Darrell Wallace Jr. to make Cup Series debut at Pocono

Darrell Wallace Jr. will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut on Sunday, racing in the Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway. The announcement was made on Monday.

He will drive the #43 Ford of Richard Petty Motorsports. Typically driven by Aric Almirola, Regan Smith filled in for the injured 2014 Coke Zero 400 winner at the exhibition Monster Energy Open and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, along with the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover last Sunday. Smith finished 22nd and 34th in the two points-paying races. Wallace will remain in the #43 until Almirola is fully healed; in mid-May, Almirola broke his back at the Kansas race, which rendered him unable to race for eight to twelve weeks.

“Driving the famed 43 car is an unbelievable opportunity for any race car driver,” Wallace said. “I’m incredibly grateful that Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports and Smithfield have the confidence in me to help fill the seat until Aric fully recovers, which is the most important piece of this. I am ready to represent this organization, help the 43 team get the best results possible and prove that I belong at this level.”

On Twitter, he expressed his gratitude for the opportunity. “Couldn’t be any more excited to jump in the iconic 43 car for @RPMotorsports while Aric recovers. Thank you all for the support since day 1!”

“We are very proud of Bubba and his development at Richard Petty Motorsports,” RPM president Steve Newmark stated. “We believe that Bubba has tremendous potential and will continue to excel in NASCAR’s top series. He has been a great representative of our organization both on and off the track and we’ve enjoyed being a part of his growth as a driver. Our entire team is excited to see him take the next step in his career and make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in the #43.”

An Xfinity Series competitor in the #6 for Roush Fenway Racing, Wallace is currently 4th in the series standings with seven top-10 finishes in 11 races; interestingly, the driver of the #6’s best finish of 2017 is 6th, which has occurred on six occasions (five consecutive races from Atlanta to Texas, followed by another 6th-place finish two races later at Richmond). Although he has yet to win a race in the series, he has 33 top-10s in 83 career starts, including a best finish of 2nd at Dover in 2016.

Despite his strong season and championship position, he has struggled to attain sponsorship. Before the start of the 2017 season, Wallace expressed concern that he would not have enough sponsorship to run the full season. Leidos, a military defense contractor, joined the team for the first seven races of the year, with a one-off sponsorship from Mello Yello and a three-race duel from Globe Life for the next four races. After Saturday’s Xfinity race in which he finished 8th and nearly won a stage (which would have advanced him into the series’ Dash 4 Cash program), he commented that being eligible for the Dash 4 Cash would have been enough to provide his team with the necessary sponsorship and funding to continue racing through Michigan in two weeks. As he moves into the #43, RFR announced the #6 would be suspended indefinitely following the Xfinity race.

Prior to racing for RFR, Wallace competed in the Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the #51 Toyota Tundra, winning five races in 2013 and 2014. Upon winning his first the 2013 fall Truck race at Martinsville, he became the first African-American to win a national series race since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott won at Jacksonville Raceway Park in 1963. A year later, he repeated the feat in the same event, though driving the #34 Tundra as a tribute to Scott. A member of the Drive for Diversity program, Wallace raced for the program’s Rev Racing team in the K&N Pro Series East, winning six races from 2010 to 2012.

Wallace will be the first African-American driver to race in the Cup Series since Bill Lester in 2006. Lester ran two races that year with Bill Davis Racing, recording a best finish of 32nd at Michigan (he also finished 38th at Atlanta in his first Cup race). Another African-American who competed in the Cup Series was Willy T. Ribbs, who raced in four events in 1986 with DiGard Racing; his best finish was 22nd at North Wilkesboro in his series debut.

The #6 car’s final race for the foreseeable future will be the Pocono Green 250 on Saturday, June 10. Wallace’s Cup debut will take place on Sunday.

Featured image courtesy of Chris Trotman, Getty Images

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