The King Hires Bubba To Drive The 43 Car

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 26 2017

Driver Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr. and Richard Petty will team up for the 2018 NASCAR Cup season.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Having passed his audition with Richard Petty Motorsports last summer, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. is ready to continue breaking barriers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

RPM, the team co-owned by NASCAR icon “King” Richard Petty, will field Wallace as new driver of the No. 43 car fulltime in 2018. Wallace, 24, will become the first fulltime African-American driver in Cup’s “Modern Era” as he also competes for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February.

A native of Mobile, Ala., Wallace made his Cup Series debut as substitute driver for the injured Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Ford Fusion at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on June 11. Wallace showed rapid improvement during his four-race stint, substantially improving his finishing position in every race and culminating with an 11th-place result at Kentucky Speedway on July 8.

“This is a dream come true to race for ‘The King’, Richard Petty Motorsports, the iconic No. 43 and for all the fans and partners that have and continue to support this team,” Wallace said Wednesday in a statement from team headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. “I believe in what Richard Petty Motorsports is doing and their desire to win races. I believe this team, its partners and fans are ready to see some great things again.

“I’m humbled that they have chosen me to take that next step with them. I’m ready for next season to begin and to prove to people that we can compete at the level we all expect to be at.”

A graduate of both NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs, Wallace has broken several barriers and records throughout his tenure in the sport.

Wallace initially rose to prominence in 2013 with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where he became the first African-American driver in 50 years to win a NASCAR national touring series feature since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott. The next season Wallace finished third overall in Truck Series points with four wins for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Wallace moved fulltime into the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Roush Fenway Racing in 2015, earning 31 top-10 finishes over the last three seasons before making his Cup debut in June with RPM.

“We have hired a lot of different drivers in the past, but Wallace brings a lot of youth and talent to our team,” said Petty, NASCAR’s first seven-time Cup champion. “He’s proven at a young age to be able to be consistent on a weekly basis, give feedback to the team to help improve the car and race hard to get the best finish possible. He knows how to win, too. His records leading up to the top levels of NASCAR speak for themselves. We feel that Bubba can immediately come in and compete. He’s really eager to show what he can do and that he belongs in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”

Petty, 80, acknowledged that NASCAR’s recent trend toward hiring talented, young drivers over proven veteran free-agents factored into his decision on Wallace.

“I think the face of NASCAR is changing a whole lot right now,” said Petty, NASCAR’s all-time winner with 200 Cup victories. “You’re getting a lot of new drivers coming in and this happens every 10 or 12 years, where you went through the Petty, (David) Pearson operation, the (Dale) Earnhardt deal, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon … they kind of led the crowd. So, now they’re looking for a new leader.  We feel like we may have found one.  We’re looking really forward to this.

“He (Wallace) drove four races when Aric got hurt and improved every race.  He fit in with the team really good.  You would think he had been there a year, talking to all the guys, because he got to know everybody, they got to know him.  It was just a magic deal that came together.”

Petty added his expectations for Wallace definitely are topped by a concerted run for rookie of the year. “If he does what he did for the four races (earlier in 2017) with us, then he’s going to be the rookie of the year for sure,” Petty said. “It’s kind of a deal where he knows he has to learn because a lot of these racetracks he has not been to, especially he hasn’t been to in a Cup car.  So, he’s in a learning process.  We’re in a learning process.

“We feel like we can have a really, really good year with him.  We’re going to have a lot of competition as far as running for rookie of the year, but we’re not going to worry about that.  We’re going to say, ‘You’re a professional.  You’ve been here a long time. Forget about the rookie part.  Just go do your job.’^”

Wallace said he understood Petty’s expectations for him in relation to his peers and welcomed the opportunity to prove “The King” right.

“I don’t see it as pressure,” Wallace said. “I just see it as the ‘old days’ for us because it’s all of our buddies that are all racing together at the pinnacle level of our sport in NASCAR.  It’s going to be fun for sure. (Kyle) Larson _ we raced against each other some, but Chase (Elliott), Ryan (Blaney), Ty (Dillon), Austin (Dillon), Corey LaJoie _ we all raced against each other since we were kids. Now I can finally say I’m up there with the big dogs.  It’s pretty cool, although I’m bigger than most of them.”

Wallace added he was taken aback by the level of support the news of his hiring generated throughout Wednesday. “When you have people reach out and show they’re pulling for you and they’re in your corner, it’s really special to have that because you don’t see that on a normal-day basis,” Wallace said. “It’s not every day you’re getting 150 text messages of congratulations …”

Veteran/winning Cup crew chief Drew Blickensderfer will continue to lead the No. 43 team in 2018 in support of Wallace and his upbeat personality.

“You saw it about 30 minutes into practice at Pocono,” Blickensderfer said. “We had digital radios on and he was out on the track, everybody on the team was calling back on the digital radio, calling back to me on top of the truck, ‘We like this.’ I was like, ‘Well, we haven’t even run a lap yet.  Calm down.  Let’s see if the kid gets around to the start/finish line first. He has to shift twice and brake three times.’ They liked the confidence he had and how he was surrounding himself with the team and wanted to be a part of them. He’s eager to learn yet he has a confidence about him that we all enjoy.”

Sponsorship partners for Wallace and the No. 43 team for the 2018 season will be announced at a later date. Richard Petty Motorsports, co-owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Petty and business entrepreneur Andrew Murstein, is one of the most recognized brands in motorsports. With a history of over 200 wins and business partnerships with national and global leaders, the race operation will field one team in NASCAR’s premier Cup Series in 2018.
| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 26 2017
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