Earlier this week, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. was potentially out of a ride. Despite being fourth in Xfinity Series points, winning a stage and finishing eighth at the Dover Xfinity race, this weekend would be Wallace’s final race in the #6 Ford Fusion for Roush/Fenway Racing.
But, as Wallace himself described, “When one door closes, another opens” and that’s just what happened to him this week. After preparing for the possibility of being without a ride, Wallace was named to drive Richard Petty’s legendary #43 while regular driver Aric Almirola recovers from his crash in Kansas that left him with a couple broken vertebrae.
So for at least the next few races, Wallace will have a ride and has a great opportunity. In addition, Wallace will be the first African American to race in the top NASCAR Series since Bill Lester in 2006 and carries on a legacy of African Americans racing in the top NASCAR series that began with Hall of Famer Wendell Scott back in 1961. Wallace has five career wins in the Camping World Truck Series and when he won his first race in Martinsville in 2013, became the first African American to win a national NASCAR series since Scott’s lone NASCAR win in 1963.
Darrell Wallace Jr. spoke with The Comeback about temporarily taking over the #43, combining the legacies of that car as well as Wendell Scott’s, graduating from NASCAR’s Drive to Diversity program and how he showcases himself toward prospective sponsors.
Phillip Bupp: I’m assuming this week has been a bit busier than last week. How have you been able to adjust to the additional media commitments and prepping for two races in a weekend compared to competing in solely the Xfinity race last week?
Darrell Wallace Jr.: It’s definitely been a little bit more hectic but you know, what do you expect. Two races, you’re going to be busy on the weekend. This is a big moment for me and my career so that the media requests have been fine, we’ve been kind of knocking them out of the park and having a lot of fun with it.
PB: Being named to drive the #43 until Aric Almirola can come back from injury, it means you’re making your Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut driving for Richard Petty. How’s Richard as a team owner?
Wallace: Obviously, Richard has been in the sport for a handful of years and has had so much history with the iconic #43 and the Petty Blue [paint scheme] and has great partners such as Smithfield and Ford which I’m proud and honored to be representing this weekend. It’s a small shop up there in Mooresville [NC] and a handful of guys that are all ready to race and hit the racetrack and knowing that the situation we’re in, they’re really pumped up to go out there and perform like they know how to perform and I’m just honored to be able to have that opportunity to run with those guys and represent [Petty’s] shop the best way I can.
PB: Has Richard given you any advice over the past few days?
Wallace: I actually haven’t been able to talk to Richard, yet. We’ve been so busy trying to figure all this stuff out and get ready for the race, get ready for the weekend. So I’m sure I’ll be able to talk to him once we get up to the track this weekend.
PB: One thing I do like is I’m seeing guys like you and Ryan Blaney are teaming up with some of the legendary teams like Richard Petty Motorsports, you being with Jack Roush in Xfinity and Ryan with the Wood Brothers. That kind of juxtaposition where the millennial drivers are able to learn things from those from previous generations and they might be able to learn a thing or two from you guys. I have to imagine that helps everyone on the team work better together and be successful to achieve the common goal.
Wallace: Yeah, absolutely. For me, it’s just bringing everything I have learned in the number of years I have been racing and bring it all with me this weekend. And be able to hone that in as we run and try to get better and prove to the veterans and prove to the team owners and prove to Richard, everybody that’s watching that I belong in this sport and belong to racing on Sunday’s. Just gotta go out and prove myself. Don’t have to go out there and try too hard and overstep my boundaries and give us a bad race. Just go out there and be patient and take what the car will give me and be able to come away with a good finish.
PB: You’re taking over the legendary #43 and over 50 years ago, when Wendell Scott became the first African American NASCAR driver, he had #34 (#43 reversed) and had his car look similar to Petty’s car. What’s it like to be the person to kind of connect those two legacies that have shaped NASCAR history?
Wallace: It’s pretty special. That win back in 2013 really solidified my name and my spot in the sport. That was able to get me another opportunity moving my career onto the Xfinity Series and with Jack Roush. We’ve had a couple strong years and trying to make the most of it. Trying to make a name for myself and to continue to carry on the Wendell Scott legacy, so it’s great how that works out and now that a new door opened up as one closed, driving the #43 for Richard Petty while still representing the Wendell Scott family and his legacy. There’s a lot of history tied into one weekend and to one race and to one person. So I’m trying to balance all those emotions, all those feelings and focus in on what the big outcome could be for this weekend.
PB: And speaking of Wendell, did anyone from the Scott family contact you since taking over the #43 and if so, what were some of their thoughts?
Wallace: Wendell Scott Jr. had called me and we were able to chat for just a little bit. And he was so pumped up and ready to go and just excited for this weekend, excited for the opportunity and proud of me. It’s really cool to have that connection with the family still and he texts me every weekend after every race giving his insight and his thoughts on what happened, what I could’ve done better and what the team could have done better. But he’s always pulling for me and the whole family is so that’s pretty cool.
PB: You were a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and fellow grads Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson will be racing with you in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. What have you learned from being in the program that you’re able to use now and is there someone currently in Drive for Diversity or NASCAR Next who you feel can someday get to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series?
Wallace: I think, with the talent that’s coming up through these days and if you have the right mindset and your goal is to get to the Cup Series and you give it all you can, that there’s no doubt each and every driver from NASCAR Next and also from Drive for Diversity can come up through, be a part of this sport and race on Sunday’s just like I am this weekend. It’s been a great program for myself, like you said, Larson and Daniel Suarez, there’s a lot of diversity in this sport with Danica being a female and also Aric Almirola too so it all ties into this team and it’s an exciting and fun journey for all of us.
PB: This weekend is going to be a bit bittersweet for you. While you’re about to enter your first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, your Xfinity Series ride with Roush/Fenway Racing is going to stop racing full-time. Considering being 4th in points, and are still in a good position for a playoff spot. Do you have permission or an agreement to find a temporary Xfinity ride if the #6 is unavailable to keep your playoff hopes alive or are you solely focused on the #43 in Cup and then if the #6 were to open up later on this season, jump back into that ride?
Wallace: For right now it’s just to go out there and we have one more race with the #6 and my guys over in the Xfinity shop. We want to go get the job done which I believe we can this weekend at Pocono on Saturday. And then after that, it’s really to focus in on this #43 car and make the most of every opportunity that I get on track. Starting here at Pocono this week, carry onto Michigan and just going out there to make sure I’ve done everything that I could. Being able to lay my head down at night and knowing that I didn’t leave any pages unturned, gave it all that I could’ve and getting the best finishes I can for this team, for the sponsors, for Richard Petty and his whole organization.
PB: Now it seems more now than ever that, for a driver coming into NASCAR or any racing series, talent and sponsorship go hand in hand now in terms of getting into a car. What would be some of the difficulties that you may have had or experiences you have had in terms of trying to attract sponsorship and what do you think you can bring to a potential sponsor if they were looking to partner with you?
Wallace: I think I try to represent myself, my brand. And the best way that I can each and every day, each and every week, each and every moment I have on camera and just give them a fun, great personality and outlook on how to represent their brand in a great way. And go out there and do it on the racetrack too, let the results speak for itself. And have some fun with it when we’re on camera, cutting up behind the scenes. Just giving them my personality and how I like to live life which is to the fullest each and every moment. Have fun with it, you gotta have fun with every aspect you do in life and hopefully sponsors see that. I give a positive outlook on it. That’s the biggest thing I can do is to be positive about every situation that comes to me.
PB: You’re going to be in the #43 for probably the next month or two so you’ll be racing on a variety of tracks in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. I would imagine you will be using this an opportunity to show teams what you can do for a potential ride in the future. Erik Jones was able to do that when he replaced Kyle Busch and possibly Alex Bowman if Rick Hendrick hires him for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s #88 next season. Do you have any goals in mind that you want to accomplish for yourself while in the #43?
Wallace: For me, it’s to go out and have a clean race, finish on the lead lap, bring the car home in one piece and just getting the best finish that we can. Not overstepping it, not doing too much and putting ourselves in a bad spot. Taking what the car will give us. If we’re a top 15, we’re top 15. If we’re top 20, we’re top 20. And just making the most out of that day and being able to capitalize on things that are right there in front of us that we can reach out and grab. And not have to jump over to and create some havoc. Because the last thing I want to do is lose all the respect and trust from the veterans in my first start.