INDIANAPOLIS— After his four race stint filling in for Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace Jr. is still actively looking for sponsorship to participate in NASCAR.
After showing impeccable performance during his stint, reports indicated that Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) was actively looking for sponsorship for potentially a second car for Wallace in 2018. RPM currently has leased their second charter to Matt DiBenedetto and GoFas Racing. RPM will either have to sell their charter or use it for a second car in 2018.
When asked, this is what Richard Petty said about Wallace and a second ride at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
“We haven’t talked that much to Darrell. He is still looking and trying to find a home. If we had the chance, we would definitely be more than interested in having him drive the car. Right now, it is up to somebody else. If somebody decides to be involved with us, then we will work it out from there.”
During his tenure at RPM, Wallace Jr had an average finish of 17.8 and average start of 22.5. Over the four race period, Wallace Jr actively increased his best finish from 26th to 11th. He competed in all but two laps during his time at RPM this season.
SPARTA, K.y— For what could be his final weekend in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, Bubba Wallace, Jr. has showed significant improvement in his short time filling in for Aric Almirola.
After an 11th place finish, Wallace was pleased with how the day went.
“It was a good run for our Smithfield Ford. We had a lot of fun tonight. We just fell off a lot, a lot more than the other guys. We are trying to balance that out. We took a two-tire strategy there that kind of hurt us,” said Wallace about his run at Kentucky. “We fell back on that one restart. We were able to manage and maintain and work out some track position on that green-flag stop and we were 14th and fired off right around there for the last restart and was able to hang on. It was a good day.
In just his fourths start in the Cup level, Wallace is beginning to make a name for himself. Every time he has been in the car, Wallace has finished better than the race prior. He has completed 795 of 797 laps (99.7%) Wallace notices that improvement:
“That was cool. We kept improving. Each and every time on the race track, each and every race. We kept improving, I kept improving. I am getting more and more comfortable with these cars.”
Wallace noticed that his improvement came on restarts.
“I learned my lesson at Michigan running halfway aggressive. I didn’t give anybody any breaks on these restarts. I may have pissed a couple people off but oh well. I needed to do what I needed to do to keep our track position. The repaves make it really tough for passing so you want to get all you can on restarts.”
Despite the rumors around silly season, Wallace isn’t too concerned about them. His focus has turned into trying to find some sponsorship and a ride to continue competing in the Cup level.
“I don’t know what is next for next weekend. I might get a call, I might not. If not, best of luck to Aric and the 43 team. I will play a lot of golf and try to get better at that. I will be on some phone calls trying to get something,” said Wallace.
Despite not knowing if he will continue in the Cup series after this weekend, Wallace is determined that he won’t be gone for long.
“I won’t be gone too long, at least I hope not. It is a bittersweet moment.”
On Wednesday, Almirola is slated to give an update on his progress after the injury he sustained in May at Kansas Speedway.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be adding a new driver to their ranks beginning this weekend at Pocono Raceway. Bubba Wallace Jr. will be the interim driver in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry while Aric Almirola continues the healing process after suffering a T5 Vertebrae Compression Fracture at Kansas Speedway last month.
After the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono, Roush Fenway Racing will suspend operations of their No. 6 entry driven by Wallace Jr. Roush Fenway and Wallace Jr. will continue to look at opportunities for him to get in the Xfinity car when sponsorship arises.
“It's an exciting opportunity not only for myself but my family, first of all, my fans, everybody that's helped me get to this level ever since I started racing when I was nine years old and had dreams of running in a Cup race, making my name present in the sport. So this is the perfect opportunity. So I'm very thankful for that,” said Wallace.
Wallace Jr.’s named emerge shortly after 2010 among the NASCAR ranks through the Drive For Diversity program. While in that program, Wallace Jr. showed success. Wallace reflected on that time and where it lead him today.
“That was a great opportunity that presented itself when we signed on with Joe Gibbs Racing, joined on with Rev Racing at the same time to compete in the Diversity Program, K&N Pro Series East,” said Wallace Jr. “With that success came my career where it is now. So definitely without that on‑ and off‑track success we had in those two years, I don't know if I'd be here today. A lot of that credit goes to those guys over there.”
With this step into Cup competition, Wallace Jr. hopes this opportunity helps open the door for more diversity in NASCAR.
“This is a huge step for NASCAR, the whole sport in general, for bringing diversity to its top‑tier level of 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,” said Wallace. “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 been a fun journey.”
Although the future is uncertain when Almirola returns, Wallace Jr. will make the most out of this opportunity.
“I don't know what's going to happen. One thing I can touch on is I know I'll go out there and prove to everybody inside the racetrack, outside the racetrack, on the TV, that I belong in the Cup Series. Do the best that I can. Give an extra 200% each and every time I climb in the car for Ford, for Richard Petty, for everybody on the team, for Smithfield, to go out there and make the opportunity the greatest it has been,” said Wallace Jr.
Wallace Jr. has five years of experience in the Xfinity Series. He has six top-five finishes, 34 top-10’s, and two poles. Wallace Jr. hopes this chance in Cup brings many more years to come at NASCAR’s top level.
CONCORD, N.C— Following a violent crash at Kansas Speedway on lap 199, Aric Almirola made the trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway to talk about his week following a T5 vertebrae compression fracture. Although it wasn’t in a driver’s suit, Almirola was grateful to be at the racetrack.
“I’m glad to be here, too. I wish I was sitting here in a driver’s uniform, but I’m not. First and foremost, I want to thank God. I didn’t’ think I was lucky. I was pretty upset in the moment and then after meeting with doctors in Kansas and Charlotte I realized how fortunate I was. I want to thank the Good Lord for looking out for me,” said Almirola in his opening statements on Friday.
While walking through the accident, Almirola stated he was a full two seconds behind the accident. He could have missed the wreck, but was committed to the very outside lane. He saw the cars of Danica Patrick and Joey Logano come up the track abruptly into his lane and into the catch fence. While trying to avoid the accident, his car went loose hitting some oil and water resulting in being unable to steer the car.
“I felt like from that point my car was on railroad tracks and I was just headed straight for the wreck. There was nothing I could do. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I feel like I’ve always been able to miss wrecks, especially from that far back,” said Almirola.
Almirola knew that the wreck was coming and braced for impact. At the moment of impact, Almirola felt a sharp pain in his back; A moment he said “felt like somebody stuck a knife in my back.” He then realized his car was airborne because he could see the asphalt. That “knife in my back” moment was made worse when he landed because it felt like “somebody took that knife and just twisted it up in my back.”
Almirola is scheduled to be out of the car for eight to 12 weeks. He is not “happy” about it, but does want to make sure that it is properly healed before getting back in the car.
“Getting back in a race car two weeks too soon is just gonna add two more starts to my start column and the stat book, but if I were to get in another similar accident and not be properly healed, you’re talking about potentially being paralyzed from the belly button down, so I’m not gonna risk that,” said Almirola. “I’ve got a lot of baseball to play with my son and I’d like to dance with my daughter one day at her wedding, so I’m not gonna risk it. Whenever the doctors clear me, I’ll be ready to get back in a race car.”
With the timetable of return being eight to 12 weeks, Almirola will be unable to make the Playoffs in September. Almirola will not use that as an incentive to get back in the car as quickly as possible.
“I think the incentive to make sure that I can run around in my front yard with my kids is enough for me to not rush back. I’m gonna listen to the doctors. I’m young. I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me. I’ve got a four year old and a three year old at home,” Almirola stated. “I’m not gonna do anything stupid to rush myself back in a race car and risk not being able to feel anything from my belly button down for the rest of my life. That’s most important to me. Being out 8-12 weeks and not having a chance at the Playoffs, obviously that stinks, especially coming off Talladega.”
William Heisel, Director of OrthCarolina Motorsports, said Almirola’s injury was worse than recent injuries of Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin and explained what Almirola will have to go through.
“This fracture is at a higher level than the injuries that Denny sustained or that Tony sustained. This fracture though has outstanding healing potential. Because of the location it’s a very stable fracture from the standpoint that the ligaments that connect the bones are all intact and they’re all doing well based on the imaging studies that we’ve obtained so far, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Heisel. “The bone is, for lack of a better term, crunched and it’s something that first and foremost we’ve got to get some of the edema or some of the blood out of the bone and that is something that is a time phenomenon as much as anything. And then we have a lot of work to do from a physical therapy standpoint. That days that Aric is not available to move around because of the pain and because of the guarding are days that he’s not using those muscles fully and we’re going to have to rehabilitate those. So there’s definitively some physical therapy to come. We want to deal with the acute pain phase first and foremost. Aric alluded to the brace and this is a fracture that we don’t need a brace in this case because his rib cage effectively works as a brace. The term that we use is the rib cage works effectively as an external fixation device because it connects to the spine and connects to the sternum, so the location of it as well also facilitates the healing close to the heart and close to the lungs.”
For Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM), the process of working to find a replacement driver for the duration of Almirola’s absences is still “a work in progress”, according to Brian Moffitt, Chief Executive Officer for RPM.
“We’re working with our partners. The process was we wanted to make sure that Aric was OK when this happened. Our worries were for him and what the future was gonna be and Janice and the kids. We were mainly concerned about Aric when it happened. We have a protocol that we go by and having Aric and Janice and all of our thoughts and prayers were first and foremost,” said Moffitt. “The process that we had was when we got back to North Carolina the King and Drew and Aric and I sat down and came up with a list of people after we knew what the diagnosis was and we’re still working through that with our partners. As soon as we know for the future we’ll be letting you guys know that, but right now we’re thrilled that Regan’s going to be in the car for this weekend.”
Moffitt mentioned that the team wanted a “Cup driver for this situation and Regan stepped in and we feel like he’s gonna bring the car home safe and consistency is what we were looking for and he has that type of record. He has that type of record. He drives a lot like Aric and that’s what helped us come to this conclusion.”
This week has been a whirlwind for Regan Smith. Smith received a call from RPM on Wednesday morning asking if he would be able to drive the car this weekend. Smith quickly responded with “absolutely” before getting everything ready for this weekend.
“I’m focused on this weekend right now and we’re going to do the best we can for their partners and for their team this weekend and see how things progress going forward, but I’m gonna focus on this weekend and do a good job for them this weekend,” said Smith outside the hauler.
Smith has numerous experiences as a replacement driver. Smith has replaced Stewart, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kyle Larson before this weekend. Although he does not have a full time ride in Cup, Smith runs in the Camping World Truck Series for RBR Enterprises. Smith has 211 starts in Cup with one win, four top-five finishes, and 13 top-10’s.
For the third consecutive season, Richard Petty Motorsports will see a different driver lineup in 2016. Back in December, it was announced that Brian Scott would be aligning himself with RPM for his rookie campaign in the Sprint Cup Series. Alongside Aric Almirola, Scott will look to have a solid first season with the newly acquainted No. 44 team.
Almirola has become the elder statesman at RPM as he has seen the transition from Marcos Ambrose, to Sam Hornish, Jr. and now Scott. The No. 43 team missed out on the opportunity to qualify for its second-consecutive Chase birth in 2015, but is looking to have more success this upcoming season.
In 2015, Almirola recorded his best average finish of 17.9 since becoming a full-time driver in the Cup Series. However, the Florida native seemed to finish between the 11th to 15th positions more than they finished in the top 10.
As the season went on, the team began to build momentum. Recording just six top-10 finishes in the 36 races, Almirola is looking to build upon the newly formed relationship with Scott and make RPM an elite threat for the Chase, and possibly even the championship.
“I’ve kind of learned over the years starting at a very young age in this sport how to communicate with new teammates,” Almirola said Wednesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “Everyone is going to have their own driving style. No two drivers in the entire garage are going to drive exactly the same. No two drivers are going to have the same feedback about their car. It’s really just learning about what to work on your car.”
Consistency has been a big part of the success that the No. 43 team has had over the four seasons that Almirola has been the driver. Prior to Almirola joining the stable in 2012, there were drivers coming and going when it came to sitting behind the wheel of the historic car. Over a six year period, the famed car had four drivers between 2007 to 2012. Since then, Almirola has become the franchise of RPM and has elevated its program.
This will be the third season that Trent Owens has been atop the pit box as crew chief for Almirola. Over the span of the last two seasons, Almirola and he have established a relationship that has led to success. More importantly, they have brought RPM more success than in previous years.
“Our goal is to run in the top 10,” Owens said. “We had top-15s last year. I don’t know how many 11th-place finishes we had last year, but we need to have better Friday’s. We’ve got to work on showing up better on Friday and that should translate into better finishes on Sunday.”
In reality, Almirola finished 11th four times, which would have been four more points toward securing a spot in the Chase. If he were to have a better finish at tracks such as Indianapolis or Pocono, where he blew an engine, the No. 43 team would have made the Chase for the second consecutive season.
“The weekends that you are off you can work with your teammates and really dive into looking at your stuff and try to work with as open of a notebook as you can,” Almirola said. “You went to work with them to the extent that you don’t hurt them with all of the information based on ‘This is what I’ve done because this is how I drive’ I feel like I’ve always done a good job at that.”
The aforementioned Scott has been successful in the XFINITY Series, but never crossed the checkered flag first. Since he is competing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year, there is no doubt that he will find himself in some precarious on-track situations throughout the course of the season.
“There will be a lot of challenges,” Scott said to Speedway Digest. “I think that not one big challenge will be hard to overcome, but it’s all the little challenges that really add up that make it tough week-in and week-out.”
In 17 career Cup starts, Scott has never recorded a top-10 finish, yet has a pole at Talladega while driving the No. 33. There were many of instances in 2015 while driving for Circle Sport Racing, aligned with Richard Childress Racing that he had solid top 15 runs, but dropped positions late in the race. In 10 races last season he finished on the lead lap just four times.
Throughout his XFINITY Series career, Scott could never finish the deal and solidify a victory. He was able to finish inside the top 10 about one-third of the time that he strapped behind the wheel. Scott believes that aligning himself with RPM is the career move that he needed and it happened at the right time.
“We really haven’t been able to work super close as far as race weekends when it comes to both of our cars being on track and how they are handling,” Scott said on teaming up with Almirola. “I’m looking forward to that. I think that his feedback is really good. I think that he has a very good understanding of the car and he’s been with Richard Petty Motorsports now for a long time. He knows what it takes to be successful there.”
One of the keys for RPM in 2016 will be how they adapt to the new rules package. With the lower downforce put on the racecars the opportunity is more in the drivers’ hands. It allows the driver the ability to really drive the car and be in more control on the overall race.
In order for it to be a successful season for RPM, the organization will need to run near the front. Last year the team combined to have just nine top-10 finishes. This year with the rejuvenated driver lineup, it is likely that the results will be better for RPM.