Darrell Wallace Jr. to drive No. 43 at Pocono; first African-American in Cup since 2006

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Darrell Wallace Jr. will become the third African-American since 1976 to compete in a NASCAR Cup race, driving the No. 43 Ford for Aric Almirola this weekend at Pocono Raceway, Richard Petty Motorsports announced Monday.

The team stated that Wallace will drive the No. 43 while Almirola recovers from injuries suffered in a crash last month.

“Driving the famed 43 car is an unbelievable opportunity for any race car driver,” Wallace in a release from the team. “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. I’m incredibly grateful that Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports and Smithfield have the confidence in me to help fill the seat until Aric (Almirola) fully recovers, which is the most important piece of this.

“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.”

Wallace will be the first African-American to start a Cup race in more than a decade. Bill Lester, the last African-American to drive in Cup, competed in two series races in 2006. His last start came June 18, 2006 at Michigan. He finished 32nd.

Other African-Americans who competed in at least one race in NASCAR’s premier series include NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott (1961-1973) , Willy T. Ribbs (1986),  Charlie Scott (1956), Elias Bowie (1955), Randy Bethea (1975) and George Wiltshire (1971, ’75). 

Wendell Scott won one race in 495 starts. Ribbs drove in three races in 1986. His last Cup start was June 15, 1986, at Michigan. He finished 39th. Charlie Scott ran one race. Bowie ran one race. Betheat compete in one race. Wiltshire drove in one race in 1971 and ’75.

Almirola has been out since suffering a T5 compression fracture in a crash May 13. He is expected to be out two to three months. Regan Smith drove for Almirola in the Monster Energy Open, the Coca-Cola 600 and last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

Wallace’s opportunity comes as the 23-year-old’s future seemed in question in the Xfinity Series. His Roush Fenway Racing team had sponsorship set only through this weekend’s race at Pocono. Roush Fenway Racing announced it would suspend the No. 6 Xfinity team after this weekend.

Wallace was visibly upset with failing to win Saturday’s Xfinity race at Dover. After winning a stage, Wallace lost track position on a restart and finished eighth. Wallace leaned against his car after the race on pit road with his head down. Car owner Jack Roush sought to console Wallace. Eventually, Wallace tossed a sports drink bottle as he walked away from the car.

“Heartbreak day,’’ Wallace said a few moments later. “We have one more race left and this one was the one we were going to win, for sure. It just didn’t happen. We can’t get any luck. I got a little sideways on that one restart and it cost us a little bit. It would have been nice to get the $100,000 and bought us our Michigan race that we don’t have.”

Wallace has 83 career Xfinity starts. He has zero wins, six top-five finishes and 34 top 10s.

In the Camping World Truck Series, Wallace had five wins, 14 top fives and 26 top 10s in 44 starts.

“I think he’s very determined and I think that determination has turned into results over the last coupe of months,” 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick said of Wallace’s move to Cup. “If you look at where they are performance-wise from the start of the year … he’s definitely earned an opportunity to go out there and try to make something out of it.’’

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AJ Allmendinger making return to Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018

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After a one-year absence, AJ Allmendinger will return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

Allmendinger, who drives for JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will once again drive for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be held Jan. 27 – 28.

A winner in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger will split time in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 in the GTD class with Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach and Mario Farnbacher.

Allmendinger drove for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race from 2014-16. His best result during that stretch was fifth in the Prototype class in 2015.

“I am pumped to be back racing for Shank in the (Rolex) 24. I missed the race last year and I hated to, so I’m really glad to be back,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “His whole team did an awesome job with the Acura last year and it is awesome to be back with him for the Rolex. After racing for the overall win so many years in Prototypes, it will be a completely different experience to be racing in the GTD class, but I’m looking forward to it. Mike (Shank) always puts an awesome team together and this year is no different so I am counting down to get my first shot in this car.”

Allmendinger is coming off his fourth full year of driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished the season 27th in the standings, his worst during his tenure with the team. He earned one top five and five top 10s.

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

Richard Childress Racing

They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on CaringBridge.org, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”