Darrell Wallace Jr. embraces chance to drive No. 43 but uncertain what’s next


There are so many ways to view Darrell Wallace Jr.’s NASCAR Cup debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

It can be the graduation of another youngster — Wallace is 23 years old — to Cup.

It can be a celebration of diversity. Wallace will become the first African-American driver to race in NASCAR’s premier series since 2006.

It can be the introduction of another personality to the sport. Wallace’s social media account can be entertaining and enlightening.

Above all, this opportunity is temporary.

An uncertain future is ahead for Wallace, who is filling in until Aric Almirola returns. Almirola suffered a compression fracture in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway. No date has been set for Almirola’s return to the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford but the expected recovery time is two to three months.

When Almirola returns, Wallace might not have his old ride to go back to in the Xfinity Series. Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday that it will suspend operations of that team after this weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway.

Then what?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ Wallace said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “I know I’ll go out there and prove to everybody, inside of the racetrack, outside of the racetrack, on TV that I belong in the Cup series and do the best I can.’’

Such determination can lead to mistakes. Wallace is aware there is a balance he must find on the track.

“There’s no need for me to go out there and try to set the world on fire and try to win races and put myself in a tough spot and not be able to capitalize on it,’’ he said. “If the opportunity presents itself, then we’ll jump on it.

“I’m getting this opportunity because people believe in me and have seen my talents coming up. I have to go out there and just back that up … that I belong in the series.’’

While some drivers might be able to fade out of the limelight during this stretch — the No. 43 car ranks 24th in the owner points standings — Wallace likely won’t because it has been more than a decade since the last African-American competed in this series. Although records are incomplete, he’s believed to be one of less than a dozen African-Americans to compete in NASCAR’s top series.

Wallace acknowledges that his move to Cup “is a huge step for NASCAR. I’m glad to be leading the forefront of that right now. It just shows that we’re trying to bring in a new demographic. We’re trying to bring in a new face, get a younger generation, no matter what color, what age. We’re trying to get everybody involved to bring NASCAR back.’’

It’s a role Wallace admits he feels comfortable leading and has handled previously.

“There’s definitely been some flak in the way,’’ Wallace said of a racing career than began when he was 9 years old. “I’ve been able to handle that the best I could, ignore it, use that as motivation. My mom and dad always told me to block out the bad and take the good from it, use it as motivation.

“I would get the gestures and everything thrown out. We’d show up the next weekend and win. That’s how I was taught.  That’s how I was raised, to ignore the stupidity, continue on and do what I need to do.’’

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