By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Few of the drivers that will take the green flag in the Daytona 500 know just how much history is riding with them compared to Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr.
While Wallace is just as competitive as his peers, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year contender will be the first African American to compete in “The Great American Race” at Daytona International Speedway since Wendell Scott in 1969. He will also be the first African American to compete in NASCAR’s top series since Bill Lester in 2006.
Wallace has already made history, winning in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East six times. Following a three-year stint in the series, the Mobile, AL native moved up to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he continued to make history, winning another six races. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Wallace has come close to victory lane, earning six top-five and 35 top-10 finishes.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that’s riding this weekend,” Wallace acknowledged. “I know it. I pay attention to it. I follow a lot of people on social media, and it’s being put out there, but I’m doing my best at managing it, keeping it behind me, and that’s the best thing I can do. I’ve let going into the truck debut here at Daytona, I let all the media, oh, here comes Bubba out of the K&N Series and all that stuff, see how he stacks up, and I’m like, I’ve got to be top of the board. I’ve got to win qualifying. I’ve got to win the race.”
Each of Wallace’s debuts in the NCWTS, Xfinity Series, and NASCAR’s Premier Series came with much fanfare. In the NCWTS, he finished 12th, the Xfinity Series, ninth, and in the Premier Series, “Bubba” finished 26th in his debuts. With the pressure from fans, media, and those inside the industry, Wallace admitted that he pushes himself harder.
“What do you do? You wreck out because you’re not focused on what you really need to be focused on. It’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years. Even XFINITY debut, I wanted to do the best that I could and over‑try, overstep my boundaries, and my day is done. What do you know, you look at the stats sheet and Bubba finished 30th. That’s great. My debut wasn’t much better in the Cup car. Damn speeding four times. But that was a little bit more in my control. But I went out there ‑‑ I was super calm and relaxed that day, and it felt so good to be in that state of mind, to be able to go out and just race and make those mistakes and learn from them and not be thinking like, holy crap, I’m not leading the race right now. Let’s speed because of that. Let’s just get worked up about something that’s out of my control. For me it was just to be super relaxed, and that’s how I’m taking this season with everything that’s riding on it.”
When Wallace takes the green flag on Sunday, February 18, he will become just the third full-time driver of the famous No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports in its’ current form. In his four starts last year, he posted a best finish of 11th at Kentucky Speedway.
Now Wallace will hope to continue to make history in the No. 43 Click n’ Close Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.