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.”