Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. To Make Monster Energy Series Debut This Weekend

Bubba Wallace at a Homestead-Miami Speedway event in Ft. Myers last year.

This Sunday, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. will be making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut, at Pocono Raceway. When Bubba gets behind the wheel of the No. 43 car - made famous by Richard Petty - it will be the first time since 2006 that a Black driver competes in the Monster Energy Series. 

The 23-year-old is a graduate of NASCAR's Driver for Diversity program and a member of the inaugural NASCAR Next class (2011). Wallace collected his first career win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2013, becoming the first Black driver to win a NASCAR national series race since Wendell Scott in 1963. 

Bubba will pilot the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, while Aric Almirola recovers from injuries sustained at Kansas Speedway in May.

Below are excerpts from a teleconference session conducted by Bubba Wallace with the Media on Tuesday:

Q: What are your thoughts going into this weekend, your first start in the Cup series?

A: "This has been a pretty big couple of days for me.  It's an exciting opportunity not only for myself but my family, first of all, my fans, everybody that's helped me get to this level ever since I started racing when I was nine years old and had dreams of running in a Cup race, making my name present in the sport.  So this is the perfect opportunity.  So I'm very thankful for that.  I guess we'll just get this thing started.”

Q: If you look back to 2010, getting your start with Rev Racing (NASCAR Drive for Diversity program race team), does that seem like an eternity ago in some ways?  How influential were they in getting you this shot?  Would you have had that shot without them? 

A: Yeah, looking back, that's seven years ago.  I guess for me, it still doesn't seem too far away.  If you start breaking it down year by year, race by race, that was a really long time ago. That was a great opportunity that presented itself when we signed on with Joe Gibbs Racing, joined on with Rev Racing at the same time to compete in the Diversity Program, K&N Pro Series East. With that success came my career where it is now.  So definitely without that on‑ and off‑track success we had in those two years, I don't know if I'd be here today.  A lot of that credit goes to those guys over there.”

Q: Do you think your racing Cup will encourage more black youth with racing talent to pursue a career as a racecar driver?

A: “I think so.  I mean, this is a huge step for NASCAR, the whole sport in general, for bringing diversity to its top‑tier level of NASCAR.  I'm glad to be leading the forefront of that right now.  It just shows that we're trying to bring in a new demographic.  We're trying to bring in a new face, get a younger generation, no matter what color, what age.  We're trying to get everybody involved to bring NASCAR back.  It's been a fun journey.  But we'll see what happens after we get through Pocono.” 

Q: How quickly can you merge into the No. 43 team?  What will you have to do?  Then talk about what you put in emotionally, everything you've done to try to get to this stage, because there's been a lot.

A: “Yeah, one thing that's helped out is Drew (Blickensderfer), I talked about earlier, the crew chief for the 43 car.  He was actually doing some races last year at Roush on that third car we ran sometimes.  He kind of has somewhat of a feel for what I like, just looking at setup notes, listening to our driver feedback, our meetings.  So that kind of helps out for sure. Like I said, I was in the shop yesterday.  Sat in the seat, sat in the car, got comfortable, met some of the guys that I will be racing together with the next couple weeks. This is a fast‑paced sport.  You got to get acclimated really quick, get used to everything.  I think the biggest thing is focusing in on Pocono, making sure we can get or I can get all that I can out of the car, making the most of the weekend.”

Q: Talk about what you've been through trying to get to this stage, to where you're at right now. 

A: “Yeah, I've been through, what's this, 14, 15 years of racing.  A lot of ups-and-downs.  Always say there's more downs than ups.  That's what makes you stronger, keeps you hungry for coming back for more.  It's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears from not only myself but everybody that's helped me out along the way.  Definitely, a lot of family sacrifices to get me here. It's been a fun journey.  Everybody has a different story of how they got to their ultimate level.  It's always cool in a couple years to look back on it and see how far we've come.”

Q: What do you need to do to go out there and prove it?  People have seen what you've done in XFINITY and Truck.  What do you feel like you need to do within the next 10 weeks to prove you belong in a ride with somebody else down the road?

A: "I'm getting this opportunity because people believe in me and seen my talents coming up.  I have to go out there, just back that up, show them I can manage and perform, and I belong in the series.”

Q: You couldn't possibly be making your start in a more iconic car.  How cool does that feel, the 43, racing that car in the Cup Series?

A: “Yeah, that's huge.  It's funny, (Ryan) Blaney texted me this morning, actually woke me up this morning, he wants a picture this weekend.  I was like okay.  He was like, ‘We're driving the two most iconic cars in the sport this weekend.’  We definitely have to capitalize on that.  That's huge.  That's awesome for me to get my first start driving the No. 43 for Richard Petty and everybody at RPM.  Then the other side of it is the first African American since 2006.  That's a lot of history behind it. I've always said dealing with that, I like to let the results speak for itself, let the results come in, let the history fall in behind that, not focus on the big spotlight, the African American side, the iconic number.  Let all that funnel in after we have our good runs, get out there on the racetrack and show everybody we can do it.”

Q: I was on the phone this morning with Frankie Scott, Wendell Scott Sr.'s son (Wendell Scott is the first Black driver to win a race in NASCAR's top racing series).  Have you had an opportunity to talk with anyone with the Scott family since this was announced?

A: “Actually Junior called me last night, Wendell Scott Jr. called me last night.  He was so pumped up.  He said he was helping me drive the car this past weekend at Dover.  He said that was our race, for sure.  He was pumped up about this past weekend, obviously this opportunity.  He kept it short and sweet. So that's huge when you still have that connection with the family, continue to carry on a legacy that their father laid.”

Q: How much pressure do you feel there is to perform right away?  Are you just going in there knowing what you're capable of doing and just do your job to the best of your ability? 

A: “Before I would try to go out there and try to set the world on fire, and we would not get the result we needed. Getting to talk to the Cup veterans, Jimmie Johnson, get to talk with (Kevin) Harvick tonight, Jeff Gordon texted me, getting to lean on those guys a little bit, knowing that the opportunity is here.  Just go out there, like you said, do the best that I can, make sure we get the best finish.  If we show up and we're a 15th‑place car, make sure we run 15th all day, hopefully capitalize on 13th and 14th in the closing laps.  If we're a 25th‑place car, make sure I do everything I can to capitalize on 25th.  It is all about how the weekend sets itself up.  Stay on that path, no need to venture out, put ourselves in a bad spot.”