It took Michael Jordan seven years to win his first championship in the red no. 23. His new protégé, Bubba Wallace, won't get nearly that much latitude to produce results ... but he can take hope from a 200-lap race that went very well for 199 and three-fourths laps.
Wallace got caught up in the catastrophic wreck begun when race leaders Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski collided, and ended up finishing 16th. That's pretty much in line with his historical performance at Daytona, which isn't exactly sterling; counting Sunday night, he's run eight races at the track (four Daytona 500s), and he's notched two top-five finishes and two wrecks, with an average finishing position of 17.5.
However, he did lead a lap during the Daytona 500. He's the first Black driver ever to do so, and even though he wants to be known as more than "the Black driver," he's accepted it as part of the whole widening-the-NASCAR-tent enterprise. And this was an earned lap; he dove low and rode the inside line to the lead on Lap 129, near the end of the second stage, but soon lost it to the far superior car of Denny Hamlin, his team's owner.
The expectations — and, thus, the pressure — on Wallace are immense. After last summer, he's become the standard-bearer for an entire population that's long looked askance at NASCAR. He's driving Toyota equipment associated with Joe Gibbs Racing, one of the garage's preeminent teams. His entire team's owned by Denny Hamlin, who won the last two Daytona 500s and is a regular championship-level contender.
And then there's Michael Jordan. You do not want to disappoint Michael Jordan.
"Bum end," Wallace said on Twitter after the race. "I bailed out down the back saw the wreck happening and got run over from behind. Should’ve bailed sooner."
Wallace also appeared to take a shot at his car setup, adding, "Fast car, can’t have loose wheels," an apparent reference to the loose wheel that brought him into the pits late and severely hindered his chances to win.
One race down, 35 to go. It'll be a remarkable run for Wallace no matter what happens next.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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