As if making his NASCAR Cup Series debut isn’t daunting enough, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. has history on the line this weekend at Pocono Raceway.
On Sunday, Wallace will pilot Richard Petty Motorsports’ famed No. 43 car in the Pocono 400, as Aric Almirola recovers from a back injury suffered in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway.
Wallace’s victory in a truck series event in Martinsville in 2013 was the first national series victory by an African-American driver since Wendell Scott’s barrier-breaking win in 1963. After three years racing full time on the Xfinity circuit, Wallace will be the first black driver in a Cup series event since Bill Lester’s two-race stint in 2006.
“I’ve always said, dealing with that, I like to let the results speak for itself,” Wallace said in a news release. “Let the results come in, let the history fall in behind that – not focus on the big spotlight, the African-American side, the iconic number.”
The results have been promising yet unsatisfying so far for Wallace, 23. After winning five races in his two years in the truck series, the Alabama native is winless in Xfinity in his 77 starts since joining Roush Fenway Racing in 2015. Wallace is fourth in the Xfinity standings with seven top-10 finishes – logging another with an eighth-place mark at Dover on Saturday – but Victory Lane has been elusive.
“Nobody loves finishing second, as we’ve seen in past races,” Wallace said. “It’s a sport that you want to get everything you can out of it, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”
In Sunday’s race at Pocono, he’ll try to get everything out of the No. 43 car that Hall of Famer Richard Petty guided during his 200-win career. It’s a history not lost on Wallace, who said he got a call from Wendell Scott Jr. on Monday after being announced as Almirola’s replacement.
“That’s huge when you still have that connection with the family,” Wallace said, “continue to carry on a legacy that their father laid.”
Wallace will try to continue that legacy at Pocono, where he’s raced just once before – a 16th-place finish in 2016. And until Almirola’s back heals, he’ll have a shot to keep making history.
“I am ready to represent this organization, help the 43 team get the best results possible and prove that I belong at this level,” Wallace said.
C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart