Darrell “Bubba” Wallace plans to make the most of his opportunity to show his skills in NASCAR’s premier class when he drives the historic No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty this weekend in the Firekeepers 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Wallace, 23, became the first black driver to compete in the Cup series since Bill Lester in 2006 when he finished 26th last Sunday in the Pocono 400.
Wallace, who ran in the Xfinity series for Livonia businessman Jack Roush, is subbing for the injured Aric Almirola and would love to get a top-20 finish at MIS, knowing he can do better in the pits — where he was penalized for speeding — last weekend.
“There’s been a lot of people waiting for this moment, and it was like ‘it’s finally here,’ and we’re going to make the most of it,” Wallace said. “As far as the African American side of it, being in front of the Scott family, they’re all pumped up and wanting to see it happen and rooting me on, and carrying that legacy of what their father did (Wendell Scott won a Grand National Division race in 1963) is just a really, really cool experience for me and very humbling also.”
Wallace credits his parents for getting him started in the sport when he was age 9 in go-karts while growing up in North Carolina, then putting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in his racing before Joe Gibbs brought him on board as a development driver, making his Xfinity series debut in 2012.
Wallace competed for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series the following year, becoming the first African American driver to win in one of NASCAR’s series since Scott in 1963 when he took the checkered flag at Martinsville.
Wallace feels he is ready for the Cup series and plans to back it up with quality runs before Almirola is healthy enough to climb back in the No. 43.
Wallace had his moments on and off the track at Pocono, passing out after congratulating race winner Ryan Blaney in Victory Lane.
“It was a big day for me and the whole sport in general,” Wallace said. “They (Cup cars) have a lot more horsepower and the clean air to dirty air difference is pretty big as where you don’t get in as much trouble in a Xfinity car. It was definitely a whirlwind day, definitely a lot of learning and I learned every lap, didn’t put ourselves in a bad spot by hitting the wall, spinning out or getting in a wreck. I just had a little trouble on pit row.
“I just put us behind on the eight ball on pit row both times, cautions didn’t go our way so we couldn’t get our lap back, but all in all I felt it was a solid effort and we were able to showcase what we were all about.”
And, on passing out after the race?
“The race wasn’t that long, wasn’t too bad on me, but I had just gotten so far in my head and it was a little hot too, just got to me at the end of the race, but I’m fine, 100 percent. I just needed to calm down.”
Wallace is looking forward to racing at MIS. He has competed multiple times in both Xfinity and the Truck series at the two-mile superspeedway.
“I’ve run two truck races and two Xfinity races there and we’ve always had speed,” Wallace said. “We were really close to winning in the truck series in 2014, had some fuel issues that we weren’t aware of and ran out of fuel on our last pit stop while leading by eight to 11 seconds. Really, we had the truck to beat that day, but ran out of fuel and finished seventh.
“I also felt we ran well in the Xfinity car last year so I’m excited to get back there and start Cup practice since it’s one of the fastest places we go to and carrying that speed into Turn 1, you really have to be ready for it.
“The most important thing for me is to be better than last week. I don’t want to have any mistakes down pit road, just run a good clean solid race and get a top 15 or top 20 and if it does come down to me and where we are in the top 10 it’s all managing it and maintaining it. I have confidence coming in. The biggest thing for me is to not make mistakes and not overdue it, not try too hard to prove I can win the race. Our time will come to have big moments like that.”
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn
Support races: ARCA Corrigan Oil 200, 6 p.m. Friday; Xfinity Irish Hills 250, 1:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: All races on FS1
Defending champion: Joey Logano