Darrell Wallace Jr. embraces chance to drive No. 43 but uncertain what’s next

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There are so many ways to view Darrell Wallace Jr.’s NASCAR Cup debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

It can be the graduation of another youngster — Wallace is 23 years old — to Cup.

It can be a celebration of diversity. Wallace will become the first African-American driver to race in NASCAR’s premier series since 2006.

It can be the introduction of another personality to the sport. Wallace’s social media account can be entertaining and enlightening.

Above all, this opportunity is temporary.

An uncertain future is ahead for Wallace, who is filling in until Aric Almirola returns. Almirola suffered a compression fracture in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway. No date has been set for Almirola’s return to the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford but the expected recovery time is two to three months.

When Almirola returns, Wallace might not have his old ride to go back to in the Xfinity Series. Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday that it will suspend operations of that team after this weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway.

Then what?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ Wallace said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “I know I’ll go out there and prove to everybody, inside of the racetrack, outside of the racetrack, on TV that I belong in the Cup series and do the best I can.’’

Such determination can lead to mistakes. Wallace is aware there is a balance he must find on the track.

“There’s no need for me to go out there and try to set the world on fire and try to win races and put myself in a tough spot and not be able to capitalize on it,’’ he said. “If the opportunity presents itself, then we’ll jump on it.

“I’m getting this opportunity because people believe in me and have seen my talents coming up. I have to go out there and just back that up … that I belong in the series.’’

While some drivers might be able to fade out of the limelight during this stretch — the No. 43 car ranks 24th in the owner points standings — Wallace likely won’t because it has been more than a decade since the last African-American competed in this series. Although records are incomplete, he’s believed to be one of less than a dozen African-Americans to compete in NASCAR’s top series.

Wallace acknowledges that his move to Cup “is a huge step for NASCAR. I’m glad to be leading the forefront of that right now. It just shows that we’re trying to bring in a new demographic. We’re trying to bring in a new face, get a younger generation, no matter what color, what age. We’re trying to get everybody involved to bring NASCAR back.’’

It’s a role Wallace admits he feels comfortable leading and has handled previously.

“There’s definitely been some flak in the way,’’ Wallace said of a racing career than began when he was 9 years old. “I’ve been able to handle that the best I could, ignore it, use that as motivation. My mom and dad always told me to block out the bad and take the good from it, use it as motivation.

“I would get the gestures and everything thrown out. We’d show up the next weekend and win. That’s how I was taught.  That’s how I was raised, to ignore the stupidity, continue on and do what I need to do.’’

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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Busch. He puts last week’s disappointment behind him with another fast car and (this time) a clean day in the pits.

Dustin Long

Denny Hamlin. He sweeps New Hampshire and Toyota continues its dominance at this track.

Daniel McFadin

Kyle Larson. After charging through the field from the rear in July and finishing second, the No. 42 team finishes the job today.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kevin Harvick. He hasn’t been heard from much recently, but this is the kind of track Harvick is at his best. He wins and moves on to the Round of 12.

Today’s Cup Series race at New Hampshire: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – The middle race of the first round of the playoffs offers teams that had a bad start a chance to recover or fall further behind.

The pressure builds with the 16-team field cut to 12 after next weekend’s race at Dover.

Here are the details for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern):

START: Marc Del Vecchio, chief technology officer, ISM Connect, will give the command to start engines at 2:07 p.m. Green flag is set for 2:15 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (317.4 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 8:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Marine Corps Veteran, “The Singing Trooper,” Daniel M. Clark will perform the Anthem at 2:01 p.m., followed by a flyover from two F-15C Eagles from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 1:30 p.m. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. on goprn.com and affiliates. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin led 54 of 301 laps to win the July race. Kyle Larson placed second. Martin Truex Jr. was third. Kevin Harvick led the final six laps to win this race last year. Matt Kenseth was second. Kyle Busch placed third.

 STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup


Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer tied at top of Xfinity playoff standings

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Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer are tied for the top spot in the Xfinity playoff standings after the playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

Each driver has 2,057 points.

Allgaier finished third after bouncing back from losing a tire on Lap 19 and going two laps down. He was two laps down for 27 laps and one lap down for 30 before getting back on the lead lap.

Custer, who finished fifth, won the first two stages of the race, earning two playoff points in the process.

The top five in points are Allgaier, Custer, Elliott Sadler (-2), Daniel Hemric (-5) and William Byron (-6).

Click here for the points standings.

Results from Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway

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Tyler Reddick scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win, leading a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Reddick beat teammate Brennan Poole by 14.5 seconds in the playoff opener.

Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last seven series races. He led twice for 66 laps. Reddick had not led any laps until Saturday night.

Playoff contender Justin Allgaier rallied from two laps down after a right front tire went down early in the 200-lap race to finish third. Ryan Preece placed fourth. Rookie Cole Custer, who won both stages, finished fifth.

Click here for race results