Richard Petty Motorsports hit reset for its Cup campaign. New car, new tech partner and – key to it all – new driver, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. It’s a learning curve, but momentum is building.
In your first start as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, you finish second in the Daytona 500.
Second start, you’re only 32nd in Atlanta. Then 21st, 28th, 20th and 34th – that last one coming at Martinsville Speedway, a track you’d won at twice in the Camping World Truck Series. Ouch.
But for Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., newly-installed in Richard Petty Motorsports’ storied No. 43 for the whole 2018 campaign after a four-race “dress rehearsal” last year, and the guy owning that run of results, the positives far outweigh the negatives. RPM is a team that wants to succeed; it’s made a bunch of significant changes to help it move forward; and in Wallace, it’s confident that it’s found a driver just as motivated and equipped for the journey ahead.
“We still have bugs to work out, and we’re still trying to figure out what our car wants and what it takes to be super-competitive,” says the 24-year-old Wallace. “But I’m excited about where our team is headed and the direction we’re going in. We just have to pick up the pace a little bit more, and that’s what we’re working toward. I’m just enjoying my time here and loving the challenge.”
Wallace replaced Stewart-Haas-bound Aric Almirola at RPM, but hasn’t climbed back into the Ford Fusions he drove when Almirola was out injured in 2017. Instead, RPM’s major reset includes a switch to Chevrolet’s new-for-2018 Camaro ZL1 and a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Everybody, from “The King” down, is on a steep learning curve.
“Moving from Ford to Chevrolet, our challenge is that we don’t have the car to give to Bubba to really get him up there yet,” says Petty, “But we’re working hard on that part. Even though he’s been racing all his life, to this form of racing, he’s still a rookie. Second time around at these tracks, he’ll have an idea of what he’s really looking for. But if we can get him a better car, it’ll be a big help. So far, we’ve all seen what he’s had to work with, and right now I’m going to blame the car. He’s doing his job. We’ve got to do ours.”
Wallace refers to himself as something of an open notebook. With so much coming at him at once, he’s thankful to have seven-time champion Petty in his corner.
“It’s been great with Richard,” says Wallace. “He’s given me so many words of wisdom and so much advice. He wants to see his car winning; he knows we’re not where we need to be right now, but he has this vision and he wants to stick with it.
“When we’re running bad, he’s the guy pushing us to make sure we get back on track, and when we’re running good, he’s the first one to come and congratulate us. He’s put a lot of faith and effort in me to be one of the guys leading this from the front, and that means a lot.”
Get the full version of this story in the 2018 Heroes Issue of RACER magazine, on sale now.
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