It has to be the most exciting call an XFINITY Series driver could possibly get. Richard Petty Motorsports announced on Monday that Darrell Wallace Jr. has been named as the replacement driver for the No. 43 car until Aric Almirola returns from back injuries suffered at Kansas in early May.
As young Bubba Wallace developed as a driver coming up through the Truck and XFINITY Series, you could call his racing career thus far notable but not amazing. He started busting down doors with a fantastic season in 2014, earning four wins in his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 truck, but he didn’t manage to take home the championship. Still, he had made enough noise that his move up to the XFINITY Series for 2015 made plenty of sense.
However, since he’s been driving the XFINITY No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing, Bubba has been making more of a name for himself through his personality than sterling consistency on the track. Victory Lane has eluded the young driver as he has experienced more than his fair share of bad luck. As race after race clicks down where Wallace appears as a side marker to the interloping Cup drivers, it’s been hard for him to appear as the next great racer climbing through the ranks. So much so that Roush Fenway Racing struggled to keep sponsorship on his ride this season and only had enough cash to run through Dover.
So, you can call it serendipity that the No. 43 ride in the Cup series opened up like it did. But, with his lukewarm performance in the lower series entering its third season, can we really expect enough fireworks out of this rookie over the next month or two to generate the interest needed to put some pictures back on the No. 6 car or even find room for him in the Cup series as a regular? That is indeed the question.
I’d like to say this is Bubba’s big break, piloting the iconic No. 43, but that car hasn’t been a top tier team for over a decade…maybe even two. The Petty Blue machine is part and partial of our sport, but hasn’t been a real competitor for the championship in far too long. Yes, Bubba will get some much needed media spotlight, but I don’t think he’ll be able to back that up with even a top 10 finish.
How many times can we put a qualifier next to this opportunity before we call it what it really is–filling the gap and nothing more.
It is even possible that this turn of events could herald the end of Wallace’s rise through the ranks. Too often we see promising drivers vanish in the mist of mediocrity, only to end up riding around in the thirty-something car for a few years before settling into a behind-the-scenes position at one of the racing shops. If Wallace doesn’t produce during his tenure in the No. 43, it will be that much harder to encourage sponsors to sign on to the No. 6 car, which has suspended operations for at least the next month. In turn, it can negatively affect his chances for landing a permanent position in the top series.
There will be much made of Darrell Wallace Jr.’s appearance as an African-American Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Driver. It’s a historic moment in our sport. However, if he doesn’t manage to show some serious driving chops, it may be a short lived moment.
Who knew? Apparently the Miles the Monster statue at Dover International Speedway is hollow, much like the Statue of Liberty. Michael Waltrip took a quick tour and climbed up inside the arm of Miles and popped his head out of the driver’s seat window of the car held in the monster’s hand. How cool is that? I think we’d all like to take a tour.
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