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Wallace Eager To Blaze New Trails This Summer in Sudden Cup Series Debut

Like any driver who aspires to reach the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there have been triumphs and struggles for Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.

But now that he’s on the cusp of his first start at the top of the sport this Sunday at Pocono Raceway, every rise and dip of his career roller-coaster has been worth it.

Wallace, 23, from Mobile, Alabama, will drive the iconic No. 43 Ford fielded by Richard Petty Motorsports in Cup competition until primary driver Aric Almirola recovers from a back injury suffered in a race crash last month at Kansas Speedway. Almirola could be out until late July or early August, so there’s a good chance Wallace will drive for “King Richard” Petty at the 24th annual Brickyard 400 on Sunday, July 23 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“A lot of ups and downs, always say there's more downs than ups,” Wallace said. “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 came.”

That’s a familiar story for any first-time Cup driver. But Wallace’s story has an added dimension.

He will be the first African-American to start a Cup Series race since Bill Lester in 2006. It’s an important milestone for Wallace’s career and for motorsports. Wallace also will become the first African-American driver to start the Brickyard 400 if Almirola has not returned by late July.

“This is a huge step for NASCAR, the whole sport in general, for bringing diversity to its top-tier level of NASCAR.” Wallace said. “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.”

Wallace is no stranger to NASCAR success. He was the K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year in 2010 and then climbed to a limited schedule in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2012 with Joe Gibbs Racing.

In 2013, Wallace competed in a full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season with Kyle Busch Motorsports, finishing eighth in points. But he made history in October 2013 by winning the Truck Series race at Martinsville, becoming the first African-American driver to triumph in one of NASCAR’s national series since Wendell Scott in 1963.

The link between Wallace and the Scott family continued earlier this week when Scott’s son Wendell Scott Jr. called Wallace to congratulate him for landing the ride with Petty.

“He was so pumped up,” Wallace said of Wendell Scott Jr. “So that's huge when you still have that connection with the family, continue to carry on a legacy that their father laid.”

Wallace finished third in the Truck Series standings in 2013, with four victories, and climbed to NASCAR XFINITY Series with powerful Roush Fenway Racing in 2014. He finished seventh in the standings in 2014 and 11th in 2015. He competed in the Lilly Diabetes 250 both years at IMS, with a best finish of 14th last year.

This year has been a breakthrough for Wallace. He has seven top-10 finishes in 11 XFINITY Series starts and is fourth in series points.

Those credentials helped Petty pick up the phone when Wallace made calls to inquire about Almirola’s ride, with The King eventually offering the ride to Wallace.

“Pocono is the right time,” Wallace said. “I've always said that God has had my plans in His hands. I guess a new door has opened for this weekend, and we'll go out there and make the most of it.”

There is pressure.

Wallace knows opportunities to climb to Cup don’t come every day. He also is driving for the most iconic figure in the sport, seven-time Cup champion Petty, in one of the most recognized cars in the field. Plus Roush Fenway is suspending operations for his XFINITY Series ride after this weekend at Pocono, so the Cup ride with RPM came at a perfect time.

Still, Wallace is resisting the urge to drive over his head in his debut at Pocono. Instead, he’ll follow a more steady, patient approach.

“I think in years past, yeah, I would definitely throw a lot of pressure on myself,” Wallace said. “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. Stay on that path, no need to venture out, put ourselves in a bad spot.”

Wallace admits there will be extra attention on him as a trailblazer for African-American drivers. And he has no problem with that.

“I think that goes back to my parents, teaching me at a young age to never see it as black and white,” Wallace said. “Everybody's equal. Everybody should deserve the same opportunity, the same challenge, the same whatever. Everybody should live their lives to the fullest with no hassles, no hold-backs, no matter what age, what color you are.”

Visit IMS.com to buy tickets for the Brickyard 400 and Lilly Diabetes 250 weekend, to buy tickets for the other remaining events in 2017 at the Racing Capital of the World – the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim and the Red Bull Air Race – and to renew tickets for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

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