NASCAR: Bubba Wallace moving from No. 23 to No. 45 for Cup Series playoffs

Bubba Wallace is being shifted from his No. 23 car for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Wallace failed to qualify for the playoffs since he didn’t win a race over the first 26 races of the season. But with 23XI Racing teammate Kurt Busch still sidelined because of a concussion and Busch’s car a part of the owner’s points playoffs, Wallace will take the wheel of Busch’s No. 45 car for the final 10 races of the season while his current crew also moves over to the No. 45 with him.

NASCAR has two different sets of points standings. The most widely-known points standings are the driver’s points standings. The other set is the owner’s points standings. The owner points reflect how many points a single car has scored and typically mirror the driver points unless a team or teams are using multiple drivers in a car.

Busch won at Kansas in May to qualify for the playoffs in both sets of standings. But he was forced to withdraw from the driver points playoffs last week as he’s set to miss Sunday night’s race at Darlington. Busch has been absent from his No. 45 car since July after he crashed during qualifying at Pocono. Xfinity Series driver Ty Gibbs has been his substitute and there's been no public indication when Busch will be healthy enough to return to the Cup Series.

“After consulting with NASCAR, we made this decision in the best interest of the entire organization and for all our employees who helped earn a spot in the playoffs for the Owner’s Championship through their hard work,” 23XI president Steve Lauletta said in a statement. “While Ty has done a great job for us in the No. 45 car, we feel that Bubba’s experience in this car, at the upcoming playoff tracks and his recent momentum will give 23XI the best chance at maximizing our points each weekend. We recognize that this is a unique opportunity in the Cup Series, and we’re grateful to our employees and partners for standing with the team and supporting this decision.”

While Busch’s withdrawal opened up a spot in the driver playoffs that Ryan Blaney nabbed at Daytona, the No. 45 car kept its spot in the owner playoffs. And with the No. 45 racing for the owner’s title, 23XI is putting Wallace in the car to maximize its chances at getting a good finish in the owner’s standings.

It’s a smart move, even if it’ll be confusing for some fans over the coming weeks. Points money at the end of the season is mostly tied to the owner’s standings. The higher the No. 45 finishes in the playoffs, the more money 23XI will earn. Wallace’s No. 23 car can’t finish any higher than 17th in the owner standings and playoff cars receive a bigger share of prize money than non-playoff cars.

The No. 45’s inclusion in the owner’s playoffs also gives us a slim chance at a rare Cup Series double-celebration occurrence too. If Wallace gets on a hot streak during the playoffs he could be racing for the owner’s title at Phoenix. And if he wins the owner’s title, he and 23XI could celebrate a title at the same time another driver and his team are celebrating the driver’s title.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - APRIL 24: Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald's Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace is shifting from the No. 23 to the No. 45 for the final 10 races of the NASCAR Cup Series season. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) (Sean Gardner via Getty Images)