Bubba Wallace Credit: Wikipedia

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., the only full-time Black driver on the NASCAR circuit, needed just a half of a foot of a lead or less to be the first driver to cross the finish line at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, NASCAR’s biggest race. But rookie driver Austin Cindric, a Team Penske racer, was .036 seconds ahead of Wallace at the checkered flag, speeding through the finish for a thrilling photo finish victory.

The Daytona 500, first held in 1959, is a 500-mile race that takes place annually at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Since 1982, it’s been the season-opening race of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) series.

“Damn, I wanted to win that one,” said Wallace, who heads the Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin race team.

“I think I’d rather get wrecked out than finish second,” Wallace joked. It was Wallace’s second time as the runner-up at Daytona. He also finished second in his rookie season of 2018. Driving car No. 23, a number Jordan made famous playing for the Chicago Bulls, this is Wallace’s fifth year driving the circuit full time, his second year with the Jordan-Hamlin 23XI racing team.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018,” Wallace reflected. “This one, being that close, is just like a gut punch. So going from all the confidence in the world to literally having it ripped out from underneath you is a really [expletive] feeling.”

With a little assistance from Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, also trying to reach the finish line, Cindric was able to out-maneuver three different challengers on the final lap to outrun Wallace for the victory.

Wallace has compiled four top-5 finishes at Daytona, and was second last August in a 400-mile race before getting his first Cup victory at Talladega Superspeedway in October. His story as one of the few Black drivers in the history of NASCAR has been well documented.

The 28-year-old Wallace, the son of a Black mother and white father, is the most successful African American driver in the history of NASCAR. His activism on racial justice issues led to NASCAR strengthening its policies in an effort to end the negative images, including the banning of the Confederate flag at races.

NASCAR has long been associated with racism, dating back to the circuit’s first Black driver, Elias Bowie, and its most famous, Wendell Scott, whose experiences were portrayed by Richard Pryor in the 1977 dramatization “Greased Lightning.”

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