While much of the attention will be placed on Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win and the ensuing aftermath, many eyes were placed on Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. as he finished just behind his “technical alliance” teammate. Wallace, as the first African American to compete in the Daytona 500 in nearly 50 years, placed second in just his fifth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start. It was the highest finish by an African American in NASCAR since Wendell Scott’s lone win in 1964.
The baggage Wallace has carried over the past few years naturally came out while in the post-race press conference. After his mother ran up on stage to congratulate her son, Wallace thought about it and broke down knowing what he had accomplished amid the pressure he has faced already.
While it would be unfair to say Wallace is facing similar issues as Scott faced in the 60s, trying to be the lone black race car driver in a historically white sport, Wallace has faced troubles due to his race in addition to the troubles any young driver faces. Wallace has moved from team to team since he started racing in NASCAR. Starting with Joe Gibbs Racing and then Roush/Fenway Racing, Wallace faced lack of opportunities or lack of sponsorship, among issues any other driver deals with, which caused him to be without a ride in 2017.
It was a chance to temporarily drive for Richard Petty Motorsports that seemingly gave Wallace his “big break.” After Aric Almirola broke his back at Kansas, Wallace was selected to compete in four races for “The King” until Almirola was healthy. Wallace showed massive improvement in each race, and proved that by improving his finishing position in each race, finishing 26th, 19th, 15th and 11th on four completely different tracks.
After Almirola and Smithfield Foods went to Stewart-Haas Racing, a seat opened up and Petty brought on the 24-year-old Alabama native to race full-time in the iconic #43. But that brought on accusations claiming Wallace only got the ride because he was African American. On one such occasion, a high school golf coach directed racist remarks at Wallace after Wallace tweeted about his grandmother’s death. Wallace responded and took the high road, saying he hoped the guy’s children grow up to be the opposite of their father.
Wallace hasn’t let his race be his sole defining characteristic, but he doesn’t diminish that either. Wallace is proud of his heritage and is proud to express that, along with the truth that you can’t tell the color of someone’s skin when the helmet goes on.
Congrats to @BubbaWallace on finishing an impressive 2nd place today. Bubba carried a ton of weight on his shoulders the last 10 days. Media responsibilities that smothered him personally. But he handled it like a veteran.
— Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 18, 2018
But setting Wallace’s race aside, take a look at him and he is one of the most naturally charismatic race car drivers in NASCAR today. He’s taken to social media and, with his best friend Ryan Blaney, isn’t afraid to have fun. That’s something many fans have criticized several drivers for, that they’re “too vanilla,” too “cookie-cutter,” too afraid to make their sponsors mad to have fun.
Trust me, Bubba is the opposite of that. Even something like going to Chick-fil-A in his fire suit, Wallace has fun in anything he does and markets himself effectively, including a new documentary series on Facebook Watch. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, even when it’s direct criticism of veteran drivers like Kyle Busch talking about how NASCAR is marketing the younger drivers more and joking about Denny Hamlin’s comment that 70 percent of the grid takes Adderall.
And after all that, the man can race. He’s proven himself in the Camping World Truck Series and in the Xfinity Series and seems like he’ll do it in the Cup Series. Will he win in the #43? It might be tough given their current situation as a team. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Wallace to compete for great finishes, like at Daytona. It’s certainly possible and maybe even realistic to see the #43 in Victory Lane at some point this season.
There is only 1 driver from an African American background at the top level of our sport..I am the 1. You're not gonna stop hearing about "the black driver" for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey..
— Darrell Wallace Jr (@BubbaWallace) November 8, 2017
I have always said that Darrell Wallace Jr. is the real deal and that if sponsors want to back someone who will bring an increasing fan base to your company, you best get on this train now. Wallace’s second-place finish and his post-race reaction, in the most mainstream race of the NASCAR season, will no doubt bring many more fans to him.
The way it looks, this man is going to be around the sport for a long time and is on his way to being a megastar of the sport. And while it may have taken some people longer to realize that than others, Bubba already told us this months ago.