NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It was 3:42 a.m. in North Carolina as Bubba Wallace’s best friend celebrated winning his first NASCAR championship across the country in Arizona.
Wallace could have stuck around and partied with Ryan Blaney, but he instead flew directly home to sit alone in the dark. Wallace was wallowing in disappointment despite having just finished his own career-best season.
He took to social media with a note titled “Life” and tried to explain his emotions and why he’d flown home for five hours in silence.
“Sitting here on the couch questioning everything,” he posted. “You would think your bud winning the championship would bring that joy and excitement back. Sadly it did not.
“It’s the helpless feeling that really kicks ya,” Wallace continued. “My wife can see that I’m off but I don’t have the what or the why that I’m feeling this way to allow her to help me. To my peeps out there staring at a blank wall, I’m with you. Tomorrow is another day. Another opportunity. Keep after it.”
He closed by quoting “We gon be alright” from Kendrick Lamar.
Nearly a month after that, Wallace has bounced back and is in Nashville celebrating both the best season of his own Cup career but also the milestone Cup title by Blaney. The two grew up together racing locally in North Carolina and share a strong bond.
Blaney wasn’t surprised that Wallace skipped out on the Phoenix Raceway championship after-party, but was made aware of Wallace’s social media post and reached out.
“He called me a couple days later and I was like, ‘Man, I guess you winning the championship sent me into depression. Like congrats, but I don’t want to see that,” Wallace recalled Thursday morning, hours before Blaney was to be feted by NASCAR at its season-ending awards ceremony in Nashville.
Wallace said Blaney had a quick retort in reminding Wallace that Blaney felt the exact same way in 2020 when good friend Chase Elliott won the title. Wallace this year made the playoffs for the first time and finished a career-best 10th in the standings; he was, however, winless after scoring Cup victories in both 2021 and 2022.
“It’s just kind of how Bubba is, you know he’s very hard on himself,” Blaney said Thursday. “He is just super hard on himself and you try to pick him up, right? The other night I told him ‘Man, you did great. Tenth in points, you made a good run in the playoffs.’ OK, he didn’t win, but I mean, he had a great year.”
Yet he can relate to the achievements by contemporaries spoiling a drivers’ individual definition of success.
“There’s seeing a friend do it, and it’s other part of seeing another young guy around your age,” Blaney said. “When Chase won the championship in 2020, he and I are really great friends, I was super happy for him. But I was also kind of jealous because I want to be that guy. I want to be in that spot.
“You always kind of compare yourself to your age range. You get jealous of the guys in your group that have success,” he continued. “And I’m the same way. I think everyone is internally, whether they express it or not.”
Wallace did express it and has touched on his battles with mental health over the years. NASCAR’s only full-time Black driver at the national level is under a tremendous microscope and the 30-year drives for Michael Jordan in a heavily-sponsored No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing.
Team co-owner Denny Hamlin said Jordan’s influence on Wallace has been stabilizing to Wallace’s roller-coaster emotions, and that helped develop Wallace into a team leader this past season.
“Where he was in 2022 was a lot tougher to manage because you were doing a lot of damage control. Maybe some things he’d say in the media, we’d have to do some work on the backend to make it right,” Hamlin said. “Michael really helped in stepping in and voicing his opinion on it, and making Bubba step up as a leader.”