This week, Countdown to Daytona visits one of NASCAR’s bright young drivers. A star in the making, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace is in charge of driving one of the most prestigious numbers in the history of racing — the famous 43 car that was driven by hall of famer Richard Petty for more than three decades.
JB Biunno and Dan Lucas discuss where Wallace stands entering the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the trail he has already blazed at just 25 years old.
Wallace’s rise in NASCAR may have happened quickly but he had to prove himself at each level before advancing. A graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, Wallace has already struck up rivalries and friendships, competing among a core of drivers that are appropriately marketed as the “Young Guns.”
Wallace drives for Richard Petty Motorsports, earning a fill-in position for the 43 car in 2017, when driver Aric Amirola was severely injured in a crash in Texas. His performance was admirable, placing him on the short list of drivers to watch. He needed a break to happen.
When Almirola departed RPM to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, the fulltime seat in the 43 was open.
In Wallace’s first race, the Daytona 500, he finished second behind winner Austin Dillon. It was his best finish of the year and historical, as well. Wallace now owns the highest finish by an African-American driver ever. He was the first black driver to simply compete since 2006 and set the stage to raise the standard set by Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver to compete on NASCAR’s biggest circuit. A Grand National Champion on the series, Scott’s highest career finish in a race was sixth place. That record now belongs to Wallace.
That’s where Wallace’s story steps beyond sports and places him in a high role for all ages of African-Americans, breaking barriers and inspiring others.
After Wallace’s big finish at the Daytona 500, he noticed an extreme amount of social media activity, his twitter account overwhelmed with support. The origin? Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton is arguably the world’s top driver, in all disciplines. And, like Wallace, Hamilton is black. The two men have never met but as Wallace said in a sit-down interview with Dan Lucas, it was an incredible honor to be recognized by one of the world’s greats.
Motivated by a simple gesture, Wallace has never been prouder of all aspects of life: His family, his heritage, his dedication, his future.
He is a role model, a responsibility he says he welcomes. As Wallace continues to grow within the sport, eventually surpassing the achievements of the great Scott before him, he will be asked about social issues, the cultural climate in which we all live in today. Just like the green flag, he is ready to go full speed with his place in American sports and celebrity.
But most of all, Wallace is an intense competitor. He has been recognized as the top rookie at various levels of racing but his first full season on the Cup Series was a learning experience.
Wallace finished with just three top-10 finishes, a statistic that his entire team would like to change this season. If his career record is any indication, Wallace will take that next step. In 85 races on the second tier Xfinity Series, Wallace finished in the top-ten 35 times.