A major milestone is in the making for Bubba Wallace, driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE and NASCAR’s current lone African-American competitor in the Cup Series. When the green flag waves on Saturday, August 22, at Dover International Speedway, Wallace will reach 100 starts in the sport’s premier series and in his third full-time season competing against NASCAR’s elite.
A native from Mobile, Alabama, Wallace was already a rising star in NASCAR entering June 2017, having won six ARCA Menards Series East races and five NASCAR Truck Series races while competing in his third season in the Xfinity Series with Roush Fenway Racing. By then, Aric Almirola was in his sixth season as driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports.
When Almirola was injured and diagnosed with a compression fracture of his T5 vertebrae after being involved in a vicious multi-car accident at Kansas Speedway in May, Richard Petty Motorsports named Wallace as an interim competitor of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford, beginning at Pocono Raceway in June. Wallace’s interim role at Pocono not only marked his Cup debut, but he also became the first African-American competitor to compete in the Cup Series since Bill Lester made the last accomplishment in 2006. At Pocono, Wallace qualified 16th and finished 26th in his Cup debut after being hampered with a handful of pit road speeding penalties. Following the race, where he congratulated his longtime friend, fellow competitor and first-time winner Ryan Blaney, Wallace passed out and required medical attention.
Wallace made three additional starts in 2017 in the No. 43 car at Michigan International Speedway in June, Daytona International Speedway and at Kentucky Speedway (both in July). His best results during those three races were a 15th-place result at Daytona and an 11th-place result at Kentucky. The following race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Almirola was medically cleared to return to competition and Wallace was left without a full-time ride for the remainder of the season after his Xfinity ride at Roush Fenway Racing was terminated due to sponsorship issues. He made one start in the Truck Series at Michigan in August, where he won driving for MDM Motorsports, and one additional start in the Xfinity Series at Chicagoland Speedway in September, where he finished 10th driving for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.
In mid-October, amid months of speculation, NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty named Bubba Wallace as a full-time competitor of the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season, which Wallace entered as a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate as he also became the first African-American competitor to compete on a full-time basis in the Cup Series since the late NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott made the last accomplishment in 1971.
Wallace made his first start in the No. 43 Chevrolet in the first of two Can-Am Duel races at Daytona International Speedway in February, where he dodged a handful of on-track incidents to finish in third place behind race winner Blaney and Joey Logano. Wallace’s third-place result in the duel event earned him the seventh-place starting spot for the 60th running of the Daytona 500 three days later. Prior to the 500, Wallace received support from a number of star athletes, including Super Bowl XLV champion Charles Woodson, Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton. During the Daytona 500, Wallace made a late charge and edged Denny Hamlin by a nose to finish in second place behind race winner Austin Dillon. Though he did not win the race, he won the hearts of fans over his strong performance and he cherished the result during his post-race press conference by sharing a tearful hug with his mother and family. Wallace also became the highest-finishing African-American competitor in the Daytona 500, eclipsing the previous record made by Scott’s 13th-place result in 1966.
Following his historic run in the Daytona 500, Wallace finished no higher than 20th place in the next five Cup races before he earned his second top-10 career finish (eighth-place) at Texas Motor Speedway. The following race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Wallace had a historic run in the making when he took the lead from Brad Keselowski on Lap 375 of 500 and led his first six laps in the Cup Series and in a blue and orange No. 43 STP Chevrolet that mirrored the scheme Richard Petty sported when he dominated stock car racing in the past. Though Wallace was primed for a strong result at Bristol, he ended his race with a disappointing 16th-place finish following handling issues. For the remainder of his rookie Cup season, Wallace earned one additional top-10 result (10th at Phoenix) and was beaten by William Byron for the Rookie-of-the-Year title. Overall, Wallace earned one top-five result, three top-10 results and an average result of 24.5 throughout the 36-race schedule before he concluded the season in 28th place in the final standings.
Wallace started off the 2019 season with lead engineer Derek Stamets as his new crew chief following Blickensderfer’s departure from RPM to Front Row Motorsports. For the first 12 Cup races of the season, Wallace finished no higher than 17th place (Martinsville in March). The following race, which was the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway, was where Wallace flexed his muscles after he fended off a late charge from Daniel Suarez to win the second of three stages in the Open and transfer to his first All-Star Race of his career. Wallace’s success continued during the main event, where he finished in fifth place. His other success to the 2019 season occurred at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he dodged a series of carnages to finish in third place behind race winner Kevin Harvick and Logano. The third-place result marked his first top-five result since finishing second in the 2018 Daytona 500 and the second crown-jewel event where he earned a podium result. Wallace, however, recorded four additional top-15 results before he concluded the season in 28th place in the final standings and with an average result of 23.9.
This season, Wallace reunited with veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter, who won five Truck races with Wallace in 2013 and 2014 with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Wallace started off the season by finishing 15th in the Daytona 500. He rebounded the following race by finishing in sixth place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after opting to remain on track on old tires for a two-lap shootout to the finish. He went on to finish 27th and 19th in the next two Cup races before COVID-19 paused this year’s racing season through May. By then, Wallace was in 18th place in the regular-season standings.
Since the return of racing at Darlington Raceway in May through last weekend at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, Wallace has earned three additional top-10 results, seven additional top-15 results and an average result of 19.8. He is currently in 21st place in the regular-season standings and is 165 points below the top-16 cutline to make this year’s Cup Playoffs. He has yet to announce his racing plans for next season and beyond.
In addition to his competitiveness on the track, Wallace, this season, has become the face of NASCAR’s involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement and speaking out on the abuse of African Americans by the police. At Martinsville Speedway, he sported a special black scheme on his No. 43 Chevrolet that featured the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and the phrase “Compassion, Love, Understanding.” Shortly after at Talladega Superspeedway, where a noose was discovered in Wallace’s garage stall, all the competitors and crew members joined Wallace to the front of the pit road in a show of solidarity through the national anthem and prior to the race. Despite the incident being determined that Wallace was not a target of a hate crime and the backlash that followed suit towards the competitor of the iconic No. 43 car, Wallace vows to continue to maintain his stance against his doubters and race towards history both on and off the track.
Catch Wallace’s milestone start on August 22 at Dover at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.