Wendell Scott is the only black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s Cup Series.
Sunday, Darrell Wallace Jr. will become the first black driver to compete in a Cup race since Bill Lester drove in two races in 2006. While Wallace, who has four wins in the Camping World Truck Series, has a chance to be the first black driver to win a Cup race since Scott did in 1964, he’s not entering the Cup Series with a need to win immediately.
Wallace will make his Cup Series debut on Sunday while substituting for Aric Almirola in the No. 43 car.
“There’s no need for me to go out there and try to set the world on fire, try to win races and put myself in a tough spot, not be able to capitalize on it,” Wallace said. “If the opportunity presents itself, yeah, we’ll jump on it. There’s no need for me to force a hole, end up tearing up a racecar. I’m getting this opportunity because people believe in me and seen my talents coming up. I have to go out there, just back that up, show them I can manage and perform, and I belong in the series.”
Wallace will serve as the substitute driver in the No. 43 car until Almirola returns. Almirola suffered a fractured vertebra in a crash at Kansas in May and is expected to miss approximately two more months.
His absence should give Wallace, 23, at least six races to show people he’s worthy of a full-time ride at NASCAR’s top level.
“If we show up and we’re a 15th‑place car, make sure we run 15th all day, hopefully capitalize on 13th and 14th in the closing laps,” Wallace said. “If we’re a 25th‑place car, make sure I do everything I can to capitalize on 25th. It is all about how the weekend sets itself up. Stay on that path, no need to venture out, put ourselves in a bad spot.”
The audition, however, comes with a caveat. 2017 is Wallace’s third full season in the Xfinity Series with Roush Fenway Racing. Well, it was supposed to be anyway. As Richard Petty Motorsports announced that Wallace would fill in for Almirola, Roush said that it was suspending operations of Wallace’s Xfinity Series team after Saturday’s race at Pocono because of a lack of sponsorship.
The lack of sponsorship is nothing new for Wallace. In 2013 and 2014 with Toyota and Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series he was sponsored by the manufacturer in over half of his starts. Since moving to Roush before the 2015 season, he’s been sponsored by Ford (his car make) or car owner Jack Roush’s performance products 32 times.
He’s currently fourth in the Xfinity Series standings and was seventh in 2015 and 11th in 2016. But he hasn’t won a race at NASCAR’s No. 2 level yet.
“There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about that,” Wallace said of not having a win in the Xfinity Series yet. “That’s probably the biggest battle. Yeah, you can look at Trucks, say that was three, four years ago, two, three years ago, whenever that was. Now it’s the new year. Times have changed. We’re winless. I guess I’m beating myself up over it right now, that may have something to do with it. The other part of it. I try to represent myself and my team the best that I can. Times get tough sometimes, you lose cool … So the sponsorship stuff, everybody’s battling that. I just happen to be one of those guys that is.”
At Martinsville in 2014, Wallace drove a truck that paid tribute to Scott’s 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction. He started the race on the pole and led 97 laps on the way to what was his third career win at the time. He still stays in touch with the Scott family and said he talked to Wendell Scott Jr. on Monday after the deal with RPM was announced.
“He was pumped up about this past weekend, obviously this opportunity,” Wallace said. “He kept it short and sweet. So that’s huge when you still have that connection with the family, continue to carry on a legacy that their father laid.”
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