Darrell Wallace Jr. the start of a ‘completely different’ Richard Petty Motorsports

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There are still a lot of blanks to be filled for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2018.

It’s not known what manufacturer logo will adorn the front of its famous No. 43 car when it’s unloaded for Darrell Wallace Jr. in February at Daytona International Speedway to begin his rookie Cup season.

In a Wednesday teleconference, Petty also gave no firm answer on a possible new technical alliance for the team.

On top of that, the team is still looking for a new home to replace the 80,000 square foot shop it’s vacating at the end of the year.

“All that stuff is still up in the air,” Petty said. “We’re doing one thing at a time. We decided just to go ahead and get Bubba all signed up, get that behind us, so that we can then sit down and say, ‘Okay, what is our next best move?’ Bubba will be involved in that part of it, too, because he’s going to be a big, big part of RPM for the coming years.”

There’s “a bunch of irons in the fire” for the team co-owned by the seven-time Cup champion, but “The King” proclaimed his organization is eager for all the changes.

“When you see us at Daytona … it’s going to be a completely different RPM than what it’s been in the past,” Petty said. “We’re looking forward to that.”

It all starts with Wallace. The 24-year-old driver will become to newest full-time pilot of the No. 43, replacing Aric Almirola, who has driven it since 2012 and won the 2014 Coke Zero 400.

RPM hired Wallace based off his four-race performance as a substitute for an injured Almirola this year. Wallace joins the team after three years with Roush Fenway Racing in the Xfinity Series.

“He really impressed me,” Petty said. “After seeing him operate with our crew chief and all the guys at the shop, with the sponsors and stuff like that, we want to have a whole new look at Richard Petty Motorsports for 2018 anyway. So we said, Let’s just look at Bubba and see if we can put him in the car. … A new page in the Petty deal.”

The new page is significant not just for RPM, but for NASCAR. Wallace will be the first full-time African-American Cup driver in NASCAR’s modern era, which began in 1972. He follows the likes of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, Bill Lester, Willy T. Ribbs, Charlie Scott, Elias Bowie, Randy Bethea and George Wiltshire. 

But Petty, who raced against Scott, said the color of Wallace’s skin was “the least of my considerations” when determining who would inherit the number he made famous.

“We looked at the talent,” Petty said. “We looked at how we thought he handled the fans, how he handled the press, how he handled sponsor deals, all this kind of stuff. I didn’t care what color he was, where he come from, any of that.

“If you look back at the Petty history and stuff, we’ve had a driver from Brazil (Christian Fittipaldi) that drove for us for awhile, one from Mexico (Carlos Contreras) that drove (a season in the Camping World Truck Series) for us. It’s not anything different than what we’ve done before.”

Wallace also succeeds Almirola, who is of Cuban decent. From 2011-14 Marcos Ambrose, a native of Tasmania, drove the No. 9 for RPM.

Wallace will be one of the latest additions to rapidly growing youth movement in the Cup Series. He will race against drivers and friends he came up through the ranks with since before his days in the K&N Pro Series East series. He joins fellow young guns Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and more.

“This is a sport that a lot is based on patience,” Wallace said. “Everybody has different ways of getting to the level that I can now say that I’m at. It’s pretty special to be here. … We were all 10, 11, 12 years old running against each other here at Charlotte Motor Speedway, beating and banging with each other. Now we’re at the top-level. Each and every one of us have a different story of how we’ve gotten there.

“I’m just glad to share that spotlight with them.”

Wallace is also a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, which produced Larson, who is Asian-American, and Daniel Suarez, who is from Monterrey, Mexico. Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title last year in the Xfinity Series.

“We all have special, unique talent,” Wallace said. “It comes in many different shapes and sizes and forms. Myself, Suarez come up through there, it’s pretty special to see how that has made us who we are today. I’m excited for that, excited to be racing with those guys. We’ve been doing it for a long time now, but now we can all say we’re at the Cup level.”

Wallace’s place in the youth movement and the evolution of the sport was a prominent factor for Petty in giving him the keys to the company car when the company has a lot of question marks with its future.

“It’s ready for a change,” Petty said of NASCAR’s current landscape. “We wanted to be involved in that part of it, felt like that Bubba was going to be our best bet to be right up to the cutting edge of what’s going on.”

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Scan All, Xfinity, Truck championship recaps

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to recap the end of the NASCAR season.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut. Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty join them from NBC Charlotte.

What to expect from today’s show:

  • Martin Truex Jr. capped off a dream season, earning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. We’ll take a listen back on all the action between the drivers, crew chiefs and spotters with “Scan All: Miami.”
  • This past weekend two other NASCAR titles were decided. Christopher Bell won the Camping World Truck Series title, while William Byron captured the 2017 Xfinity Series title. We’ll discuss the rapid surge of Byron as he prepares for his transition to the Cup Series next year.
  • Furniture Row Racing had a season filled with triumphs and heartache but it ended in celebration, as they won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Martin Truex Jr. dominated all season long while he and his team overcame obstacles on and off the track. Nate Ryan tells their story.

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.

Bump & Run: 2017 NASCAR accolades

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Who is your driver of the year?

Dustin Long: William Byron. While Martin Truex Jr. had the best season, I’m just amazed at what Byron has done with such little experience. Yes, he’s been in top equipment but he’s still had to wheel the car. What Byron already has done makes me wonder just what is to come.

Jerry Bonkowski: Martin Truex Jr. No other driver came close. One of best feel-good stories in NASCAR since Alan Kulwicki won the Cup championship in 1992.

Daniel McFadin: Martin Truex Jr.. Eight wins, his first Cup title and too many career-best stats to list in the most memorable driver campaign over a full season in recent years.

Nate Ryan: Martin Truex Jr. His 2017 ranks with Jimmie Johnson‘s 2007 as the best season of the 21st century in the Cup Series. From start to finish, it’s the best since Jeff Gordon‘s 1998 masterpiece.

 

Who is your rookie of the year?

Dustin Long: William Byron. See previous answer.

Jerry Bonkowski: William Byron. Has made it look easy thus far in his career. Now comes the real test with his promotion next season to Cup racing and Hendrick Motorsports.

Daniel McFadin: William Byron. Won the Xfinity title with four wins, the most among series regulars and once again proved how quickly he can adept to a new level of racing.

Nate Ryan: William Byron. Shows signs of being the most adaptive and talented driver of his generation. When Kyle Busch is praising your “race craft” at the tender age of 19, you are special.

 

Who is your crew chief of the year?

Dustin Long: Cole Pearn. Was strong throughout the season and finished it with a split-second pit call that put Martin Truex Jr. in position to win the championship and close out a fantastic season.

Jerry Bonkowski: Cole Pearn. Overcame adversity several times, kept his cool most of the time, planned strategy methodically and if he or team made a mistake, admitted it and moved on. I truly believe he and Martin Truex Jr. have another one or two more championships in them. 

Daniel McFadin: Cole Pearn. In the first year of the stage format, he figured it out quicker than anyone and schooled the field all season long with Martin Truex Jr.

Nate Ryan: Cole Pearn. For his mastery of stages alone, he earned this crown. But for many other reasons — from his low-key and unthreatening affability that allows him to work seamlessly with Joe Gibbs Racing with a disarming ease … to his disdain for hierarchy that grants his co-workers empowering autonomy that other crew chiefs refuse to cede … to his simple choice of T-shirt over firesuit (“I don’t plan on getting on fire.”) as anti-establishment crew chief attire — he is changing the paradigm of being a team leader in NASCAR.

 

After seeing this playoff format for the first time, is there anything with it or related to it you’d consider changing for next year? Why?

Dustin Long: I’m fine with how it went. Let’s be careful of changing things for change’s sake.

Jerry Bonkowski: While I like the stages format, I feel that each race should be broken down into three stages of equal length. In other words, if it’s a 267-lap race, it should be divided equally to where each stage is 89 laps. Also, I’d like to see lap counting stop after each of the first two stages and resume on the ensuing restart, unlike what we see now where the second and final stages oftentimes log six or seven laps under caution before a restart for the next stage. 

Daniel McFadin: I like this format immensely after just one season. The only change I would like to see is making sure caution laps after stage conclusions don’t count. Starting a stage with four to five laps already ticked off takes away from the fan experience and gives less race for drivers and teams to work with.

Nate Ryan: A minor quibble: The “format” for selecting a champion didn’t change, just the manner in which points were accrued to determine one. That said, the addition of playoff points and stages worked well, producing the most worthy field of championship contenders yet and a deserving champion whose bona fides were tested as much or more than any other since NASCAR switched to a playoff-style structure in 2004.

Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway to end short track racing, drops NASCAR sanction

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Motor Mile Speedway has decided to not renew its NASCAR sanction for 2018, ending its reign as a circle track.

The .416-mile paved oval track in Fairlawn, Virginia, will undergo a significant transformation starting next year which does not include short track racing. A NASCAR Home Track, it has hosted the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for a number of years and hosted a number of then-Busch Series races nearly 30 years ago.

While it may return to host some select racing events in the future, track officials in a news release announced it will soon host “a variety of entertainment and sporting events.”

“We have tried to make the speedway successful, but with a downturn in interest, it’s increasingly difficult to make it work,” Speedway co-owner David Hagan said in a media release. “We are looking at a variety of events to bring new life and excitement to the property.

“The schedule could include everything from concerts, mud runs, festivals, camping, and even new racing events at some point.  You name it and it’s probably come up at our table.”

Located about an hour southwest of Roanoke, Virginia, the speedway sits on a 170-acre parcel of land. While the speedway will cease holding races, it’s adjacent drag strip will continue to operate for sportsman racing.

Click here for the full media release from the speedway.

NASCAR issues three lug nut penalties in final penalty report of season

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NASCAR has issued three penalties to crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts following the championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jason Ratcliff, crew chief on the No. 20 Toyota driven by Matt Kenseth, has been fined $20,000 and suspended one Cup points race for two unsecured lug nuts.

Ratcliff will be moving to the Xfinity Series to serve as Christopher Bell’s crew chief next season. The suspension is series specific. So he will be available to crew chief Bell in the season-opening race at Daytona.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Camping World Truck Series, Phil Gould, crew chief on Ryan Truex‘s No. 16 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.