Darrell Wallace Jr. to drive No. 43 for Richard Petty in Cup Series in 2018

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Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. will drive the No. 43 full-time in the Cup Series next year, Richard Petty Motorsports announced Wednesday.

Wallace, 24, succeeds Aric Almirola in the No. 43 after making four starts in his place earlier this year when Almirola injured his back in a crash in May at Kansas Speedway. Almirola has driven the No. 43 since 2012.

“This is a dream come true to race for ‘The King’, Richard Petty Motorsports, the iconic No. 43 and for all the fans and partners that have and continue to support this team,” Wallace said in a press release. “I believe in what Richard Petty Motorsports is doing and their desire to win races. I believe this team, its partners and fans are ready to see some great things again. I’m humbled that they have chosen me to take that next step with them. I’m ready for next season to begin and to prove to people that we can compete at the level we all expect to be at.”

Drew Blickensderfer will return as crew chief of the No. 43.

“I’m looking forward to working with him and him being the crew chief and having that position,” Wallace said on Facebook Live. “The guys he’s surrounded himself with on that 43 car this year is a great group of guys. We had a lot off fun each and every time I showed up to the race track. They made it a lot easier for me and it didn’t seem like it was my first or second race. It just seemed like, ‘hey, we’re at the race track this weekend, let’s go out and get the job done.'”

Wallace said he asked Blickensderfer for the team to have a dinner prior to his Pocono start in order to get to know them.

“It took us 30 minutes and it was just like family,” Wallace said. “That’s how Richard likes to run it. Just like family.”

The team did not refer to a car make for the No. 43 for next season. The team is affiliated with Ford this season.

“We have hired a lot of different drivers in the past, but Wallace brings a lot of youth and talent to our team,” Richard Petty said in the press release. “He’s proven at a young age to be able to be consistent on a weekly basis, give feedback to the team to help improve the car and race hard to get the best finish possible. He knows how to win, too. His records leading up to the top levels of NASCAR speak for themselves. We feel that Bubba can immediately come in and compete. He’s really eager to show what he can do and that he belongs in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”

The team said sponsors for Wallace and the No. 43 will be announced at a later date. Sports Business Journal reports that team president Brian Mofftt said the U.S. Air Force and STP will be sponsors on the car next year. STP was the primary sponsor for the spring Martinsville race and the Southern 500 this season.

Wallace, a native of Mobile, Alabama, made his Cup debut at Pocono Raceway and finished 26th. He was the first African-American driver to start in the Cup Series in more than a decade. Bill Lester was the last to do it in 2006.

Wallace improved in each Cup start, culminating in an 11th-place finish at Kentucky Speedway in July.

Those four Cup races came as Wallace’s three-year tenure at Roush Fenway Racing ended after 79 Xfinity starts due to a lack of sponsorship for his No. 6 Ford.

He returned to the Xfinity Series in September for one start with Biagi-DenBeste Racing at Chicagoland Speedway in the No. 98 Ford. He placed 10th.

Wallace is winless in the Xfinity Series, but has claimed six top fives, 35 top 10s and two poles.

After his four races with RPM this season, Wallace made one Camping World Series Truck start at Michigan in August with MDM Motorsports and won the race after leading the final 11 laps.

A graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, Wallace spent two full-time seasons in the Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports from 2013-14, where he earned five wins in 44 starts.

The announcement by RPM comes the day before the fourth anniversary of Wallace winning at Martinsville in October 2013, becoming the first African-American driver to win in any of NASCAR’s national series since Wendell Scott in 1963.

When Wallace arrives at Daytona International Speedway in February, he will be doing so as the first full-time African-American up driver in NASCAR’s modern era, which began in 1972.

“It’s big. There’s been a lot of people to come up through the ranks and tried to carry on the legacy that Wendell Scott had laid down for us,” Wallace said in a Wednesday teleconference. “For me to step in that realm and take on the role, there’s a lot of pressure. But we’re going to go out there and continue to do what do on and off the race track. That’s to represent the brand of myself and Richard Petty and his image in the best way I can. To continue to grow together and that’s how we’re going to accomplish that.”

Wednesday also marked the third anniversary of Wallace’s second Martinsville win, when he drove a paint scheme honoring Scott’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I remember those races very well,” Wallace said. “It’s ironic timing that it’s around this same day, just years later. I remember the last one I was driving the No. 34, turn that number around and now I’m driving the 43. It’s great how things work out.”

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Wood Brothers secure charter for 2018 season

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The Wood Brothers have formed a partnership with Go Fas Racing that will allow the No. 21 team to have a charter, guaranteeing Paul Menard a starting spot in every Cup race this season.

Last year, the Wood Brothers leased a charter from Go Fas Racing.

“This charter is a game-changing step for Wood Brothers Racing. It’s the critical piece needed to thrive as a top owner in our sport,” said Len Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing, in a statement from the team.

“We have been fortunate enough to have extremely fast cars and are blessed with the best sponsors in NASCAR. Pair that with our support from Ford and nearly every piece is in place. Last year we leased a charter from Archie [St. Hilaire]. We’ve really come to appreciate working with him and his son Mason, and I think everyone has benefited tremendously from this relationship. For 2018 and beyond, we’ve taken it a step further and entered into a partnership and we think it will be a rewarding endeavor for everyone involved.”

The Wood Brothers scored their 99th career Cup win with Ryan Blaney last year and earned their first playoff spot.

Go Fas Racing stated on Twitter it would have a charter for Matt DiBenedetto but didn’t reveal details.

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Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers

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Danica Patrick said Monday that she and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are dating. Patrick confirmed the news to The Associated Press.

Patrick, who is from Illinois, is a Chicago Bears fan but will change allegiances.

She told the AP that she and Rodgers met at the 2012 ESPY Awards.

“I told him a long time ago I’d always root for him as a player,” Patrick told the AP. “Now I am probably going to cheer for the whole team. Take out the word ‘probably.’ Now I’m going to cheer for the whole team.”

Patrick ended a five-year relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in November. Rodgers split from actress Olivia Munn in 2017 after three years of dating.

Patrick plans to retire from racing this season after competing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. She has not announced a deal for either ride. An executive with Chip Ganassi Racing recently told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that they were no longer talking to Patrick about a ride in either race.

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Darrell Wallace Jr. feels a connection to Wendell Scott without the pressure of his legacy

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WELCOME, N.C. – There will be many reminders of the history that Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. could make this season in NASCAR’s premier series, but this one was especially personal.

The first full-time African-American driver on the circuit in 47 years since Wendell Scott received a 2-minute voice mail recently from Scott’s son, Wendell Jr.

“(It said) don’t feel like I need to carry the pressure of his dad and the Scott legacy, just go out there and do me,” Wallace said, relaying the message last Friday during a break from a preseason production shoot. “That’s the way it’s always been. All the history falls in place after. That’s how I like to go about it. A small part carries him with me, but I don’t put that in the forefront.

“For me, it’s just to go out and get through practice, qualifying and the race. If we end up with a top five, then, hey, it’s the first African-American to do this or the first African-American to do that. I don’t really look at that stuff. That’s when the media kind of brings that in. You can sit back after the race and say, ‘Damn, that was pretty cool.’ ”

Wallace is accustomed to being in the headlines for unique accomplishments. His Oct. 26, 2013 win in the Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway was the first by a black driver in one of NASCAR’s national series since Scott’s Dec. 1, 1963 win at Jacksonville, Florida.

Wallace, 24, has notched five more truck victories since then (including his lone start on the circuit last August at Michigan International Speedway) and made the Xfinity Series playoffs in 2016.

But as he steps into the famous No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports (which has moved this year to Chevrolet and a new shop location adjacent to Richard Childress Racing, which will supply its cars and engines), Wallace acknowledges that “for sure, I’m carrying that banner” again for Scott. He got to know the racing pioneer’s family eight years ago after entering NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

He understands the attention brought by his race, though he also sees evidence on social media that his fan base tires of hearing about it.

“It’s something I’ve embraced,” Wallace said. “I’ve accepted that it’s always going to be talked about no matter what I do. I’ll be the first African-American to take a piss in the Cup garage. Everything I do is a first. It’s going to be there. I’ve accepted it.

“The fans are (who) get so fired up over it. It’s like, ‘Why do we have to mention it?’ Because no one is there. It’s going to be mentioned. It has to be mentioned. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

Wallace made his Cup debut with RPM last season at Pocono Raceway, the first of four starts in place of injured Aric Almirola. He posted a respectable average finish of 17.8 while handling the increased exposure with aplomb.

Team owner Richard Petty said “there’s going to be a lot of pressure on (Wallace)” in 2018, but he thinks his crew won’t feel the effects.

“I don’t think it’s going to put that much pressure on RPM because they’re going to do the best they can for whoever it is,” Petty said. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on him, so he’s going to have to learn to live with it.”

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said Wallace already proved last year he is highly adaptable despite the heavy scrutiny.

“When we showed up at Pocono, we realized what it was all about,” Blickensderfer said. “It kind of gave you goosebumps to think about how special it was. We saw all the hoopla and everything that was going on around it, we thought, ‘This is something that’s a little different than just the kid who’s going to drive a race car.’ ”

It doesn’t feel so different away from the track, though, when Wallace brings his freewheeling presence through the shop.

“When he walks in be-bopping and giving people knuckles, it’s nothing,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s just a kid driving a race car. But I think when we get to Daytona and unload the car that has ‘Wallace’ on it and it’s his car, I think it’s going to be a little different. But it’s different in a great way.

“Everybody on this team looks at it like it’s cool. The way Bubba reacts to it, he just handles it. He does it remarkably well for a kid his age. He just kind of takes it in and is OK with it and goes about his business, much better than most people would. It makes it easier for us just to not even think about that weekly. When we get ready to fire engines for the Daytona 500, we’re going to be like, ‘He’s doing something really cool here.’ Until then it’s kind of business, and it’s just some kid driving a race car.

But as he prepares for his first full season in Cup, even Wallace finds himself occasionally caught in the moment – such as when he walked past one of his new Camaros – which was coated only in primer but had his last name across the windshield.

“I was thinking, ‘Damn that’s my Cup car,’” he said. “That’s cool. Nothing on it but ‘Wallace.’ I thought, ‘Damn, that’s really cool to see.’ It’s exciting stuff that’s happening right now. I’ll be anxious to see when we get to Daytona how giddy I’ll be.”

Justin Haley returning to GMS Racing for 2018

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Justin Haley will again drive the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado this season for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday. Sponsor Fraternal Order of Eagles also returns.

The 18-year-old won a pole at Texas and had three top-five finishes and 12 top-10 results in 21 starts last year.

“We found a lot of success toward the end of the 2017 season, so there’s a good amount of momentum that we can carry over into this year,” said Haley in a statement from the team. “The No. 24 team is working hard in the offseason to take us to that next level, to be able to keep running up front and improving week to week. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be competing for a championship when we get to Miami, and I couldn’t be more excited to be heading in that direction with GMS and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.”

Haley will again have Kevin Bellicourt as his crew chief.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the work that not only this team has done, but that Justin has put in over the offseason,” said Bellicourt in a statement from the team. “From working in the gym to time on the simulator, he’s focused on getting himself prepared to make a run for the title. The team has put everything we’ve got behind him and we’ve watched him do the same. It feels like all the pieces are coming together at the right time.”

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