After his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut, Darrell Wallace Jr. continues his journey in Michigan
For many drivers, getting into a car for a NASCAR race and finishing in 26th place is not exactly the plan at the start of the day. But for Darrell Wallace Jr., this past Sunday at Pocono was a different story. That’s not to say he liked coming across the finish line in 26th place, but it was start of what he hopes is something big.
The reality was that “Bubba” made his Monster Energy Cup Series debut driving the famous #43 and became just the 4th African-American driver to ever participate in the highest level of NASCAR.
“I will cheer up,” said the 23 year old Wallace after the race. “This was a wonderful day for me, a wonderful day for the sport. I wish we could have got a little bit better finish in our Smithfield Ford, but I’m just thankful for the opportunity. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid and now it’s here, and I made a name for myself. We’ll build off of it. I’ll practice more with the dash and go debrief with the team, and we’ll just get better.”
With those words, Wallace put it all into perspective and showed a great deal of maturity but also the passion to get better. He might have been down a bit after the race, but the magnitude of his accomplishment in getting to that moment in his career is what he will remember most about his historic day and not necessarily the speeding penalties that he attained during the course of the day.
With all of those thoughts racing through his head, Wallace went through a whirlwind of emotions. After the race, he had a very productive conversation with RPM Co-Owner Andrew Murstein.
“We spoke and he was upset with the speeding penalties and he was beating himself up a little bit,” said Murstein. “I loved to see that. It tells me how hungry he is. It reminded me a little of (the movie) “Talladega Nights” and the line “If you’re not first your last.” He wants nothing short of a win eventually. I told him that every long journey starts with a first step. Pocono was his first step in what should be a long and very successful career.”
While he had mixed emotions about his performance at Pocono, Wallace certainly had a lot to smile about for a couple of reasons. 1st of all, it was an historic day for him just to be in the race and his good friend Ryan Blaney notched his 1st career win driving the iconic #21 car for Woods Brother Racing.
The two buddies had a nice chat before the race about how getting to this point and representing these two teams was pretty surreal.
“I loved how you had two young men in Bubba and Ryan talking before the race about how cool it was that they were driving arguably the two most prestigious numbers in the sport. They have great respect for the tradition and history of NASCAR. “That’s great to see and unfortunately is rare amount many athletes in other sports.”
Wallace will certainly remember that 1st day in a Monster Energy Cup Series race for a long time, but for the moment it’s time to turn the page and move on to the next race this Sunday in Michigan for the “FireKeepers Casino 400”. It’s a fast track that Wallace is very comfortable with.
“I like that place,” said Wallace. “I think I run a little bit better at Michigan. I’m looking forward to it. (Pocono) is a first step. I know we ran a good, clean race, and that’s all you can ask, didn’t wreck the car, brought it home in one piece, so I’m pumped for the guys.”
It’s always good to see a little from an athlete, regardless of what sport it is. While Wallace was beating himself up over his mistakes at Pocono, he’s using it as motivation to get better starting this week in Michigan. The great ones have that ability to turn adversity into prosperity. “Bubba” is still climbing the ladder but has already shown what type of competitor he is.
“I like how hungry he is and he also seems to see the big picture,” said Murstein. “The great ones have that. I often talked about that with my friend (Pro Football Hall of Famer) Jim Brown, who I took to a NASCAR race last year. He realizes that athletes can be more than just an athlete and can affect the way people view the world. Having Bubba succeed in this sport will be a great thing for everyone.”
Wallace earned this opportunity with RPM because of what he accomplished in the NASCAR XfINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series where he notched five career wins. With that 1st victory, the graduate of NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” program became the 1st African-American to win a NASCAR race since Hall of famer Wendell Scott.
But now he has reached the highest level of the sport and the competition is second to none.
“These guys are good,” said Wallace. “These guys are here for a reason. There’s no more climbing. I’ve been in the ladder rungs for the last couple years and now I’m at the top. There’s nothing else I can do but just to go out there and just get better and better and learn how this sport works and how this series works.”
With RPM, Wallace is filling in for the injured Aric Almirola who is expected to return later this season after suffering a compression fracture of the T5 vertebra in a crash May 13th at Kansas Speedway. This is a golden opportunity for “Bubba” who has a chance to audition for another team or even earn a permanent role with RPM next season should they add a second car.
It’s only been one race for RPM, but Wallace already has a big fan in the owner’s box.
“If we are lucky enough to have support for two cars it would be very exciting to have Bubba drive our second car,” said Murstein. “I think he will be a big star in the sport one day, with or without us. I hope it’s with us.”
Darrell Wallace Jr. has worked very hard to get to this point. He’s already made NASCAR history but that’s only one chapter of a book he hasn’t finished writing yet. The next chapter is this Sunday in Michigan and he’ll use the rest of his opportunity with RPM to set the tone for what lies ahead next year and in years to come.
But it certainly looks and sounds like Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports is a marriage made in NASCAR heaven.