“It’s My Car This Time”; Bubba Wallace is gearing up to be RPM’s full-time driver in 2018

by Peter Schwartz On Fri, Dec. 08, 2017

It’s not the way that an athlete wants to get a chance to shine, but sometimes someone’s misfortune the can turn into someone else’s opportunity of a lifetime (see Tom Brady). But that’s exactly what happened to Darrell “Bubba” Watson this past NASCAR season when Richard Petty Motorsports needed a substitute driver to replace the injured Aric Almirola for an extended period of time.

For four weeks, Wallace had the keys to one of most iconic cars in the history of the sport and he improved his finish in each race culminating with an 11th place result at Kentucky Speedway on July 8th.

“It was a dream come true for sure,” said Wallace who had been driving for Roush Fenway Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series when he got the call from RPM to make his Monster Energy Series debut on June 11th at Pocono Raceway. “Just to be able to be at the cup level and driving the number 43. “I was pretty happy with our results. “We brought the car back in one piece every time and one thing led to another.”

What it led to was an opportunity he has been waiting for.

After it had previously been announced that Almirola would not be returning to RPM in 2018, Wallace was named the full-time driver of the famous #43 car this past October 25th. For the 24 year old from Mobile, Alabama, the rise from the Camping World Truck Series to the Xfinity Series to the highest level of the sport is now complete.

It’s one thing to be the fill-in driver, but now Wallace is the man.

“I think excited is an understatement,” said Wallace who will have the opportunity to challenge for Sunoco Rookie Of The Year honors. “It’s a different game. It’s my car this time. There’s a lot more on the line so we’re going to go out and hopefully start the season off with a bang.”

Wallace is already one of the most popular drivers in the sport based on his success at other levels of NASCAR. But next season, he’ll join a growing list of exciting young drivers that continue to fill the void left by veteran drivers that have called it a career.

RPM could have looked around for a veteran driver, but the chance to sign one of the bright young stars in the sport was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“It’s an interesting time for NASCAR,” said RPM majority owner Andrew Murstein. “With Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and Danica Patrick retiring, there’s big shoes to fill across the sport in 2018. The future is in good hands. There’s been a youth movement rolling through NASCAR for a few years now, and we really feel lucky to have landed Bubba at the perfect time.”

During his fill-in stint driving the #43, Bubba had a hunch that he was heading to Richard Petty Motorsports in one way or another in 2018. Initially, there was some discussion of RPM adding a second car, but then the reality of Almirola leaving presented Wallace with a chance to become the main man for the team. Wallace wanted a full-time opportunity in the Monster Energy Series and RPM was looking for a new driver.

So this marriage made in NASCAR heaven came together quickly and was finalized before the end of the 2017 season.

“Everybody there at RPM in the front office and in the shop did everything we could to make this deal happen. We were looking at 2018 and they wanted to make a change and they wanted to go a different route and they see me as being the leader of that so it’s pretty humbling and it’s a pretty exciting experience.”

What’s also pretty exciting for Wallace is the historical significance of becoming RPM’s driver in 2018. Having graduated from both NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” and NASCAR “Next” programs, Wallace will become the first full-time African-American driver at the highest level of NASCAR since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in 1973.

The chance to race in the Monster Energy Series is something that Wallace has worked hard to achieve, but it’s a reward that comes with a lot of responsibility.

“It means a lot for sure,” said Wallace. “Having that banner over my head is definitely some added pressure there but it’s all on how you take it. Representing Wendell Scott and his whole family is something really special that I’m honored and proud to do.”

While Wallace has already broken multiple barriers during his time in NASCAR, his performance on the track is what has opened up everyone’s eyes. He recorded 31 top-ten finishes in the Xfinity Series over the last three seasons after a successful 2013 campaign in the Camping World Series when he became the first African-American driver in 50 years to win a national touring series.

The following year, Wallace recorded four wins for Kyle Busch Motorsports and finished third overall in the truck series point standings.

“One of Bubba’s strongest attributes is his ability to drive,” said Murstein. “That’s most important. We have no doubt that Bubba will thrive in his new role with us here at RPM.”

Wallace began to familiarize himself with the RPM brass while filling-in this past season, just in case that full-time opportunity would come about. He was able to interact with Richard Petty himself and had some very meaningful conversations with “The King” who continues to play a big role for the team that has his name on it.

“Richard is such a great guy,” said Wallace. “He’s the most down to earth cool cat for his age. He’s witty and he’s quick with his words. He knows what’s going on and he’s not afraid to tell you at the same time so I think that’s pretty special. In the handful of encounters that we’ve had already, we continue to laugh and cut up and just have a great time.”

Also this past season, Wallace began to forge a relationship with Murstein who has been Petty’s partner in owning RPM for the last seven years. A huge success in the business world, Murstein’s first foray into sports ownership was finalizing the deal to buy RPM in 2010 and he’s been able to make quite an impression on Bubba in a short amount of time.

“Andy is another great guy,” said Wallace. “Having Andy being up there really giving his expertise from his side of things is really neat. I got to finally run into him at Pocono this year and talk a couple of times and really just work on some stuff.”

Like perhaps teaching Murstein a thing or two about technology?

It was at that meeting at Pocono Raceway when Murstein pulled out his BlackBerry and took his first and only selfie….with Wallace!

“I had a hunch he would become our driver which is why I took it,” said Murstein. “I also impressed my kids who love Bubba, and had no idea I knew how to take a selfie.”

“Hey, there’s another accomplishment knocked off,” chuckled Wallace. “It’s pretty cool. No, we had fun. Just in the short and brief encounter you could really tell a lot about his character there in a positive light. He’s somebody that I’m looking forward to racing for.”

In addition to his ability to drive a race car very well, Wallace is also pretty good in the social media department which has become a big thing in the sports world. An athlete can really make a name for himself on social media but also has to be careful not to create any negative publicity with questionable content. Wallace has been able to use social media in a positive way and it’s paid off.

“It’s a big part of my everyday life,” said Wallace. ”It’s a powerful message that you can deliver in the right way and it’s also a powerful way that can get you hurt so you have to careful on what you post and what you say on there. It’s all part of it and it comes with the nature and I just love to be able to interact with the fans because that’s what keeps us out there on the racetrack.”

RPM is certainly hoping to capitalize on the social media savvy that Wallace continues to exhibit. In fact, he created quite a buzz with his courtship of Domino’s Pizza to become a sponsor. Wallace shot a very funny video on a golf course proclaiming his love for the pizza giant and it became a huge hit on social media.

“Yeah that was big,” said Wallace. “We didn’t expect it to take off like it did but it happened and everybody loved it. It was taken in the right way and some conversations have come about from that and we’re still in communications with them and trying to figure out a game plan of whatever that could be.”

Bubba has already had an impact on sponsorships for RPM.

After longtime primary sponsor Smithfield Foods decided not to renew their partnership for 2018, RPM was able to sign a deal with Click n’ Close on November 3rd that designates the digital mortgage approval and closing platform the “Official Mortgage Provider of NASCAR” and a partner of Richard Petty Motorsports.

Signing Wallace as their new full-time driver has already begun paying dividends for RPM.

“(Bubba has) had a unique way of selling his brand well before any of our sponsors put a dollar on the table,” said Murstein. “We’ve opened the doors of communication with many new prospective partners, and will continue to do so in the coming months leading up to Daytona. We have never had so much interest from sponsors as we do now. When our sponsors stamp their brand on the iconic No. 43 car and Bubba’s uniform, we will all be making history together.”

Bubba is doing his part in attracting new sponsors for RPM, but his biggest impact will certainly come on the track as the team continues to climb back into NASCAR prominence and restore the #43 car to elite status in the sport. Wallace has experienced success at other levels of NASCAR, but this year he’s competing at the highest level of the sport and with that comes unchartered territory for him.

At least on a full-time basis.

“It’s a different world,” said Wallace. “There’s no more climbing and there’s no more series above that. You’re there and so you have to prove it and you have to continue to prove it. We’re definitely going out there with the win the championship mentality. We’d be a fool if we didn’t have that.”

In the aftermath of signing with RPM, Wallace continues to make numerous appearances and has some more media opportunities before taking a well-deserved vacation. That will give him an opportunity to recharge his batteries as he gets set to hop into the #43 car for the first time as a full-time driver on Sunday February 18th a the Daytona 500.

“The season will be here before you know it,” said Wallace. “I wish it was right now.”

So does Richard Petty, Andrew Murstein and the entire RPM team. This is an exciting time for Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports. The team has undergone a number of changes in the last few months, but sometimes change is good.

Especially when you have just signed one of the best young drivers in NASCAR.

** The opinions expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the publisher. All comments other than website related problems need to be directed to the author. (c)SpeedwayMedia.com. **

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