NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace receives contract extension from 23XI Racing

AP photo by Paul Sancya / Bubba Wallace smiles during NASCAR Cup Series qualifying last Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, where he won the pole position and finished second in Sunday's race. Wallace and 23XI Racing have agreed to a multiyear contract extension, the team announced Friday.

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace has locked down his future with 23XI Racing, and he'll try to sweeten the new deal by securing a spot in the Cup Series playoffs for the first time in his career.

Wallace and 23XI announced a multiyear contract extension Friday that keeps the 28-year-old in the No. 23 Toyota, the car that was the foundation of the team co-owned by Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan when it began competing last year. The organization was launched around the only Black driver competing at NASCAR's top level and the many partners Wallace signed in 2020, when he became a central figure in the national reckoning on racial and social justice issues.

"It feels great to get this renewal done and to know I have a home at 23XI Racing," Wallace said in a team release that did not specify contract details. "Thanks to M.J. and Denny for continuing to believe in me. We've come a long way together in less than two years and we've checked off some major goals along the way. We know we still have work to do, both on and off the race track, but I feel good about our team and the direction we're heading."

Wallace had no intention of testing the market in free agency.

"I thought from day one on joining this team that I wanted to make this where I retire and a place that I call home for a very long time," Wallace said. "I'm just trying to do the best that I can and continue those efforts."

The team expanded this season to add a second car, with veteran Kurt Busch as Wallace's teammate. Busch, 44, is about to miss his fourth consecutive race with concussion-like symptoms - Ty Gibbs will be his substitute again Sunday at Richmond Raceway - and the absences have the 2004 Cup Series champion's playoff berth in jeopardy.

At the same time, Wallace is clawing toward his own spot in the 16-driver field, heading to Richmond ranked a career-best 19th in the standings. He had his best finish in the final standings last November at 21st place. That followed his first three Cup Series seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports, where he was 22nd in 2020 after back-to-back years at 28th.

Now he's coming off his first pole position of the season last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, where his second-place finish left him nearly in tears over falling just short of his second career win.

"We haven't had the best season, but we've been able to turn it around and really shown what we are capable of these last handful of races," Wallace said. "We know the urge to win is high, and I thought that was the best opportunity that we had all year long, and just me replaying the last restart and wondering what could I have done different?

"I am in a much better place today; I see how incredible our team performed ... to put us in that position. So lots to be happy for and grateful for, but in that moment, the sign of defeat got me there for a second."

photo AP photo by Paul Sancya / Bubba Wallace drives the 23XI Racing No. 23 Toyota during Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. Wallace is in the running for a spot in the playoffs but needs a win in one of the final three regular-season races.

Wallace has four consecutive finishes of eighth or better, but he needs at least one victory in the remaining three regular-season races to get into the playoffs. After Richmond, the Cup Series heads to the road course at Watkins Glen and then Daytona International Speedway.

Wallace earned his only Cup Series victory, the first for the 23XI organization, last fall at Talladega Superspeedway, where the racing is similar to Daytona. And at Daytona, Wallace has three second-place finishes and another top-five result in 10 Cup Series starts.

"Without a doubt," Wallace said when asked if he believes he can win in the regular season. "We're really confident with what we're bringing back for Sunday. Watkins Glen is just a race of survival, you never know what can happen. But then Daytona, I think we're one of the favorites going into that. We just have to continue to do what we do like we've been doing the last four to five races.

"It seems to be working. Don't ask what it is. I can't really tell you. But it's working."

The extension was announced a day after Wallace hosted more than 3,500 people at Richmond Raceway for the inaugural Bubba's Block Party, which he hopes will bring a younger, more diverse audience to NASCAR.

The event was one of the many initiatives Wallace has tackled as a key figure in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts with both 23I Racing and NASCAR. Wallace's Live to be Different Foundation allows him to engage with the community around Charlotte, North Carolina, through backpack drives, and the Knowledge is Power Program brings students to race tracks across the country.

Additionally, Wallace's clothing design collaborations with both McDonald's and Columbia Sportswear Company have brought NASCAR to a new audience.

Hamlin called Wallace "a key part of the early stages of 23XI" and said the team would continue pushing his career.

"The goal was to help him take his career to a higher level, and we have done just that," Hamlin said in the team release. "Bubba is continuing to get more competitive each week. We're excited to see his growth as he and the team work toward achieving our goals."