Signature cowboy hat in place and dark sunglasses hiding his eye, the charisma of NASCAR’s king was still easily felt as he spoke about his rookie driver earlier this week.
“Well, that’s what we hired him to do,” seven-time champion Richard Petty said of Darrell Wallace Jr. The quip following a question about how it feels to see the legendary No. 43 running up front in recent Monster Energy Series races such as Daytona and Bristol.
Humor aside, Petty didn’t deny the team has had quite a bit of learning to do. Behind the wheel, Wallace has just 14 starts under his belt in the premier series, and the team is still adjusting to the numerous changes it took on during the offseason.
“We’ve struggled to a certain extent because we had to move our shop and get oriented in that,” said Petty. “Then we’re working with a bunch of new people that we’ve never worked with before. Got a different car than we’ve ever had before. All that stuff is starting to come together now.”
Richard Petty Motorsports is now located on the Richard Childress Racing campus in Welcome, North Carolina. The alliance with RCR and its staff has been “great,” said Petty, and the organization gives RPM everything it asks for. Then again, Petty admits, “we maybe don’t know what to ask for.”
Of course, the other change is Wallace driving Chevrolet Camaros. For the last nine years, Petty had represented the Blue Oval for Ford.
“I think we’re still learning and he’s a rookie, he’s still learning also,” said Petty. “If we don’t make a mistake and he don’t make mistake, we finish pretty good – and we’ve done that three or four times so far.
“But if you look back at some of the races, he’s either made a mistake or we’ve made a mistake and took him out of the race. So, those are the things we’ve got to overcome.”
Help may have arrived through the addition of a new sponsor. The organization announced Tuesday that World Wide Technology will be a primary sponsor for six upcoming races. However, the deal extends beyond a paint scheme and financial terms as Petty engineers are working closely with engineers from WWT.
World Wide Technology analyzes and dissects data. Petty believes WWT doing that with racing information, such as aerodynamics, chassis, even the weather impacting the engine, can be a performance benefit.
“We’ve had the information, we just don’t know what to do with it,” said Petty.
Wallace is 22nd in points going into Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway.