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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All-Star Race, Open entry lists

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It’s officially All-Star Race week.

For the first time the annual exhibition event that awards $1 million will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET Wednesday on FS1).

Twenty drivers will compete in the 140-lap, four-stage main event. Sixteen drivers currently make up the field following Cole Custer’s win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Three drivers will qualify for the main event via the All-Star Open, the 85-lap preliminary race that’s divided into three stages. The winners of all three stages will advance. The remaining driver will advance via a fan vote.

Here are the entry lists for each race.

All-Star Race 

Drivers who automatically qualified for the All-Star Race: Those who won points races in 2019-20, past All-Star Race winners and previous Cup champions.

Drivers who have clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Cole Custer, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

Click here for the entry list.

All-Star Open

Twenty-two drivers are entered in the preliminary race.

Notable drivers include Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, rookies Tyler Reddick, William Byron and John Hunter Nemechek, as well as Bubba Wallace.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight

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Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, says that series officials will keep an eye on Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson moving forward but that the sanctioning body feels it is in a “good place” with those drivers after their fight last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson punched Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway. A NASCAR spokesperson said Friday night that no penalties were anticipated.

Asked about where matters stood between NASCAR and the two drivers, Miller told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning:

“I personally wasn’t in the post-race conversations. (NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director) Wayne Auton does a great job with that and the report that I got from him is he talked to some of the crew members that were involved and obviously both of the drivers. I think we got to a good place. They’re going to have some words this week and try to make sure we’re in a good spot when we start the weekend next weekend in Texas. We feel like we’re OK.

“This is an emotional sport and there’s going to be things like that that crop up. It’s not a great situation for us to deal with as a sanctioning body, but we also want the emotion in the sport. That’s what makes it so special. Those things are unfortunate, but we do know from time to time those are going to happen. If we feel good about the conversations we’ve had, in a lot of cases we’re going to move on from that and keep an eye on those individuals moving forward.”

Race and Sports in America: Conversations to air at 8 p.m. ET Monday

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Damon Hack will host two roundtables with athletes and former athletes for a conversation on race and sports in America. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports Regional Networks.

Appearing with Hack will be Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, NBA superstar Steph Curry, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, NFL player Kyle Rudolph, pro golfer Troy Mullins, former tennis player James Blake, Major League Baseball player James Rollins and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Among the topics discussed are: The conversations they’ve had with family in the last few months, what they hope things will be like in a year’s time, the level of optimism vs. pessimism and their experiences.

 

 

Winners and losers from Kentucky

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WINNERS

Cole CusterHe entered Sunday’s race well out of a playoff spot at 25th in the points. He took advantage of a series of events in the final laps to score a dramatic victory and earn a playoff spot.

Martin Truex Jr.Lost the lead on the last lap but recorded his first top-five finish since his Martinsville win last month.

Matt DiBenedetto He was 18th with 14 laps to go and finished third.

Christopher BellSeventh-place finish was his fourth finish of 12th or better in the last six races.

Austin Cindric Had not won on an oval in the Xfinity Series before sweeping both series races at Kentucky Speedway.

LOSERS

Matt KensethA week after finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, he spun twice and finished 25th at Kentucky.

Ryan PreeceFinished last for the second race in a row. He was eliminated in a pit road accident at Indy and by transmission issues at Kentucky. He has failed to finish five of 17 races this season (29.4%).

Jimmie JohnsonWas third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun him. Instead of contending for his first victory since 2017, Johnson finished 18th and had a little warning for Keselowski.