Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. marked his NASCAR Cup debut, driving the iconic No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, in a rather unique way.
Wallace finished 26th in Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway, filling in for the injured Aric Almirola. Wallace will drive until Almirola returns from the compression fracture he suffered May 13 at Kansas Speedway. At the time, Almirola’s timetable for a return was listed as two to three months.
Shortly after Wallace climbed out of his car Sunday and in the middle of a media interview, he passed out. He went to victory lane to congratulate close friend Ryan Blaney on his win.
“I was looking at something, set to go to victory lane,” Wallace said. “This is the third time this is happened. I get so pissed off at myself that I just pass out. … Yeah, I’m good.”
All things considered, it was a typical rookie debut. Wallace did the best he could, but there were some things he has to work on.
About 25 laps into the race, Wallace pitted, only to receive a pair of penalties.
First, he came onto pit road and drove through pit road sections 1, 2, 4 and 7, earning a pass-through penalty.
Then, he sped on sections 2 and 4, earning a stop-and-go penalty.
“First trip down pit road cost us and put us behind the eight ball the rest of the day,” Wallace said. “I like stage racing, but it just didn’t work out for us.
“I was really conservative today. A lot of people said it’s not my job to set the world on fire or do everything under the sun. My job was to do as good as we could and come out with a clean race car.”
He was also caught speeding later for three such penalties in the 160-lap event.
Wallace then ran a relatively quiet rest of the race, with the exception of banging fenders with Matt DiBenedetto with 12 laps to go.
But there’s no question Wallace, who finished one lap down, wanted more from his finish.
“If we could have got back on the lead lap, I definitely think we had a top-20 car,” he said. “If I had finished 26th without any mistakes, it would have been pretty embarrassing on my part.”
When he took the green flag for his first Cup race, it was somewhat of a surreal experience, Wallace said.
“Climbing in that thing, I thought I handled my emotions very well,” he said. “Green flag went well and then we were off.
“We settled in, got a pit stop and got her right. I didn’t want to come down pit road all day. If I could have stayed out all day, I would have.”
He even took a slight humorous dig at former Truck series owner Kyle Busch in his post-race interview: “I like to win. I can drop the mic and pick my nose, but I won’t do that.”
Still, even with the mistakes he made, Wallace was fairly happy with his debut.
“I knew jumping into this it wouldn’t be easy,” he said. “These guys are good, they’re here for a reason. There’s no more climbing. I’ve been in the ladder runs the last couple years. There’s no higher to go.”
Wallace added “I was driving my butt off. This is a first step, we ran a good, clean race, that’s all you can ask. Didn’t wreck the car. That’s good.
“It was a really cool, really fun day. This was a bad-ass day. … We’ll just get better.”