Richard Petty Motorsports selects Darrell “Bubba” Wallace to drive the No. 43 car this Sunday at Pocono
When Aric Almirola suffered a T5 compression fracture during a crash at Kansas Speedway last month, Richard Petty Motorsports was faced with a decision to make.
With the expected return of Almirola to the NASCAR Monster Energy Series sometime later this season, RPM was in need of a temporary driver. They decided to go with Regan Smith who filled that void for three weeks but his availability is now limited going forward because of his participation in the NASCAR Truck Series.
On Monday, RPM made a historical selection for a more permanent replacement as they announced that Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. will fill in for Almirola and take the seat behind the wheel of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion for the Pocono 400 this Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
It will be his Monster Energy Series debut.
“Driving the famed 43 car is an unbelievable opportunity for any race car driver,” said Wallace. “With all that Richard Petty has contributed to the sport, I’m honored to start my first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event with this team.”
Wallace has been competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series for the last five years where he’s tallied five wins, 20 top five finishes and 30 top 10 results. Wallace, who also has five pole awards on his resume, has earned this opportunity.
“We ultimately decided that after making notable strides through the different racing levels in NASCAR, we wanted to be the team to give Bubba Wallace a shot at the highest level of racing,” said RPM Co-Owner Andrew Murstein. “He has proven himself on the track and will serve as an outstanding ambassador for RPM and our partners until Aric returns.”
The 23-year-old from Mobile, Alabama will become just the fourth African-American driver in NASCAR history joining the likes of Willy T. Ribbs, Bill Lester and Wendell Scott who won a race in 1963. Wallace is a product of NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” program and currently drives the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series.
With RPM’s groundbreaking decision to elevate Wallace to a high profile role in the Monster Energy Series, the objective is that it inspires more African American drivers to follow in his footsteps.”
“That is our hope,” said Murstein. “(NASCAR CEO and Chairman) Brian France has always contended that our fan base needs to look like America.” “The best way to do that is to have a diversity of drivers to which all ethnicities can connect and support. We have seen it with Aric and we hope to experience it with Bubba as well.”
There is an irony in Wallace’s hometown because one of Murstein’s good friends is Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron who also hails from Mobile. Murstein is the founder and President of Medallion Financial and has Aaron on his Board of Directors. Murstein would love to see Wallace enjoy the same success that Aaron did.
“Just as Hank shattered records in MLB, I sincerely hope that Bubba one day also sets a record and becomes the first African-American driver to ever win a race in NASCAR’s modern day top series,” said Murstein. “I know this won’t happen overnight, but he certainly has the talent to one day become the first to do so.”
Diversity is nothing new to RPM as Almirola has been an inspiration to the Hispanic American community. And now, Wallace will serve as a more than capable fill-in while also making some history in the process.
“We see this as an outstanding opportunity to further showcase and support diversity in NASCAR,” said Murstein. “Having Bubba in the iconic No. 43 car is a historic event which we fully embrace and hope it leads to even more diversity in the sport moving forward.”
While the selection of Wallace was a team decision within RPM, a large voice in the process remains with “The King” himself as well as with the team’s sponsors including Smithfield Foods, Ford, STP, and Nathan’s Famous.
“I’m incredibly grateful that Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports and Smithfield have the confidence in me to help fill the seat until Aric fully recovers, which is the most important piece of this,” said Wallace. “Moving up to the Monster Energy Series is a tremendous challenge, but I am ready to represent this organization, help the 43 team get the best results possible and prove that I belong at this level.”
At the end of the day, the historic decision was a no-brainer, especially in the mind of the legend that the team is named after and the companies that support the No. 43 car.
“(Richard Petty) is a part of every major decision in the organization,” said Murstein. “He remains as passionate about NASCAR as ever and sees this as a natural evolution, just like in every other sport. Plus, he wants to win races and Bubba has shown he has the talent to do so! We absolutely respect and value our sponsors’ opinions and we have heard nothing but positive feedback.”
The fact that RPM is a huge part of NASCAR’s growing diversity program should not be a surprise. That’s because Murstein has been around diversity all of his life. His grandfather, who started Medallion’s predecessor company in 1937, was from Europe and drove a taxi when he came to the United States.
Murstein’s father took over the business in the 1960’s and wanted to sell some of the 500 taxi cab medallions but there wasn’t a bank that would provide financing to the mostly immigrant cab drivers who wanted to buy them.
“From there, we became one of the largest lenders in the United States to women and minority-owned companies,” said Murstein. “That’s one of the reasons I am so proud of RPM today. I believe we are the only team in many many years, if not in the history of the sport, to have both a Latino driver and an African American driver. This is a historic event, and not only a great day for RPM, and for NASCAR, but for one America.”
There are many happy faces throughout the RPM organization as a result of the selection of Wallace, but there are just as many, if not more, coming from the entire NASCAR family. Wallace is an up and coming driver in the sport and his big opportunity here at a young age is a huge moment in NASCAR history. There will certainly be plenty of interested and excited eyes that will be focused on Wallace and the No. 43 car this Sunday in Pennsylvania.
“From the very highest levels of NASCAR, there is a universal feeling that this is great for the sport,” said Murstein. “The NASCAR “Drive For Diversity” program was founded specifically to find great drivers like Bubba Wallace and make sure they have every opportunity to perform in NASCAR at the highest levels. I commend NASCAR for making this program an organizational priority so this day would come.”
Should Wallace impress the NASCAR world while he fills in for Almirola, it could lead to an even bigger opportunity for him down the road. There are a number of possibilities that lie ahead for him including a full-time role with RPM if they add a second car next season or an opportunity with another race team that might be looking to add a driver.
But for now, Wallace will do his best for RPM as the organization waits for Almirola to return.
“He’s doing much better,” said Murstein who is a big fan of Almirola. “He was in tremendous shape, to begin with. When Kyle Busch was injured, he came back and won his first championship. I firmly believe Aric will come back and be better than ever.”
Murstein is also excited about seeing Wallace on his team, at least for the time being. There is always the possibility that Almirola and Wallace could both be in the RPM plans down the road and that puts a smile on Murstein’s face. His family has been big proponents of diversity for many years and Andrew has continued that tradition in NASCAR.
In the face of adversity, Murstein and Richard Petty Motorsports have found a way to make a big stride in diversity.