During the summer stretch of the 2017 season, Darrell Wallace Jr. drove the famed #43 of Richard Petty Motorsports in four races. For 2018, he will take over the car full-time and run for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors. The news was announced Wednesday.
“This is a dream come true to race for ‘The King’ Richard Petty Motorsports, the iconic #43 and for all the fans and partners that have and continue to support this team,” Wallace stated.
“I believe in what Richard Petty Motorsports is doing and their desire to win races. I believe this team, its partners and fans are ready to see some great things again. I’m humbled that they have chosen me to take that next step with them.”
Entering 2017, Wallace was preparing for his third full season in Roush Fenway Racing’s #6 Xfinity Series car. However, sponsorship issues forced the closure of the team after 12 races; he had been 4th in points at the time with seven top-ten finishes (including six 6th-place finishes in the first eight races).
For the June Pocono Cup race, Wallace drove the #43 in place of an injured Aric Almirola, becoming the first African-American Cup driver since Bill Lester in 2006. He finished 26th in his Cup debut. Wallace later scored top-20 finishes at Michigan, Daytona, and Kentucky, with a best finish of 11th at Kentucky. Almirola returned to the #43 at Loudon in July.
Once again without a ride, Wallace joined MDM Motorsports for the Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan in August. In his lone Truck start of the year, Wallace went on to win his sixth series race; his previous five had been through 2012 to 2014 with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
After Almirola returned to the #43 in July, RPM launched efforts to find a ride for Wallace. During the summer, rumors surfaced of the team looking for sponsors to field a second car for him, including a possible ride for the Chicagoland race in September. While no car was entered for the Cup event, Wallace signed a one-off with Biagi-DenBeste Racing to run the previous day’s Xfinity race; he finished 10th.
In October, the Sports Business Journal reported NASCAR was attempting to find sponsors for Wallace and Danica Patrick. Adam Stern raised the possibility of NASCAR’s official sponsors Coca-Cola, Xfinity, or Yeti Coolers partnering with Wallace.
With Almirola not returning to RPM for 2018 following the loss of sponsor Smithfield Foods to Stewart-Haas Racing, a ride was finally available for Wallace.
“We have hired a lot of different drivers in the past, but Wallace brings a lot of youth and talent to our team,” Richard Petty said. “He’s proven at a young age to be able to be consistent on a weekly basis, give feedback to the team to help improve the car and race hard to get the best finish possible.”
Sponsors have not been announced for Wallace. Drew Blickensderfer will continue his role as crew chief of the #43 team for 2018.
Wallace, a Drive for Diversity alumnus, will be the first full-time black driver in the Cup Series since Wendell Scott in 1971. Coincidentally, the news comes on the three-year anniversary of Wallace’s Truck Series win at Martinsville, an event in which he drove a #34 tribute scheme to Scott instead of his regular #54 truck.
“His records leading up to the top levels of NASCAR speak for themselves,” Petty added. “We feel that Bubba can immediately come in and compete. He’s really eager to show what he can do and that he belongs in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”
Featured image by Richard Petty Motorsports