Darrell Wallace Jr. to drive No. 43 at Pocono; first African-American in Cup since 2006

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Darrell Wallace Jr. will become the third African-American since 1976 to compete in a NASCAR Cup race, driving the No. 43 Ford for Aric Almirola this weekend at Pocono Raceway, Richard Petty Motorsports announced Monday.

The team stated that Wallace will drive the No. 43 while Almirola recovers from injuries suffered in a crash last month.

“Driving the famed 43 car is an unbelievable opportunity for any race car driver,” Wallace in a release from the team. “With all that Richard Petty has contributed to the sport, I’m honored to start my first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event with this team. I’m incredibly grateful that Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports and Smithfield have the confidence in me to help fill the seat until Aric (Almirola) fully recovers, which is the most important piece of this.

“Moving up to the Monster Energy Series is a tremendous challenge, but I am ready to represent this organization, help the 43 team get the best results possible and prove that I belong at this level.”

Wallace will be the first African-American to start a Cup race in more than a decade. Bill Lester, the last African-American to drive in Cup, competed in two series races in 2006. His last start came June 18, 2006 at Michigan. He finished 32nd.

Other African-Americans who competed in at least one race in NASCAR’s premier series include NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott (1961-1973) , Willy T. Ribbs (1986),  Charlie Scott (1956), Elias Bowie (1955), Randy Bethea (1975) and George Wiltshire (1971, ’75). 

Wendell Scott won one race in 495 starts. Ribbs drove in three races in 1986. His last Cup start was June 15, 1986, at Michigan. He finished 39th. Charlie Scott ran one race. Bowie ran one race. Betheat compete in one race. Wiltshire drove in one race in 1971 and ’75.

Almirola has been out since suffering a T5 compression fracture in a crash May 13. He is expected to be out two to three months. Regan Smith drove for Almirola in the Monster Energy Open, the Coca-Cola 600 and last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

Wallace’s opportunity comes as the 23-year-old’s future seemed in question in the Xfinity Series. His Roush Fenway Racing team had sponsorship set only through this weekend’s race at Pocono. Roush Fenway Racing announced it would suspend the No. 6 Xfinity team after this weekend.

Wallace was visibly upset with failing to win Saturday’s Xfinity race at Dover. After winning a stage, Wallace lost track position on a restart and finished eighth. Wallace leaned against his car after the race on pit road with his head down. Car owner Jack Roush sought to console Wallace. Eventually, Wallace tossed a sports drink bottle as he walked away from the car.

“Heartbreak day,’’ Wallace said a few moments later. “We have one more race left and this one was the one we were going to win, for sure. It just didn’t happen. We can’t get any luck. I got a little sideways on that one restart and it cost us a little bit. It would have been nice to get the $100,000 and bought us our Michigan race that we don’t have.”

Wallace has 83 career Xfinity starts. He has zero wins, six top-five finishes and 34 top 10s.

In the Camping World Truck Series, Wallace had five wins, 14 top fives and 26 top 10s in 44 starts.

“I think he’s very determined and I think that determination has turned into results over the last coupe of months,” 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick said of Wallace’s move to Cup. “If you look at where they are performance-wise from the start of the year … he’s definitely earned an opportunity to go out there and try to make something out of it.’’

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