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Bubba Wallace shares with Dale Jr. behind scene stories from Talladega

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Bubba Wallace spent time talking with NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday discussing some of the events of the last few days at Talladega Superspeedway.

Wallace reveals his emotions before the race, the quip Richard Petty told him to help settle his emotions before climbing into the car and celebrating with fans at their first race after the event.

Here is part of the conversation Wallace and Earnhardt had for NASCAR America at Home:

Dale Jr.: What were you thinking as drivers pushed you down pit road before the race?

Bubba Wallace: I had walked out with headphones on just to kind of block out the noise and just kind of escape. Music is my escape, Dale. I forgot who came and tapped me, maybe it was (Corey) LaJoie or someone told me, ‘You ready to roll?’ I think that was when kind of the emotion came through … (That morning) I woke up and jumped on (the driver group chat) and Jimmie Johnson said ‘I’ll be standing next to Bubba during the anthem today’ and I lost it, I lost it right there. It’s not the hate that breaks me, it’s the support, knowing that people out there support me, makes you feel good, it pulls on your heartstrings for sure.

Bubba Wallace with Jimmie Johnson before Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So I think that’s kind the emotion I was running through that whole time. So getting out of the car, I had a lot of emotion there, just going through everything. It sucks to be kind of carrying all of that weight but it’s part of the journey. Being able to turn around and see all the drivers standing there was really cool. I don’t know what made me look and see if the whole garage was there. Jimmie had talked to me about it. He had called me a couple of hours before the race and said that people reached out and wanted to be a part of that. So I stood up on the door and I looked and saw basically the entire garage and I lost it. I stood up and almost collapsed. It looked like Atlanta all over again (laughs).

But man, it was something truly incredible to witness and to be a part of.  It makes me proud to have a voice in NASCAR and also be a driver and be a part of this sport, a family sport and we all know it’s family. As much as we give each other crap on the racetrack, I will say for a fact, word for word, I got out of the car and I said I don’t like half you guys but I do appreciate all of this (laughs). It was a true testament of how big a family sport this is.”

Dale Jr.: Tell me a little bit about NASCAR President Steve Phelps. Who is he to you?

Bubba Wallace: He’s becoming a bigger and bigger friend than he is … the president of the sanctioning body. I fired off a text message to him a couple of weeks ago. One of the first things I said, ‘Hey, I look at you as a friend, so if I say anything that offends you, we’re friends.’ … I told him we need to take a big stand. We needed to take a big stand and stand up for what’s right. He quickly called me right after that and we had a really good conversation of where he stood and where he wants the sport to go and where he wants us all to go as a whole. That was pretty powerful there.

“He’s been very transparent with me. … The conversation that I had about what went down Sunday was, one, scared the hell out of me because he called me and it was one of those like you just did something wrong, like, my mind was racing, what interview did I do did I say the wrong thing … he was like we needed to talk in person. He comes over to the bus and he walks in and he’s kind of got of that really quiet mellow voice. I said, ‘Hey Steve, how is it going?’ (He said) ‘not good.’ …

When he finally looked up at me, he had tears in his eyes. I don’t know what’s going on, what he’s about to say, what I’m getting at is showing how much Sunday meant to him and offended him and hurt him, showed the character that he is and the passion that he has behind the sport but also his drivers and his friends. That he was disrespected, he was hurt, he felt threatened. He was not going to let this get away and blow under the rug. He was going to do everything in his power to find justice for this and to this day he is still carrying that and even beyond.”

Dale Jr.: What is your personal support system like? Who is helping you through this?

Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace: One, Amanda, my girlfriend. She has been super supportive. … She knew how much pressure and how much I was going through from Sunday throughout the race, everything that went on the whole pre-race, just the whole couple of days and couple of weeks I’ve been going through. … She has been a huge support so I love her for that. My mom, my sister and my dad. They’ve been all been there. …

“Talked to (Ryan) Blaney a lot. He was over here last week and we had a good conversation, talking about everything that is going on in the sport and the world, how crazy it is and what we could do to be better. I think that small little support group there on top of everybody reaching out, including yourself. … It’s cool to see that support.”

Dale Jr.: What has it been like to see new fans come to the sport?

Bubba Wallace: Man, that has been really cool. I think that was a powerful moment even after the race. I was pumped for Blaney. I was contemplating walking out to the finish line and I was like that’s a long walk. I’ll wait until he drives by. I heard the Bubba chants and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands. I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.

“They were like, ‘We’re all the way from Atlanta, we drove over here to check out our first NASCAR race,’ and they were all so proud of me and proud to be there and happy to be there and it was super cool to witness and be able to do the interview with them in the background screaming and hollering in support was super cool.

“I’ve been saying it for the last couple of weeks and I’ve always stood by this, I want everybody to feel welcome. When I go to a sporting event, when I go to a (Charlotte) Hornets game or a (Carolina) Panthers game, I don’t feel like I’m unwelcome because of who I look like. I want that same feeling for anybody that comes to a NASCAR event, that comes to a race and … the Confederate flag was a thing that kind of held people back and maybe the actions of some fans toward other people held people back. I’m trying to change that narrative and show, hey, come on out. You don’t have to cheer on me. You can cheer on Ryan Blaney, whatever. … Learn about the sport. Learn about the strategy. Know that we’re just not driving in circles because we’re driving on ovals. We go straight a little bit. Learn the pit stops, what it takes, the choreography of that. Learns the ins and outs of the sport. That’s where you get hooked.”

Bubba Wallace with fans after Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Dale Jr.: Is racing a necessary outlet for you at these times?

Bubba Wallace: Absolutely. I told Jimmie (Johnson) after the race, we were walking back to our buses, I told him, man, I wish that race didn’t end, it was a lot of fun. Now the work starts. Racing is not work and you know that.

“(Richard Petty) The King, right before I climbed in, he said, ‘Well, this is your chance to flip off that switch on the back of your head where we shut our brains off and go out.’ He said here’s that little switch you can pull off. We had talked about it when he got there to the track a couple of hours before with him, myself and Brian Moffitt (CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports) were sitting there and talking. Drivers have that switch. Once you put that helmet on it, it hits that switch down and you turn it off. He said, now you get to turn off that switch, so go have fun.”

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”

Bubba Wallace, RPM extend sponsorship with World Wide Technology

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Richard Petty Motorsports and World Wide Technology (WWT) announced Thursday they will extend their partnership into 2019. The agreement includes multi-race primary sponsorship and associate sponsorship on Bubba Wallace’s No. 43 Chevrolet as well as a technological alliance.

WWT was also named the official Technology and Analytics Partner of RPM.

The number of races for which they will serve as primary sponsor and the race dates will be announced at a later date. WWT served as primary sponsor seven times in 2018 including five consecutive races from the Brickyard 400 through Dover’s fall race.

“Our partnership with WWT allows us to use our own data in a way that is most useful for us,” said Wallace in a press release. “This isn’t something that is shared, but rather data that (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) and our engineers now use during the race weekend and the actual race itself.

“This season was just the beginning for WWT, and I think we are just scratching the surface of their capabilities. They are also giving us the sponsorship that we need to be better on the track – that’s something that we’re all looking forward to. They are a great company and I’m looking forward to working with WWT more in 2019.”

In 2018, WWT created a proprietary dashboard that contributed to a seven percent increase in average running position and a 10 percent increase in the average finishing position, according to the release. Utilizing this data allowed RPM to make better decisions regarding their pit stop strategies.

“In a short time, we’ve seen the immediate impact World Wide Technology can make on our race program with their big data analytics,” said Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer, Richard Petty Motorsports. “Their continued partnership will have a significant impact on the performance of our race team through data analytics, application enhancements and creation of proprietary performance focused applications.”

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Bubba Wallace named to Ebony Power 100

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Bubba Wallace has been named to Ebony Magazine’s Ebony Power 100 for his accomplishments as a NASCAR Cup series driver.

Listed as an “MVP,” Wallace joins other athletes such as Antonio Brown, Stephen Curry and Venus Williams as well as former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. 

The list was created to recognize leaders of color who have positively impacted their community.

“This is quite an honor to be recognized with others in the African-American community,” Wallace said in a press release. “It’s humbling to join a list of the other star athletes, artists and community and national leaders. I’m just trying to be the best driver that I can be and focus on winning races for Richard Petty Motorsports and our partners. To be recognized for some of our accomplishments this season is an honor and I’d like to thank Ebony for the recognition.”

Wallace gained the honor based on his on track performance early in the year, including a second-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a top-10 finish at Texas Motor Speedway.

His off-track accomplishments also played a role in the selection. Wallace has been a notable influencer on social media. Earlier this year, Facebook posted a “Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace” docu-series that earned more than five million views.

“We are proud of what Bubba is doing both on and off the track for our race team and our partners,” said Brian Moffitt, CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports, in a press release. “We know that we have something very special with him and he continues to break barriers outside our sport to be a first-class athlete, spokesperson and inspiration to many.”

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Bubba Wallace without backup car for Talladega Cup race

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Bubba Wallace will be without a backup car for this weekend’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. Sunday on NBC).

The Richard Petty Motorsports rookie will have to make it through one practice session and qualifying on Saturday with one No. 43 Chevrolet at his disposal before competing in his second Cup race on the 2.66-mile track.

“Out of all the speedway races we have had, we have run okay, but then the cars are totaled at the end,” Wallace said Friday at Talladega. “That is part of it. So, yeah, we are just going to go out and do our own deal until the race starts. That was new news to me going into this weekend. I was like ‘Oh, alright’.”

He finished 16th at Talladega in the spring and placed 14th in the July Daytona race.

The lack of a backup car is a product of RPM’s lack of funding.

The team has struggled to secure sponsorship for Wallace, who finished second in the Daytona 500 but has one top 10 in the 29 races since. He has wrecked in four of the last 10 races.

RPM also auctioned off Wallace’s Daytona 500 car in May. The car went for roughly $83,000.

Sunday’s race will be the seventh where Petty’s Garage and Medallion Bank have been on the car. Both are companies operated by the team’s co-owners, Andrew Murstein (Medallion Bank) and Richard Petty (Petty’s Garage).

NBC Sports’ Dustin Long chronicled the team’s sponsorship struggles while embedded with RPM in August.

“Reality is we were so late in what took place in ’17, budgets were petty well set in ’18,” Brian Moffitt, the team’s CEO, said at the time of signing Wallace. “We knew this year was going to be like it is. We were hoping we would close more business in-season like everybody does. We really think that ’19 and the discussions that we do have are very positive around Bubba.”

Wallace called the team’s situation “ballin’ on a budget.”

“Money is the root of all evil and success for us,” Wallace said. “We just need a partner, and we have great partners right now with World Wide Technology for a brand-new sponsor to come on-board and to take a big leap with us is big. So, they have done a lot for us. STP, Air Force, Click N’ Close, and we have had a number of great partners throughout the year to get us to where we are at, but we still need more. We want more funding to help our speed, help all resources that go into making a race team successful. …

“We will go out and finish out these next six races the best that we can. We have a new car coming here in a couple of weeks, so we have some good things coming it’s just a matter for having a little bit of luck on our side. I was just glad to be able to finish Dover last weekend (in 23rd, his best finish in seven races) and now we can kind of get through this weekend, hopefully unscathed and then get the last five I would say into a smooth consistent roll into the off-season. And then get really prepared for when February comes around.”

NBCSN will debut “Racing Roots: Featuring Bubba Wallace” at 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday after Cup qualifying.

After Saturday’s qualifying, Wallace posted a message on Twitter for those who had been concerned about the team not having a backup car this weekend.