After 517.5 miles of intense racing at Daytona International Speedway, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace soaked in his Daytona 500 debut. All things considered, the 24-year-old Mobile, AL native drove to an inspirational and historical runner-up.
All things considered, Wallace completed a strong Daytona Speedweeks amidst great media scrutiny and expectations. By the same token, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate kept calm and collected in “The Great American Race.”
Starting seventh on the grid, Wallace raced inside the top-15 for nearly 80 percent of the 500.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t an ordinary race, as the Alabamian dodged multiple wrecks and remained focused even after brushing the wall on lap 29.
Placing seventh in the second stage of the 500, Wallace drafted his way into the top-10. With great calls by veteran crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and his No. 43 team, the freshman Cup racer found himself in position to win the 500.
Although Wallace did not win the Daytona 500, the magnitude of his historical performance dawned on the usually excitable but collected racer. Furthermore, Wallace netted the best finish for an African American racer in the Daytona 500.
“I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do,” Wallace said as he teared up. “My family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it, but I just want to make them proud. Second is horrible, but it’s still a good day.”
Above all, Wallace’s runner-up wasn’t the result of a weeklong effort at Daytona. Instead, it all started in his substitute role at Pocono last June.
From there on, Wallace carried those valuable lessons into this new season.
“I just went out and tried not to be a hero, like the King told me right before climbing in,” Wallace observed. “I didn’t try to be a hero tonight, and we’re sitting here in second trying to talk to you guys about a great finish for my first Daytona 500.
The chemistry we have with the team, it’s incredible. Drew (Blickensderfer) and I just hit it off. Like when I walked into the garage at Pocono it was like, boom, here it is, we have it.”
Naturally, a great finish at Daytona doesn’t guarantee the overall performance for a team during a 36-race season. Similarly, for those battling for wins and championships, like Wallace and his No. 43 team, there will be challenges and tests ahead.
“That’s why we always say when we go to Atlanta, that’s when we really see who’s playing what cards,” Wallace said. “Just from everything that’s been going on in the off-season, switching over to Chevrolet, the alliance with RCR, they were rebuilding their stages there at the end of the year for their program.
We’re heading in there like we’re going to win that race. But at the same time, we know we also have a lot of things to check off the list.”
Ultimately, Wallace realizes the emotional investment put forth with being the competitive racer he has become throughout the years.
Suffice to say, the long journey to Cup racing is starting to pay dividends for Richard Petty Motorsports’ wheelman.
“I’m competitive,” Wallace stated. “I love to win. I hate to finish second. Obviously, that shows for everybody.
But I’m human. No matter if I race cars for a living and enjoy doing it, at the end of the day we all get emotional about something, so I’m just the same as you guys.”