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Darrell Wallace Jr. hopes to do more than replicate Daytona 500 result at Talladega

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According to Darrell Wallace Jr.‘s birth certificate, Talladega Superspeedway is his home track.

Wallace, who lived in Mobile, Alabama, until he was 2, will make his first Cup start at the 2.66-mile track in Sunday’s GEICO 500.

“I just have my Aunt and Uncle still live down here,” Wallace said Friday. “It’s right in their backyard, so it’s good for this to be my ‘home track’ if you say. … I don’t really remember much at all, but that is what it says on the birth certificate and it’s good to have those ties and have those roots here.”

Sunday’s race will be Wallace’s third on a restrictor-plate track in Cup competition. The last was a big deal for the 24-year-old driver, as he finished second in the Daytona 500.

The rookie driver will try to replicate that result and then some in order to score his first Cup win.

“You can’t really expect it to go as smooth as that went although that wasn’t smooth at all,” Wallace said. “You don’t know what you are going to get. You don’t know who is going to play nice, who is going to rough up some feathers and go from there. I don’t know. I’m just keeping an open mind about it.”

Wallace isn’t driving the same car he had at Daytona. The battered No. 43 Chevrolet is part of an auction of Richard Petty memorabilia.

“This is a new car for us and we were a really good push car at Daytona and a lot of people said that throughout the garage, so we will see if we have those same characteristics or if we are better out front this time,” Wallace said. “It would be nice to just be out front the whole time.”

Wallace is two races removed from being out front for the first time after leading six laps at Bristol. It was part of a rejuvenated performance by the No. 43 team following the off-weekend for Easter. Wallace has finished eighth (Texas), 16th (Bristol) and 25th (Richmond) since the break. Between Daytona and Texas he failed to finish better than 20th or on the lead lap.

“I think we are hitting on some things,” Wallace said. “(Crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) and I had talked about that last weekend in Richmond. We are a much better team after that first break that we had on Easter Sunday. We definitely needed that to regroup and come back with a different game plan and it’s showing. Richmond was kind of a head scratcher for us, but we are here focused on Talladega hoping we have the same result, just one spot better than Daytona.”

The Daytona result does give Wallace “a little bit of confidence.”

“I’m just trying to remember what in the heck I did,” Wallace said. “Good graces were on our side. Hopefully, we still have some of that good graces on our side for this race this weekend.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. earns first top 10 since Daytona 500

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After taking the checkered flag in Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Darrell Wallace Jr. gave crew chief Drew Blickensderfer a reassuring message.

Wallace joked that he shouldn’t listen to the Twitter “trolls.” Blickensderfer still had a job for another week.

Wallace was in a good mood. For the first time since his historic second-place finish in the Daytona 500, Wallace had finished in the top 10.

The No. 43 Chevrolet placed eighth in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. It’s his only finish higher than 20th in the six races since Daytona.

“Hell yeah, we needed that,” Wallace said. “The guys did a hell of a job all weekend long. I thought we had pretty decent speed and a lot of people in the garage were like ‘Your car is pretty good, so just don’t mess it up.’ ”

Wallace started 15th and thanks to attrition and wrecks throughout the day, stayed just outside the top 10 most of the race.

Late in the final stage, Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman were the only drivers left in a green-flag run who had not pitted.

Newman slammed into the Turn 1 wall with 34 laps to go. After pitting, Wallace restarted fourth before falling to eighth.

“Drew did a great job doing some pit strategy on that last call to get us out there to fourth,” Wallace said. “I don’t know if we were on the splitter on that last run, but she just wouldn’t turn going down into the corners and gave up a couple of spots. I will beat myself up over that one, but still walking away with my (second) top 10 in the Cup Series is pretty good. Really good day for us. We had some prospects on the box, so I think that went a long way as well. But man, what a good day, what a good weekend.”

Wallace also finished on the lead lap for the first time since Daytona.

The early stretch of his rookie season bottomed out two weeks ago at Martinsville, where he placed 34th, 14 laps down after multiple unscheduled pit stops and a visit to the garage for repairs.

Wallace drew attention midrace when he jockeyed for the free pass spot with Kevin Harvick.

“I will see if I get a text from him later, but I think he knew the circumstances there,” Wallace said. “He knew I wanted that more than him, and I think we ended up both getting it.  I don’t know how. That was fun. That shows how much speed we had in our car, but it also shows the product of racing here at Texas because it’s hard to pass.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. feels a connection to Wendell Scott without the pressure of his legacy

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WELCOME, N.C. – There will be many reminders of the history that Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. could make this season in NASCAR’s premier series, but this one was especially personal.

The first full-time African-American driver on the circuit in 47 years since Wendell Scott received a 2-minute voice mail recently from Scott’s son, Wendell Jr.

“(It said) don’t feel like I need to carry the pressure of his dad and the Scott legacy, just go out there and do me,” Wallace said, relaying the message last Friday during a break from a preseason production shoot. “That’s the way it’s always been. All the history falls in place after. That’s how I like to go about it. A small part carries him with me, but I don’t put that in the forefront.

“For me, it’s just to go out and get through practice, qualifying and the race. If we end up with a top five, then, hey, it’s the first African-American to do this or the first African-American to do that. I don’t really look at that stuff. That’s when the media kind of brings that in. You can sit back after the race and say, ‘Damn, that was pretty cool.’ ”

Wallace is accustomed to being in the headlines for unique accomplishments. His Oct. 26, 2013 win in the Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway was the first by a black driver in one of NASCAR’s national series since Scott’s Dec. 1, 1963 win at Jacksonville, Florida.

Wallace, 24, has notched five more truck victories since then (including his lone start on the circuit last August at Michigan International Speedway) and made the Xfinity Series playoffs in 2016.

But as he steps into the famous No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports (which has moved this year to Chevrolet and a new shop location adjacent to Richard Childress Racing, which will supply its cars and engines), Wallace acknowledges that “for sure, I’m carrying that banner” again for Scott. He got to know the racing pioneer’s family eight years ago after entering NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

He understands the attention brought by his race, though he also sees evidence on social media that his fan base tires of hearing about it.

“It’s something I’ve embraced,” Wallace said. “I’ve accepted that it’s always going to be talked about no matter what I do. I’ll be the first African-American to take a piss in the Cup garage. Everything I do is a first. It’s going to be there. I’ve accepted it.

“The fans are (who) get so fired up over it. It’s like, ‘Why do we have to mention it?’ Because no one is there. It’s going to be mentioned. It has to be mentioned. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

Wallace made his Cup debut with RPM last season at Pocono Raceway, the first of four starts in place of injured Aric Almirola. He posted a respectable average finish of 17.8 while handling the increased exposure with aplomb.

Team owner Richard Petty said “there’s going to be a lot of pressure on (Wallace)” in 2018, but he thinks his crew won’t feel the effects.

“I don’t think it’s going to put that much pressure on RPM because they’re going to do the best they can for whoever it is,” Petty said. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on him, so he’s going to have to learn to live with it.”

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said Wallace already proved last year he is highly adaptable despite the heavy scrutiny.

“When we showed up at Pocono, we realized what it was all about,” Blickensderfer said. “It kind of gave you goosebumps to think about how special it was. We saw all the hoopla and everything that was going on around it, we thought, ‘This is something that’s a little different than just the kid who’s going to drive a race car.’ ”

It doesn’t feel so different away from the track, though, when Wallace brings his freewheeling presence through the shop.

“When he walks in be-bopping and giving people knuckles, it’s nothing,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s just a kid driving a race car. But I think when we get to Daytona and unload the car that has ‘Wallace’ on it and it’s his car, I think it’s going to be a little different. But it’s different in a great way.

“Everybody on this team looks at it like it’s cool. The way Bubba reacts to it, he just handles it. He does it remarkably well for a kid his age. He just kind of takes it in and is OK with it and goes about his business, much better than most people would. It makes it easier for us just to not even think about that weekly. When we get ready to fire engines for the Daytona 500, we’re going to be like, ‘He’s doing something really cool here.’ Until then it’s kind of business, and it’s just some kid driving a race car.

But as he prepares for his first full season in Cup, even Wallace finds himself occasionally caught in the moment – such as when he walked past one of his new Camaros – which was coated only in primer but had his last name across the windshield.

“I was thinking, ‘Damn that’s my Cup car,’” he said. “That’s cool. Nothing on it but ‘Wallace.’ I thought, ‘Damn, that’s really cool to see.’ It’s exciting stuff that’s happening right now. I’ll be anxious to see when we get to Daytona how giddy I’ll be.”

Here’s what is new in 2018 for Cup teams

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A new year brings many changes. Such is the case for NASCAR teams. Here’s a look at some of the key changes heading into the 2018 season for Cup teams that have announced drivers for this season.

(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (12th in points in 2017)

What’s new: Chip Ganassi Racing announced Wednesday that Doug Duchardt has been hired to be the organization’s chief operating officer.

What’s the same: McMurray is back for a ninth season with the team in his second stint there. Matt McCall begins his fourth season with McMurray.

 

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (4th)

What’s new: Discount Tire moves over to be a primary sponsor of Keselowski’s car for 10 races.

What’s the same: Keselowski is back with crew chief Paul Wolfe for an eighth consecutive season.

 

No. 3 Austin Dillon (11th)

What’s new: He has only one teammate, Ryan Newman, at Richard Childress Racing, with the team cutting back to two cars for 2018.

What’s the same: Crew chief Justin Alexander is back after being paired with Dillon in May 2017.

 

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

What’s new: Wife DeLana delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter in late December.

What’s the same: Crew chief Rodney Childers is back for a fifth season with Harvick. Since they’ve been together, they’ve won one championship, scored 14 victories and captured 13 poles.

 

No. 6 Trevor Bayne (22nd)

What’s new: AdvoCare is back but with a new paint scheme for this season. 

What’s the same: Matt Puccia is back as Bayne’s crew chief. They’ve been together since the 2016 season.

 

No. 9 Chase Elliott (5th)

What’s new: A new number for the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

What’s the same: Crew chief Alan Gustafson is back and Elliott, who enters his third Cup season, seeks his first career series win.

 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (29th)

What’s new: A new ride for Almirola, as he moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s just among the many changes. Almirola also will have a new crew chief. John Klausmeier, who has been an engineer with the organization since 2009 and filled in as in interim crew chief previously, moves into that position for Almirola’s team. And a new look. Smithfield joins Almirola in the move, but its car will be black and white.

What’s the same: Even with the move, Almirola is driving a Ford again. 

 

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (6th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Wheeler is back for his third season with Hamlin. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles the previous two seasons.

 

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (9th)

What’s new: A new team. Blaney moves from the Wood Brothers to a third entry for Team Penske. He’ll be teammates to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Team Penske purchased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing for Blaney’s car.

What’s the same: Crew chief Jeremy Bullins joins Blaney in the move from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske.

 

No. 13 Ty Dillon (24th)

What’s new: Crew chief Matt Borland joins the team from Richard Childress Racing.

What’s the same: Germain Racing remains aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

 

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (18th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz is paired with Bowyer for a second season in a row.

 

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th)

What’s new: Stenhouse is no longer dating Danica Patrick

What’s the same: Crew chief Brian Pattie and Stenhouse are set to begin their second season together after winning two races and making the playoffs last season.

 

No. 18 Kyle Busch (2nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: This will be the fourth Cup season for crew chief Adam Stevens and Busch. They’ve won 14 races and 11 poles the past three seasons together.

 

No. 19 Daniel Suarez (20th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Suarez is back with Arris and Stanley as sponsors in 2018.

 

No. 20 Erik Jones (19th)

What’s new: A new driver in this car that Matt Kenseth had run the past five seasons. Also, crew chief Chris Gayle moves with Jones, the 2017 Cup rookie of the year, from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2018 campaign.

What’s the same: The car has the same number as last year.

 

No. 21 Paul Menard (23rd)

What’s new: A new home for Menard, who goes from Richard Childress Racing to the Wood Brothers. Greg Erwin will be the new crew chief, taking over for Jeremy Bullins, who moves from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske with Ryan Blaney.

What’s the same: The Wood Brothers.

 

No. 22 Joey Logano (17th)

What’s new: Logano’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

What’s the same: Crew chief Todd Gordon is back for his sixth season with Logano. They’ve combined to win 16 races and 14 poles working together.

 

No. 24 William Byron (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: A new driver and new number for what had been the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports. The Xfinity Series champion moves up from JR Motorsports. He’ll have Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

What’s the same: Liberty University, a longtime backer of Byron, is back as a sponsor.

 

No. 31 Ryan Newman (16th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Caterpillar, which has been a partner with Richard Childress Racing since 2009, will sponsor Newman’s car in select races in 2018.

 

No. 32 Matt DiBenedetto (32nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: DiBenedetto is back with the team for a second consecutive year.

 

No. 34 Michael McDowell (26th)

What’s new: New ride for McDowell, who moves from Leavine Family Racing to Front Row Motorsports and joins David Ragan at that organization. Front Row Motorsports also has expanded its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

What’s the same: Team remains in the Ford camp.

 

No. 37 Chris Buescher (25th)

What’s new: The team purchased a charter after leasing one last season.

What’s the same: Buescher is back for his second year with the team.

 

No. 38 David Ragan (30th)

What’s new: He has a new teammate with Michael McDowell joining the team and replacing Landon Cassill.

What’s the same: Ragan is back for his fifth season (in two stints) with Front Row Motorsports.

 

No. 41 Kurt Busch (14th)

What’s new: Is what’s old. Busch is back with Stewart-Haas Racing as is sponsor Monster Energy after his contract option was not picked up last season amid questions about sponsorship. Busch also has a new crew chief. Billy Scott moves from the No. 10 team to be Busch’s crew chief this season. Scott replaces Tony Gibson, who moves into a position at the shop.

What’s the same: The car number for Busch, who will enter his fifth season at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

 

No. 42 Kyle Larson (8th)

What’s new: A new sponsor for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Credit One will replace Target on the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2018. Also Larson got engaged to girlfriend Katelyn Sweet in December.

What’s the same: Larson will be teamed with crew chief Chad Johnston for a third consecutive year. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles together. 

 

No. 43 Darrell Wallace Jr. (50th)

What’s new: Wallace joins the team after running four races for Richard Petty Motorsports when Aric Almirola was injured last season. RPM also has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will get its engines from ECR Engines this season. Team also is adding sponsorship with Smithfield putting most of its resources with Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

What’s the same: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer returns to be Wallace’s crew chief.

 

No. 47 AJ Allmendinger (27th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: This will be Allmendinger’s fifth season with JTG Daugherty Racing.

 

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (10th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: He’s back with crew chief Chad Knaus for a 17th consecutive year.

 

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (1st)

What’s new: A new moniker for Truex – reigning Cup champion. Also, the team is back to a one-car operation with the shuttering of the No. 77 team.

What’s the same: Champion crew chief Cole Pearn is back to lead this team.

 

No. 88 Alex Bowman (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: Bowman takes over the former ride of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

What’s the same: Greg Ives is back as the team’s crew chief.

 

No. 95 Kasey Kahne (15th)

What’s new: Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing, replacing Michael McDowell. Travis Mack, who had been the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team at Hendrick Motorsports, makes the move to be Kahne’s crew chief.

What’s the same: The car number for the team.

 

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Aric Almirola crew chief suspended three points races for failed laser inspection

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NASCAR on Wednesday announced the three-race suspension of Richard Petty Motorsports crew chief Drew Blickensderfer after the No. 43 “failed the post-race rear wheel steer” portion of the laser inspection Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Scott McDougall, the team’s director of engineering, will serve as interim crew chief this weekend at Kansas Speedway, in the Coke 600 and at Dover International Speedway.

Blickensderfer will be able to serve as crew chief during the All-Star weekend.

Blickensderfer has also been fined $65,000 and the team has been docked 35 driver and owner points. Before the penalty, Almirola had been 17th in the standings, one point out of 16th, which is the final playoff spot. Almirola is now tied with Daniel Suarez for 21st with 187 points.

Almirola’s fourth-place result in Talladega, his second top five of the year, is encumbered.

Richard Petty Motorsports released the following statement:

“We accept NASCAR’s decision and will continue to work to get the most out of our race cars every week while maintaining the NASCAR rulebook. We look forward to Kansas this weekend.”

On Tuesday, Alrmirola told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider his car failed inspection by being 0.01 of an inch beyond the tolerance.

“It’s less than the thickness of a credit card, but it’s the rules,” Almirola said. “We’ve seen other teams penalized for the same thing, so we’re not being singled out. NASCAR is making clear they have rules, and we have to play within the rules.”

NASCAR also announced Tommy Baldwin Racing crew chief Ken Davis was fined $10,000 for having only 19 lug nuts secured on the No. 7 Chevrolet of Elliott Sadler.

NASCAR also indefinitely suspended Front Row Motorsports engineer Reid T. Ferguson for violating its substance abuse policy.