Richard Petty Motorsports entered 2020 understanding its resources were limited but managed to capitalize nonetheless.
The No. 43 team, piloted by Bubba Wallace, enjoyed its most successful season since Wallace joined the team in 2018 with one top five, five top-10 finishes and a 22nd-place finish in points.
In his third full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Wallace seemingly found his comfort zone. His five top 10s were a career-best, as was his points finish, while also notching 18 lead-lap finishes, another career-best that doubled his previous best of nine in 2019.
The success came in part due to a renewed pairing of Wallace and crew chief Jerry Baxter. The duo combined for five wins, 14 top fives and 25 top 10s in 43 Camping World Truck Series races in 2013-14, and their chemistry didn’t waver at the Cup level this year, as Wallace produced his most consistent season to date.
Following the season’s resumption from the 10-week COVID-19-induced hiatus, Wallace wheeled the No. 43 Chevrolet to 21st- and 16th-place finishes at Darlington Raceway, but issues at both the Coca-Cola 600 and Alsco Uniforms 500, both at Charlotte Motor Speedway, relegated Wallace to consecutive DNFs.
The team proved its resiliency in the following races, stringing together eight top-25 finishes over the following nine weeks before finishing the season with 25 such results.
The highs were notable – a fifth-place finish in the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway was the team’s best of 2020, and Wallace set new personal bests at 12 racetracks this year (Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Darlington, Charlotte ROVAL, Daytona road course, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway).
But as with any season came adversity, as well as, in the case of Wallace, controversy that cannot and should not be ignored.
Wallace, NASCAR’s lone full-time Black driver across its three national touring series, chose to speak out against racial injustices in the spring following the death of George Floyd.
Together, we’re growing, and will continue to grow. pic.twitter.com/NlSlBnP4Kp
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 12, 2020
Wallace’s stance and the support from team members at Richard Petty Motorsports led to the running of a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville in June.
Here ya go!!!!! https://t.co/kNl1hjbxnX
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 18, 2020
The same day that car ran, NASCAR announced a permanent ban on Confederate flags, a move that followed conversations Wallace had with NASCAR executives.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 13, 2020
Two races later, Wallace found himself further entrenched in controversy as team members noticed the rope of Wallace’s garage stall door was fashioned as a noose. The noose was noted during a Sunday rain delay and immediately condemned by NASCAR as a racist act, followed by a massive show of support toward Wallace Monday as all drivers and crew members pushed the No. 43 Chevrolet to the front of the grid.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 22, 2020
However, an investigation by the FBI concluded the noose had been tied since at least October 2019 and was not a targeted attack against Wallace. Wallace, who had only been notified of the noose and did not see it himself, was subsequently ridiculed on social media for a hoax despite NASCAR’s initial response drawing such a definitive conclusion.
Wallace and his No. 43 team handled the backlash well and managed to focus on producing results, while Wallace’s stand for social justice brought new sponsors to the program.
In the aftermath of the controversy, companies such as DoorDash, Columbia and Cash App donned the No. 43 Chevrolet in their first forays into NASCAR sponsorship and provided critical funding for the mid-tier RPM.
While Wallace departs for 23XI Racing in 2021, Richard Petty Motorsports can reflect on 2020 as its best in the past four seasons and a step in the right direction, particularly as the team’s average finish rose to 21.1 in 2020 from 23.9 just a year ago.
Now the team hits the proverbial reset button as two-time Cup race winner Erik Jones enters the fold next year.