By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – At the end of the Monster Energy Open, Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace, Jr. seemed poised to make the Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In the end, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year Contender watched his chances slip away with three laps to go in the final stage.
Pit strategy prior to the final stage put Wallace in the lead. The No. 43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had just two fresh tires with everyone else on four fresh tires. Wallace lead seven laps before a hard-fought battle with Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, and eventual stage-winner, A.J. Allmendinger. Ultimately, he had to fight for control of his Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet in NASCAR’s new aero-package for this weekend.
“We came down and got tires and lost some spots on the first stop,” Wallace explained. “I was trying to pick two tires for track position there and it worked out for us. I thought that it we would be a little bit tighter at the end of the stage, but we did end it tight. We don’t usually put two tires on, it tightens up. The car was really good there. I just wish that Chase would have stayed in line for at least another lap.”
Despite not reaching victory lane, Wallace had one other chance to make the ‘main event.’ The Monster Energy Fan Vote allowed those competing with the most votes from the NASCAR fandom to transfer into the All-Star Race, as long as their car was in raceable condition and had no more than two loose lugnuts. For the third consecutive year, Elliott earned the honor of winning the NASCAR Monster Energy All-Star Race Fan Vote.
“I knew from the start of the Fan Vote he won,” Wallace admitted. “It’s hard to campaign against him. We might as well give him the most popular driver award too, I’ll take second to that. It’s just a bummer. I thought once we got away, ’make your move off four, that’s fine, finish behind me, and then we’ll both get in.’ Just a bummer, we don’t get to go for a Million. At the end of the day, this race doesn’t mean anything. There isn’t much we can learn from this; this package was pretty wild. It was cool to be able to experience it all. Just being a part of it would have been a cool deal.”
Now Wallace and his team will look to prepare for next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.