KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Bubba Wallace was so comfortable cruising around Kansas Speedway on Sunday that he told his team over the radio in the closing laps that he didn’t want to know who was chasing him or how far back they might be.
He probably would have smiled knowing it was his boss.
Denny Hamlin managed to trim into Wallace’s lead down the stretch, but the co-owner with Michael Jordan of the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing ultimately ran out of time. Wallace took the checkered flag for his second NASCAR Cup Series victory and made it back-to-back weeks that a non-playoff driver won a postseason race.
“I knew Denny was going to be strong,” Wallace said after climbing out of his car and throwing a little shade at his many detractors. “It’s cool to beat the boss, but man, we were just lights-out. Once we got to the lead, it was a lot of fun.”
Wallace got around playoff contender Alex Bowman for the lead with 67 laps to go, then built a 2-second cushion over a parade of drivers in the title hunt, each trying to earn the win that would ensure their spot in the round of eight.
Hamlin wound up at the front of it, finishing second to climb into third in the playoff standings.
“I was driving as hard as I could,” said Hamlin, who had no qualms about passing his own driver for the win. “Nothing will ever come free when you’re driving for me. If you think I’m going to let you win, you better find another team.”
Wallace, who became the 18th different driver to reach Victory Lane this season, also won during last year’s playoffs at Talladega, when he was likewise out of the title picture. And his victory Sunday came after Erik Jones, who also missed out on the postseason this year, won a chaotic race a week ago at Darlington.
“Just so proud of this team, so proud of the effort that they put in each and every week,” said Wallace, who won in the same No. 45 car that Kurt Busch drove to victory at Kansas earlier this year. “They work their tails off and I’m so proud.”
Busch stepped out of the ride while dealing with a concussion. He was quick to tweet his congratulations.
Bell finished third and Bowman fourth with playoff outsider Martin Truex Jr. in fifth. William Byron, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez — all firmly in the playoff hunt — rounded out the top 10.
Bell was the only driver to clinch a spot in the next round on points. The other 11 are up for grabs heading to Saturday night’s race at Bristol.
“I’m very happy that we’re finally getting the results that this team deserves,” Bell said. “Our speed has been there all year. I feel like we’ve given up a lot of good finishes. Hopefully we can build on this and keep rolling.”