By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to iconic names in the Daytona 500, Richard Petty is second to none, and on Sunday, his car brought home a second-place finish in the Great American Race with heralded rookie Darrell Wallace, Jr. behind the wheel.
After an offseason of turmoil that saw changes in manufacturers, drivers, shop locations, and more, Richard Petty Motorsports has come out swinging in 2018 with Wallace as their driver, showcasing their new alliance with Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet on the sport’s biggest stage.
“We battled through a lot of adversity there, and just being able to run every lap, and I wish I could say bring the car home in one piece, but what a great car, what a great Click ‘n Close Chevrolet Camaro ZL1,” said Wallace. “Just fast all day, fast all week, and I think there was a lot of talk in the garage how good our car was at pushing, and I think that gave me a lot of respect out there to be able to do what I can do.”
Since arriving in Daytona, Wallace has been a rockstar both on track and off, scoring a third-place finish in Thursday night’s Can-Am Duels and carrying that speed right into the Daytona 500 after leading final practice on Saturday.
Before making his seventh-place start, Wallace garnered media attention from around the world, including shoutouts from Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton and Major League Baseball legend Hank Aaron.
“That was cool,” Wallace said. “My manager Kyle, who’s also my big brother over there, he walks into the bus, guess who just followed you. I’m like, who? He said, Lewis Hamilton. I’m like, what? Freaking out, fan growing up. I look up to him. He does so many great things in the F1 world. He’s just a genuine badass in what he does, so that was cool, and then he sent out a tweet, and I got week in the knees.
“Really cool and really special for Hank Aaron also to call right there before was really special, and just knowing that people are tuning in and hopefully noticing the new face and new change that’s coming to NASCAR and they get behind it. Just exciting.”
Throughout the day, Wallace kept himself near the front of the field, making his presence known, but it wasn’t until the closing laps that Wallace was really in the mix for the win.
As the race got pushed into overtime, Wallace found himself lined up behind his defacto teammate in Austin Dillon and the two were able to hook up and go to the front. Avoiding the spinning car of Aric Almirola on the last lap, Wallace watched as Dillon crossed the finish line first, while he held off Denny Hamlin to take home second-place by a matter of inches.
After his runner-up finish, Wallace came into his post-race press conference full of energy, but quickly turned emotional when his family came into give him a hug and congratulate him after all that he has been through with losing his ride in the Xfinity Series and joining up with Petty for this season.
“It’s a sensitive subject, but I’m just so emotional over where my family has been the last two years, and I don’t talk about it, but it’s just so hard, and having them here to support me is – pull it together bud, pull it together,” said Wallace as he fought back tears. “You just finished second. It’s awesome.
“I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it, but I just want to me them proud. But yeah, I just love my family, and having everybody here from my mom, my sister, my uncle, everybody here just means a lot.”