Drivers dream of having the opportunity to compete in the Daytona 500, which is the most prestigious event on the NASCAR schedule. The race has a long history of changing a driver’s life forever, creating lifelong memories, and producing unfortunate heartbreak for others.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. waited for his chance to compete against the best drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, patience played a key role in landing the best opportunity of his young career.
In 2017, Wallace started the season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driving the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing. The 24-year-old native of Mobile, Alabama did not finish the season due to a lack of sponsorship. His team ultimately shut down after 12 races. Later in the year, he returned to the Xfinity Series to score a Top 10 finish at Chicagoland Speedway during a one-off with Biagi-DenBeste Racing.
Also, he took the No. 99 MDM Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado to victory lane at Michigan International Speedway in his long-awaited return to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. After his truck failed post-race inspection, his win was declared “encumbered.”
With his racing future in question, Wallace did not give up as he was chosen to be a substitute driver for Aric Almirola who was injured during a vicious crash at Kansas Speedway. This was a golden opportunity to show people his true potential.
Wallace made four Cup starts with Richard Petty Motorsports, earning his best finish of 11th at Kentucky Speedway on July 8.
During the off-season, Aric Almirola moved to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 10 Smithfield Foods Ford Fusion which left the door open for the iconic No. 43 ride. After doing a solid job as a substitute driver, Wallace was hired to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports full-time as the team prepared to switch from Ford to Chevrolet.
Richard Petty Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing formed a technical alliance. As a result, the No. 43 team moved to Welcome, North Carolina to be a part of the RCR campus.
Leading up to the 60th running of the Daytona 500, there was plenty of hype surrounding Wallace, a rookie driver set to participate in his first full season of Cup competition. Wallace is the first African American driver since Wendell Scott scheduled to complete the entire Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
In his Can-Am Duel race, Wallace finished third, creating some momentum heading into the Daytona 500. Throughout the course of Speedweeks, he attracted plenty of attention from the media and fans. Many were excited to see how he would fare at the highest level of stock car racing. Even four-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton sent out a tweet in support of Wallace prior to the Daytona 500.
As the motorsports community had their eyes glued on Wallace, could he live up to the hype?
After starting the Great American Race in seventh, he ran a relatively clean race without any major mistakes to earn a runner-up finish to the 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon.
Following the race, Wallace was very emotional in the media center as the talented driver hugged his mother and sister. When answering questions from the media, he could barely get words out of his mouth as raw emotion started to sink in. This was emotion from a person who truly appreciated living in the moment.
Wallace’s future in NASCAR was unclear after losing his Xfinity ride, but he always kept fighting another day to keep the dream alive. His second place finish in the Daytona 500 earned him the best finish for an African American driver in the history of the storied event.
Observing his reaction post-race following a successful Speedweeks, it is easy to determine that Wallace is very determined to succeed. Everyone cannot handle the pressure of having the spotlight on them, but Wallace handled every moment of it like a true professional.
Based on observations from Twitter, his fan base grew from flag to flag as you could scroll down to witness a plethora of praise for the driver who is not afraid to be himself. If this continues for the remainder of the season, Chase Elliott may have some competition for the Most Popular Driver award.
From being a NASCAR Drive for Diversity program graduate, the ability to compete for a championship in the Truck and Xfinity Series, to not knowing if he would race again, “Bubba” has definitely come a long way in his career.
Driving the No. 43 car made famous by Richard Petty is a tough task, but Wallace is very capable of finding success if Speedweeks were an early indication of what is coming soon.
Sometimes, the most beautiful things in life are worth waiting for.