For Wallace, The Real Rookie Test Begins Now

Over the years the racing at Daytona International Speedway has proved that when it comes to the finish, it doesn’t matter how strong a car may be; things become a crapshoot. But with that being said, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s Daytona Speedweeks went like a dream as he was fortunate enough to have one of the strongest cars in Daytona Beach.

He posted a strong qualifying run, finished third in his Can-Am Duel, and ultimately finished second to Austin Dillon in the 500. Afterward, the racing world was treated to a heart-warming show of emotion as Wallace tried to keep it together after getting hugs from both his mother and his older sister.

But now the real test begins, as the 24-year-old Rookie of the Year contender faces down the next 35 races in what is essentially a brand new team. Richard Petty Motorsports formed an alliance in the off-season with Richard Childress Racing that ultimately switches out the N0. 43 Ford to the No. 43 Chevy, a switch that looks like it could already be paying dividends.

While Wallace showed serious strength in the 500, how he’ll fare next weekend at Atlanta is anyone’s guess. RPM is still ironing out whatever kinks there may be while traveling to a very fast 1.5-mile track, and in order for Wallace and the No. 43 crew to carry on with their Daytona momentum they’ll need to exercise the same sort of discipline they showed at Daytona. All said, it’s doubtful; that will be a tall order.

This isn’t a fact that’s lost on Wallace. He’s a rookie with a team that has not had the best of luck over the years, having only won once since 2000 (Aric Almirola’s rain-shortened 2014 Coke Zero 400 win at Daytona). Said team relocated to Welcome, North Carolina to be closer to RCR and their equipment. The driver himself has had a rough go of things as well, having lost his XFINITY Series ride after it was shuttered early in 2017, and not having scored a win to show for any of it.

Photo By: David Rosenblum
The No. 11 of Denny Hamlin squeezes the No. 43 of Wallace toward the wall as they cross the finish line in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

That would be taxing on anyone, understandably, especially with someone who has experienced as much success as Wallace. But considering his work ethic and the way he carries himself on and off the track, it wasn’t a question of if he would get a chance to prove his worth, but when. Now, at the start of his first full Cup season, he’ll have plenty of speed at his disposal and plenty of chances to back his Daytona performance.

He’s had great showings at various types of tracks, and although success isn’t guaranteed, that yellow stripe on his back bumper won’t hold him down by any means. He drives like a veteran, keeps his equipment clean, and knows how to keep his aggressiveness in check. It’s obvious he’s hungry, and with the potential for RPM to build itself around him, he may very well be the next big thing in NASCAR.

 

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