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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NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Richard Childress Racing reinstates Xfinity crew chief Nick Harrison

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Richard Childress Racing has reinstated Nick Harrison to crew chief  of the No. 3 Xfinity team after he served a five-race suspension for a violation at Daytona International Speedway. 

Harrison’s first race back will be April 8 at Texas.

Harrison was suspended after the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon had a rear suspension violation in pre-qualifying inspection. Harrison and the team’s car chief were ejected by NASCAR after the violation. RCR imposed the suspension.

“I’m looking forward to being back with my team and winning races after my five-race suspension,” Harrison said in a statement from the team.

Brandon Thomas served as the interim crew chief while Harrison was out. Austin Dillon finished a season-best fourth for the team last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Martinsville breakdown, Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features host Carolyn Manno and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut, and Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill from Burton’s Garage.

Among the topics today:

  •  Prepare for paint swapping, bent fenders, and bruised egos. It’s time to go short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway! Jeff, Parker and Landon will tell you what to expect this weekend at the famous half-mile. We’ll also see what it takes to succeed there, as Parker takes us for some quick laps in the NBCSN iRacing Simulator.
  • After making the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason, Aric Almirola is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Currently 10th in the standings, he’ll tell Marty Snider about his early season success.
  • Since finishing second at the Daytona 500, rookie driver Bubba Wallace has cooled off. Now he faces his first Cup Series start at Martinsville in the iconic No. 43 car, and he’s feeling confident — it’s where Wallace scored his first truck series win nearly five years ago. We’ll examine the struggles he might have to work through this season and also hear his reflections on his early years of racing in the latest edition of “A Driver’s Drive.”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)