Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports were off to a tumultuous start in 2019 — but a top five in the Monster Energy All-Star Race and a Monster Energy Open stage win might be the thing that saves their season and partnership.
A few weeks ago, Wallace was very vocal about how depressing the situation around him was. Through the opening 12 races, Wallace had only finished in the top 20 twice and on the lead lap once. His average finish was 27.1, a disappointment for the legendary No. 43.
More so, rumors have circled about the team’s future in recent weeks, even though RPM co-owner Andrew Murstein dismissed them. The team also lost STP as a primary sponsor for a few races this year, and is no longer receiving support from Smithfield brands.
A lot of the negativity was silenced at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night (May 18) when Wallace won the second stage of the Open to qualify for the All-Star Race. Wallace was beat in a photo finish by William Byron in the first stage before bouncing back and holding off Daniel Suarez in stage two.
“Ever since I was a kid, they said I drive better pissed off,” Wallace said. “I was really pissed off after that. I let that go… I was like, ‘Alright, I’m not giving it up this time.’ So you do what you got to do.”
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 18, 2019
Emotions ran high after the win. Wallace could be seen fighting off tears after a hug from fellow driver and best friend Ryan Blaney.
"I've been feeling like a failure for a really long time." An emotional Bubba Wallace on what this means for him and his team. pic.twitter.com/jFBwCZfxk1
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 18, 2019
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 19, 2019
“First thing my mom says to me after the Open — she walks up on the grid here — she says, ‘You know who that was? That was God. You know he’s not giving up on you yet,'” Wallace said. “I’ve realized that. As many dark moments as I’ve had, telling myself to give up, I know it sounds like a broken record, but man, it’s been tough, it’s been really tough to keep climbing in and keep going.”
But Wallace’s eventful night didn’t end with him just making the race. He worked his way through the field and ran as high as fourth in the night’s main event, ultimately settling for fifth. Team co-owner Richard Petty, despite his seven championships and 200 wins, never had a top five in the All-Star Race (the event started late in his career).
But Wallace now does.
“Tons of fun tonight, I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time — I guess dating back to Bristol [Motor Speedway] in the spring of last year. Since then, it’s been a struggle,” Wallace said. “Just a big night of momentum.
“I’m showing teeth in my smile, so that says a lot.”
Wallace said that not having to race for points encouraged the team to run more aggressively.
“When you don’t have anything on the line, I guess it means something different. Maybe we need to run for Xfinity [Series] points, but still run the Cup car because it don’t matter.”
The race won’t save RPM of all financial shortfalls, but it certainly helps. NASCAR no longer releases winnings for the rest of the All-Star field, but the result helps the team a tremendous amount more than if Wallace had not won a stage in the Open.
In 2015, the last year the winnings were releases, majority of the Open field earned less than $30,000. In comparison, fifth place earned $114,705 in the All-Star Race that year. That’s not to say those figures are exactly the same now, but RPM definitely came away with a lot bigger payday than was expected.
“Well, we didn’t win a million dollars, so we’re a million dollars short,” Wallace said. “We still got some work to do, but we’re doing a lot… We look at next week, I know it’s going to be totally different, but we got a baseline to work off of, I think. So that’s big.
“We just have to keep doing those types of races and stringy together some consistent runs and we’ll see what the financials stand at.”
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