Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. became the first black driver to compete in NASCAR’s top series since Bill Lester in 2006 when he wheeled the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford in last Sunday’s Pocono 400.
Despite getting busted for speeding on pit road more than once and serving costly penalties for those infractions, Wallace was able to bring the car home in 26th place, only one lap down.
Check out some of what he had to say following the race that was won by his best friend, Ryan Blaney, who had taken a photo with him and Hall of Famer Richard Petty before the race because Blaney said it “was an iconic moment.”
Wallace ended his race day by briefly blacking out during a post-race, pit-road interview, but insisted he wasn’t dehydrated or that it was related to any other possible health issue. Shortly after it happened, he popped up and headed right to Victory Lane to congratulate Blaney on the win.
“It's a heck of a way to start my weekend and heck of a way to end my weekend, passing out. I’m patting myself on the back for that,” he said. “… It's happened three times now where I'm very hard on myself and I'm super pissed off at myself, and I'm just so mad I just pass out.”
Matthew OHarenMatthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
His anger stemmed from the multiple pit-road speeding infractions.
“I'm just so bummed out and frustrated with myself. … I'm competitive and I want to win races and I want to lead laps. I just wanted to have a good showing, and to speed four, five times, same segment, that was pretty tough to swallow,” he said
The problem with Wallace’s speeding was related to the digital tachometer that’s in the Cup car, which is new to him. It isn’t used in the XFINITY Series or the Camping World Truck Series, where Wallace previously competed.
“This digital stuff I've got to figure out,” he said. “I'll say I'm not a fan of it right now. It's jumping around too much. You just don't get a true feel of what you're running down pit road. A lot of other guys say it's fine, so I've just got to figure out what I've got to do better.”
Other than the speeding penalties, Wallace actually ran pretty well on the track, staying out of trouble and keeping the No. 43 Ford clean.
“I've been dreaming about this since I was a little kid, being in the Cup Series, and now it's here, and I made a name for myself,” Wallace said. “I thought I ran a pretty decent race, just kind of running there by myself, passed a couple people, tried not to make anybody too mad, and hopefully earned a lot of respect from those guys out there. I definitely had a blast. At the same time, I was a little frustrated.”
Wallace admitted that taking the photo with Petty and Blaney on what turned out to be the day Blaney won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race made a memorable day even more so.
“Yeah, I'd like to get 50 percent or 5 percent of what (Blaney) won since that picture happened -- and I think I was a good luck charm,” he said. “But hats off to everybody on the 21 team. I’m so pumped for him. … super pumped for him, his family. We grew up together, so they're all family, and it's really cool to be best friends with him, and to see him get it on this special day for the sport after that picture we took (Sunday) morning, all the stars were aligned for him.”
As Blaney was battling Kevin Harvick down the stretch over the final laps for the win, Wallace admitted he was sneaking peeks at what was going down – on the television screen located track-side.
“I would have been posting a video from me screaming at the TV if I wasn't racing (Sunday),” Wallace said. “I'll have to tell you, the last three laps I was watching it on the big screen. As I was going down the frontstretch, he was going down the backstretch, him and Harvick there. So it was pretty cool (for him) to hold off Harvick.”
Wallace said he’s excited to be headed to Michigan for his next Cup race.
“I think I run a little bit better at Michigan,” he said. “Big speeds there, so I need to be prepped for that. But like we just talked about, I'll be spending all of first practice running up and down pit road, bringing it in hot, running the length of pit road each and every run.”
No one jumps into a Cup car and runs mistake-free races right off the bat, so Wallace can take solace in that.
“This is a first step,” he said. “I know we ran a good, clean race, and that's all you can ask. I didn't wreck the car, brought it home in one piece, so I'm pumped for the guys.”
Take it down a notch
If anything, Wallace said he needs to tone his competitiveness down a notch or two. At least he has been told as much by his girlfriend.
“It's something I've had since I started playing sports,” he said. “It’s just a competitiveness, and I get really hard on myself when I mess up at if it's playing video games. My girlfriend gets so mad at me when I'm playing this golf game on my phone and I lose, and I want to chuck my phone across the room. It's just something I've got to work on. I like to win.”
Getty ImagesJerry Markland
No more climbing
Now Wallace knows exactly what he’s up against on any given Sunday – or Saturday night – at least until Aric Almirola, the regular driver of the No. 43 car, returns from a compression back fracture injury suffered in a recent wreck at Kansas.
“I knew jumping into this that it wasn't going to be easy. … These guys are good. These guys are here for a reason,” Wallace said. “There's no more climbing. I've been in the ladder rungs for the last couple years and now I'm at the top.
“There's nothing else I can do but just to go out there and just get better and better and learn how this sport works and how this series works.”