BROOKLYN, Mich. — Five years ago, Bubba Wallace waited for phone calls to race.
Today, he’ll lead the Cup field to the green flag at Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET on USA Network). Four races remain in the regular season and Wallace needs a win to make the playoffs.
But this 2-mile track has the chance to provide another special memory for Wallace — just as it did five years ago.
MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan
Wallace’s 2017 season was short-circuited by lack of sponsorship in the Xfinity Series, leading Roush Fenway Racing to park his team after 12 races.
Wallace did run four Cup races for an injured Aric Almirola. When Almirola returned to the No. 43 ride, Wallace again was left to look for a ride.
He got the chance to drive in the Truck race at Michigan in August 2017. Wallace led the final 11 laps to win that race, which saw Christopher Bell finish second and Kyle Busch place third.
Wallace calls that Truck race “one of the biggest races in my career.” The victory was his first NASCAR national series win since 2014 and showed him “that I still got it.”
He needed that after wondering where his career was headed.
“When they pull the plug (on your team) and you’re sitting on the couch and you’re reevaluating life, and then you get one opportunity to come out and capitalize on it and you do that, it’s emotional for sure.”
Wallace, in his second season with 23XI Racing, enters today’s Cup race having scored a top 10 in each of the last three races. With Chase Elliott’s top-10 streak ending at six last weekend, Wallace owns the longest active top-10 streak in the series.
While that seems minor, it’s significant for a team that has had pit road miscues, a strategy mistake in the Coca-Cola 600 and failed to finish five races this year.
There were signs that if Wallace’s team could avoid those pitfalls it could challenge for wins.
Wallace had one of the best cars at Kansas in May but two penalties on his pit crew forced him to the back of the field each time. He recovered to finish 10th, leaving questions of what might have been.
He also was strong in a tire test at Michigan on May 31-June 1 that included Joey Logano and Austin Dillon.
An eighth two weeks ago at Pocono confirmed the speed in Wallace’s car.
“I told my crew after this test, I pulled them off to the side and I said, ‘I usually circle Martinsville, Daytona or Talladega as a race to win,” said Wallace, whose first Cup win came at Talladega last fall, “‘If we don’t win this race, then I’ll be very pissed off.’
“If something happens that’s out of our control, sure. But with the speed we had at the test and the speed we have now, we have to go out and do it.”
Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan, said he was confident the Toyotas would be strong this weekend. All six Toyotas qualified 11th or better.
Now, Wallace has his best chance to win since Kansas.
“No matter what is thrown at you throughout the season, you’ve got to keep showing up … and executing,” Wallace said. “Man, we’ve been one of the best teams these last couple of weeks. I came on the radio after the first run (on track Saturday) and said ‘it’s fun to have fun.’
“It’s pretty fun right now.”
Read more about NASCAR
Dr. Diandra: Why Chase Elliott outruns the rest of Hendrick Motorsports Chris Buescher is NASCAR’s stuntman with rollover, fire this season Michigan Xfinity race results, driver points
Bubba Wallace looks to have winning feeling again at Michigan originally appeared on NBCSports.com