Sunday, February 18, 2018

Did Bubba Wallace Live Up to the #NASCAR Hype?

Did Bubba Wallace Live Up to the #NASCAR Hype?

“Drove Smart and Remained Patient”

If you follow NASCAR and Speedweek, you could not help but notice the name Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. In December 2017, in one of the Richard Petty Motorsport’s most anticipated moments in its history, it was announced that Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. would be the new driver of the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, made famous by team co-owner, “The King” Richard Petty. 

Wallace, 24, will compete full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and for the ‘Sunoco Rookie of The Year’ beginning at the 2018 Daytona 500 today. However, Wallace was not new to the iconic MENCS ride. He had driven the car a handful of times in 2017, when Petty’s then-full-time driver Aric Almirola was injured in a race, Wallace filled in for four races in the 43 car.

“This is a dream come true to race for ‘The King’, Richard Petty Motorsports, the iconic No. 43 and for all the fans and partners that have and continue to support this team,” Wallace stated at the time. “I believe in what Richard Petty Motorsports is doing and their desire to win races. I believe this team, its partners and fans are ready to see some great things again. I’m humbled that they have chosen me to take that next step with them. I’m ready for next season to begin and to prove to people that we can compete at the level we all expect to be at.”

As the first full-time African-American driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since Wendell Scott, all eyes were scrutinizing this young rookie.

In fact, Bubba even received a pre-race phone call from Baseball Legend Hank Aaron. Hank Aaron grew from humble beginnings in Mobile, Alabama, Wallace’s hometown, before passing through the sandlots with brief stops in the Negro Leagues and the minor leagues before he settled in with the Braves where he ultimately became one of baseball’s most iconic figures. 

So How Did Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. do in the 2018 NASCAR Season Opener?

Wallace finished third in the first Duel 150 on Thursday, to secure a seventh place starting position for the 60th running of the Daytona 500. At the drop of the green on the Daytona 500, he maneuvered up to second place by lap three, right behind leader Denny Hamlin. In lap thirteen, after pit stops, Wallace restarted in third.

On lap twenty-eighth, it would appear that the #43 ran out of racing room and tagged the wall a bit. There was not much damage, but it put him back into fourteenth place. He dropped steadily after that, all the way back to twenty-fourth before surviving the first “Big One” to finishing Stage One in fourteenth.

During his pit stop the crew addressed his observation that the car was “on the free side” He started Stage Two from eleventh. The adjustment must have been positive because Wallace worked his way up to eighth on lap seventy-three.

Wallace did take some hostility from Trevor Bayne for blocking on lap eighty-four. Nonetheless they were both battling to stay in the top-ten. Darrell was again able to avoid a crash and emerged through the carnage in ninth. Wallace finished Stage 2 in a very respectable seventh place (out of twenty-one cars on the lead lap).

Bubba was lined up in eleventh place for the Stage 3 start. He was very impressively maintain his position is sixth place for most of this stage.

Wallace did fall back to tenth before the yellow flag fell with just ten laps to go.  With just a lap to go, Darrell was in the perfect position to create his own "luck" maneuvering on a rough ride below the yellow line to avoid last "Big One" of the event.

So did Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. live up to all the hype he received before his debut in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevy? Driving from sixth to a second place finish Bubba’s performance surprised me in an encouraging manner. 

I would have to give his rookie run an enthusiastic A+. Go Bubba - you earned a new fan.

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