Just about any NASCAR driver would happily take the debut Bubba Wallace has had with a new team this week.
Wallace was far from happy Thursday night, however.
Despite being one of three Toyotas in contention on the final lap, Wallace had to settle for runner-up in the second race of the Duels at Daytona. His lack of experience in top-tier equipment showed when Austin Dillon slipped past on the final lap to win.
While second place sounds pretty good for a driver who was competing in a new car for the first time, Wallace clearly felt he’d let one get away.
“Lot of mistakes,” Wallace told FOX Sports’ Jamie Little. “Good debut, but nothing to be real happy about with myself.”
The external pressure on Wallace to perform has increased this season with his move to 23XI Racing, a venture co-owned by fellow NASCAR competitor Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The new team is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, considered by many to be the cream of the crop with former champions Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in the fold.
Then again, highly funded first-year teams have historically discovered that cash doesn’t eliminate the steep learning curve against teams with decades of experience.
That doesn’t mean Wallace is content to be patient for success to come.
“It’s OK for drivers to be hard on themselves,” Wallace told Little. “That’s how we motivate ourselves to get out there and do better. Hats off to my guys at 23XI for building a great Door Dash Toyota Camry. I tried to do all I could to help Truex there to get Toyota a win.
“I appreciate Kyle cutting me a lot of breaks. I know I’ve got a lot to learn here, but all in all it was a good night. But I’ve got some learning to do.”
Wallace will get an opportunity to atone for his mistakes Sunday, when he takes the green flag along with the rest of the field for the race that matters: the Daytona 500.