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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Camping World Truck Series practice report from Martinsville

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Justin Haley was fastest in the first of three Camping World Truck Series practice sessions Friday at Martinsville Speedway.

The GMS Racing driver topped Noah Gragson in the final moments of the session with a speed of 94.125 mph.

Gragson, the defending winner at Martinsville, posted a speed of 93.891 mph.

The top five was completed by Matt Crafton (93.738), John Hunter Nemechek (93.724) and Johnny Sauter (93.622).

Justin Fontaine recorded the most laps in the session with 70.

Check back for more.

NASCAR America: Aric Almirola confident after fast start

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Aric Almirola heads into Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway 10th in the points and full of confidence with an opening five-race stretch that has seen him finish no worse than 13th in a Cup race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Almirola told NASCAR America’s Marty Snider on Thursday that the start of the season has him “loose and I’m excited and I’ve got this spark and this energy that is so good right now.’’

Almirola said he and crew chief John Klausmeier are working well together. That and SHR’s fast cars have provided a strong combination.

“I think it just starts with Johnny and I having a relationship prior to this year,’’ Almirola said of working with Klausmeier. “I knew Johnny Klausmeier from when I was at DEI back in 2007, 2008 and we’ve been friends ever since. Now when you put us in this environment where we have to work together and we have to perform together … it helps us communicate. So far it’s working well. We still have a long ways to go. We want to win races, we want to contend for a championship.’’

For more on what Almirola said, watch the video above.

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PNC Bank becomes official bank of NASCAR

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NASCAR announced Friday it has agreed to a five-year deal with PNC Bank to become the official bank and official wealth management partner of the sport.

PNC Bank will have exclusive status and promotional rights around retail, corporate and private banking across the country and U.S. military bases abroad. The bank will be at key NASCAR races throughout each season to provide financial insights to drivers, teams, tracks and sponsors.

The agreement is PNC Bank’s first with a sports league.

PNC is the latest Fortune 500 company to invest in the sport.

According to NASCAR, more than 1 in 4 Fortune 500 companies invested in NASCAR in 2017 – a seven percent increase year-over-year.

Friday 5: Passion on and off the track

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There’s been much to talk about this season but some of the conversation has centered more on what has happened off the track.

Maybe Kyle Busch can help return the talk to the track this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Admittedly, three of the first five races having a margin of victory of 2.6 seconds or more (last week Martin Truex Jr. won by 11.6 seconds) takes away some of the excitement for some even as Kevin Harvick won three races in a row.

Other than Harvick’s dominance, some of the buzzy topics this season has been Harvick talking about the need to build up grassroots racing, why Busch wasn’t interviewed on TV after last weekend’s race at Auto Club (and then his responses to Twitter trolls) and how Austin Dillon and members of his team got tattoos on their rear end after winning the Daytona 500.

All worthy topics to generate conversation, but the discussion on the racing hasn’t been as paramount to this point.

Martinsville comes just in time to change that. The series is back at the track for the first time since Denny Hamlin’s contact knocked Chase Elliott out of the lead late in the fall race and fans saw a level of emotion they hadn’t seen from Elliott. If you don’t recall, Busch went on to win that race.

Last spring had its excitement with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumping Busch out of the way to stay on the lead lap, opening the door for Elliott to win a stage. Later in that race, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch engaged in a spellbinding duel before Keselowski pulled away and went on to win. Busch finished second.

Right now, Busch is one of the main drivers who stirs the drink in a sport that has seen fan favorites Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, among others, retire.

Even Earnhardt said as much on his podcast this week.

“The one thing that I’ve learned over the last several years … was the sport needs people like Kyle,’’ Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download. “Even if you don’t like the guy, the sport needs all kinds of personalities, and we can’t have 40 heroes out there racing.

“We can’t have 40 Captain Americas out there competing against each other. You gotta have a Batman, you gotta have a Robin, you gotta have a Superman, you gotta have a Joker. You gotta have all of that to create storylines and create rivalries.”

The sport’s best rivalry is Keselowski and Busch. It’s one that simmers and then explodes, whether it is in their duel at Martinsville last year, their contact at Watkins Glen, Busch’s Twitter response to Keselowski after Keselowski’s comments about Toyota’s dominance entering the playoffs or Busch simply saying at the news conference before last year’s Miami championship race of Busch: “Sometimes you just don’t like a guy.’’

This weekend could be a chance for such feelings to bubble or maybe from somebody else. With an off weekend afterward, it would give fans something to talk about.

2. An impassioned defense

BK Racing car owner Ron Devine was combative at times, calling the procedure “nonsense” while on the stand for about 2 1/2 hours Thursday in federal bankruptcy court.

Devine, who turned to address the judge at times when answering questions from attorneys, was on the stand defending his right to run BK Racing despite millions of dollars in losses in recent years and unpaid bills.

Union Bank & Trust, which claims it is owed more than $8 million in loans from Devine, seeks to have a trustee put in charge of the team. Union Bank & Trust stated in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy court that BK Racing had lost about $30 million from 2014-16.

MORE: Court filing lists expenses, revenue for each race 

MORE: Rare peek into race purses, payouts

Devine said on the stand that the team had signed a sponsor agreement Wednesday with EarthWater for $3.6 million for the rest of the season. The amount is to be paid in cash, shares of stock and product. Devine said that if the judge ruled to have a bank-appointed trustee run the team, the sponsor would not remain, noting a line that in the agreement that the deal was null and void if Devine was not running the team.

Devine, who said his organization had “low teens” in terms of full-time employees, stated that those employees would quit if a trustee took over. Devine said the only reason the bank wanted a trustee was to sell the team’s charter. He accused the bank of soliciting bids for the charter.

Turning to the judge, Devine said of having a trustee run the team instead of him: “There’s no way he can operate the team. He has no knowledge and ability to operate my team.’’

Devine estimated he had spent half a million dollars of his own money since December to offset deficits at BK Racing. During the testimony, Devine confirmed that he sold one of the team’s charters before the 2017 season to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million.

“I can run this race team,’’ Devine said in court.

The matter has been continued until Wednesday.

3. West Coast review

While Kevin Harvick dominated the West Coast swing, winning two of the three races, Kyle Busch had the best average finish for the events at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana.

Of course, Harvick’s 35th-place finish Sunday after contact with Kyle Larson ruined his average finish.

Here’s who had the best average finish for the three races:

2.3 — Kyle Busch

3.3 — Martin Truex Jr.

7.7 — Kyle Larson

8.0 — Erik Jones

8.3 — Brad Keselowski

Here’s who scored the most points in the three races:

147 — Martin Truex Jr.

146 — Kyle Busch

125 — Brad Keselowski

120 — Kyle Larson

115 — Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. combined to lead 75.2 percent of the laps run on the West Coast swing. Harvick led 252 laps, Busch led 200 laps and Truex led 134 laps.

4. In case you missed it …

Only three drivers scored a top-10 finish in each of the three West Coast swing races: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones.

5. Back in time

Jimmie Johnson has nine career Martinsville victories (in 32 starts for a winning percentage of 28.1 percent) but has two top-10 finishes — including a win in October 2016 — in the last seven starts there. He’s led only in two of those seven races. He once had a streak of 17 consecutive top-10 finishes there, including six wins.

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