While most of the Daytona 500 headlines will focus on Austin Dillon’s win in the iconic No. 3, runner-up Darrell Wallace Jr. quietly captured the hearts of NASCAR fans everywhere as his emotions overwhelmed him after the race.
He’s been under a spotlight since it was announced on October 25 that he had signed to drive in the Monster Energy Cup Series for NASCAR’s undisputed King, Richard Petty. Add in the pressure of representing the African American community in the sport and you get a hint of what the 24-year-old has been dealing with as he prepared for his first Daytona 500.
But don’t think for a minute that he has any regrets. It’s what Wallace has been working toward since he began racing and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity. His drive to succeed is evident to anyone who has followed his career. His comments are often unfiltered, a welcome respite from the more polished veterans of the sport who have become masters of the public relations game.
What you see is what you get, pure unfiltered emotion that reaches out and grabs your attention.
Wallace sat down to speak to the media after Sunday’s race when he was interrupted by his mother, Desiree Wallace, who came in to congratulate him. He stood up and as they hugged, she said, “We’ve waited so long baby.” As they continued their embrace, Wallace laughed and said, “You act like we just won the race,” to which she replied, “We did, we did!”
As he said down to answer questions, he fought through tears to gain his composure.
“It’s a sensitive subject, but I’m just so emotional over where my family has been the last two years, and I don’t talk about it, but it’s just so hard,” Wallace said, “and so having them here to support me is … pull it together, bud, pull it together. You just finished second. It’s awesome.
“I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it, but I just want to make them proud.”
It today was any indication; Wallace is on the right track.
He started the Daytona 500 in seventh place and was able to remain in the top 10 as the race came to a close. Wallace avoided the Turn 1 chaos that brought out the caution on the next to last scheduled lap of completion and passed Denny Hamlin in the closing moments to finish second.
Wallace made no apologies for his emotions, saying, “No matter what the circumstances are when you have family here and you run good and it’s been a while since you’ve been somewhat competitive, it pulls on the heartstrings. I’m competitive. I love to win. I hate to finish second. Obviously, that shows for everybody. But I’m human. No matter if I race cars for a living and enjoy doing it, at the end of the day we all get emotional about something, so I’m just the same as you guys.”
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