By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Taking the lead for the first time in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is almost like a rite of passage. The most recent driver to add his name to the list of drivers to take the lead is Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace, Jr. He led briefly in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, but it was memorable.
Wallace drove like a veteran as storm clouds rolled in at Bristol. He drove through the top-10, eventually finding himself in the top three, battling with Brad Keselowski and eventual race-winner Kyle Busch. First, Wallace worked his way beneath Busch, then he used the ‘chrome-horn’ to move Keselowski out of the way. He led the field for six laps in the No. 43 STP Chevrolet Camaro, in a paint scheme made famous by his team owner Richard Petty. However, either a bad adjustment or set of tires caused him to fade to 16thby the finish.
That wasn’t the first time that Wallace used the ‘chrome-horn’ in the race. Towards the end of the second stage, he was in a tough battle for the 10thposition with William Byron, Daniel Suarez, and Ryan Newman. Wallace used his bumper to push both Byron and Newman up the racetrack. When the stage ended, he found himself in 10th, earning a bonus stage point.
“Didn’t know what to expect firing off and we fired off like a freaking badass and got our way up to 10th in that second stage there,” Wallace said. “That was good, get some stage points and got up to the lead. I was as surprised as anybody. Going through the emotions we were really good and that last caution came out and we were struggling with left front problems there late in runs, locking up easily, but still was able to make decent ground.”
“Then all of a sudden it went away there and man, just blindsided there by that,” Wallace continued. “Great car all day, nothing to be pissed off about, that is racing. You could be good for a second and then the next second you are not, but awesome takeaways. The momentum is still here. I’m just dejected because I’m scratching my head on where in the hell we went wrong or what we wrong. I don’t think we did anything wrong, I guess that is big-time auto racing, but it was a good day.”
The laps Wallace led were the first laps led in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. They were also the first laps led by an African American in NASCAR’s Premier Series since Wendell Scott led 27 laps on his way to victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida on December 1, 1963.
Despite the laps led, Wallace slipped from 19thin the Championship Points Standings to 21st. He is 217-points behind Busch, the points leader, and 22-points behind Paul Menard who holds the Playoff cutoff.
Now Wallace and his Richard Petty Motorsports team will look to improve on this new-found momentum in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, April 21.