impact upon him and his career.

“I turned 21 since then so happy birthday to me,” Wallace quipped. “The maturity level has gone up I would say inside the race car.

“I think just learning everything and learning the tracks and understanding how things work, letting little stuff go and focusing on the end of the race instead of getting flustered at the beginning when I lose six or seven spots and get upset and end up wrecking – (like) Charlotte and Kentucky last year.

“Now we just go out and have fun, smooth race and we’re still not happy if we don’t win. But it’s still a good points day finishing sixth versus 26th. I think that has changed a lot and I’ve relaxed and learned to take in more and listen more and go out there and utilize that what I’ve learned in those races and it’s definitely shown.”

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”