LONG POND — Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. received a unique opportunity in last June’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway.
After Wallace’s XFINITY Series team ceased operations after the weekend, team owner Richard Petty put the 24-year-old driver in his iconic No. 43, becoming the first African-American driver to compete in a Cup race since Bill Lester in June 2006.
“I was thinking about it in the bus this morning and how you creep up on things and definitely remember everything about this day last year,” Wallace said Friday. “We can get right to work and do what we need to do in our Weis Chevrolet. This was a fun weekend, pulling double-duty and getting to go through all the emotions for a Cup debut.”
Wallace starts 19th in today’s Pocono 400 with the green flag dropping shortly after 2 p.m. Ryan Blaney will be on the pole. Kevin Harvick will start second.
Wallace filled in for the injured Aric Almirola and that led to more starts before Almirola returned to the car in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Richard Petty Motorsports and Almirola parted ways at the end of 2017, leaving an open seat at the King’s stable. In addition to announcing a switch from Ford to Chevrolet, Wallace was tapped to drive the No. 43 Camaro for the 2018 season.
He began the year with a strong start by finishing runner-up the in 60th Daytona 500, pushing Austin Dillon to the victory and nipping Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin at the checkered flag for second.
RPM also formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing as the teams continue to find more speed before Sunday’s Pocono 400.
“Last week the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and the No. 31 (Ryan Newman) were super-fast in qualifying and really fast in practice as well,” Wallace said about the Chevrolets. “We were a little bit off from them, rightfully so. We’re still trying to catch up.
“When you see the majority of the Chevrolets kind of struggling, you put yourself in line where you’ll think you’ll stack up, too. I think, all the Hendrick cars, we were all right there in qualifying last weekend, so we’ll see. We’ll keep working. We’re all trying to push the same envelope.”
Wallace returns to the same track he made his Cup debut at last year at Pocono Raceway, having trouble with pit-road speed and passing out post-race after a 25th-place finish in his first start.
This weekend, the Cup rookie has local sponsor Weis Markets adorning the hood of his No. 43 Chevrolet and currently sits 23rd in points.
Aside from the Daytona 500 in February, Wallace’s best non-restrictor plate track finish is eighth at Texas Motor Speedway in April.
“From the start of the season, I feel like I’ve gotten better and better in the car, trying to give better feedback and trying to be a better racer and a better driver and give guys respect and earn that respect, too So, it all comes with it. You learn something new every day. So, I’m excited to see what’s on the plate for this weekend.”
NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series
Pocono 400 Lineup
Friday’s qualifying; race Sunday
At Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.
(Car number in parentheses)
1. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 176.897 mph.
2. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 176.807.
3. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 176.626.
4. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 176.516.
5. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 176.478.
6. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 176.208.
7. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 176.184.
8. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 175.864.
9. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 175.798.
10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 175.792.
11. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 175.230.
12. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 174.689.
13. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 174.676.
14. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 174.490.
15. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 174.365.
16. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 174.253.
17. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 174.213.
18. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 174.115.
19. (43) Darrell Wallace Jr., Chevrolet, 173.708.
20. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 173.635.
21. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 173.297.
22. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 172.997.
23. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 172.473.
24. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 173.054.
25. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 172.808.
26. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 172.612.
27. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 172.457.
28. (51) Cole Custer, Ford, 172.424.
29. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 170.914.
30. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 170.768.
31. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 170.107.
32. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 168.685.
33. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 168.297.
34. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 167.115.
35. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 167.032.
36. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 166.892.
37. (7) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 166.868.
38. (99) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 164.375.
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