Darrell Wallace, Jr. “bummed out and frustrated” after difficult Cup debut

Logan Whitton/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Darrell Wallace, Jr. showed an impressive amount of speed throughout his debut weekend in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Pocono Raceway.

Unfortunately, he showed a bit too much of it on pit road.

One day removed from what may be his final XFINITY Series start for Roush Fenway Racing, a litany of speeding penalties derailed what at first appeared to be a promising weekend for Wallace – the first African-American driver to make a start in NASCAR’s premier series since Bill Lester in 2006.

Hopes were high for the former Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) and RFR shoe in his first race for Richard Petty Motorsports. After qualifying a strong 16th, Wallace and the iconic No. 43 Ford were among the top topics entering Sunday’s Axalta Presents the Pocono 400.

Unfortunately, Wallace’s dream debut wasn’t meant to be. While his best friend Ryan Blaney and former KBM teammate Erik Jones went on to score their first win and top five, respectively, Wallace limped home one lap down, with a 26th-place result.

Afterward, a clearly dejected Wallace couldn’t help but note his disappointment.

“I’m just so bummed out and frustrated with myself,” Wallace said. “I know my family is going to be hard on me after this not to be so hard on myself, but I’m competitive and I want to win races and I want to lead laps.  Just wanted to have a good showing, and to speed four, five times, same segment, that was pretty tough to swallow, and then this race just going green the whole time and just ‑‑ it was just not our day.  I didn’t have everything lined up, and thought I had the right mindset going into it.  I told our spotter Joel to be a little conservative to start out with pit road, and we’ll creep up to it.  I guess we were already there.

“I’m so used to analog tachs and everything, and this digital stuff I’ve got to figure out.  I’ll say I’m not a fan of it right now.  It’s jumping around too much.  You just don’t get a true feel of what you’re running down pit road.  A lot of other guys say it’s fine, so I’ve just got to figure out what I’ve got to do better.  But it’s just frustrating on my part.”

Wallace’s vexation ultimately got the better of him on pit road, where the 23-year-old admitted to passing out for a moment during an interview. He made a quick recovery, making his way to victory lane to congratulate friend and race-winner Ryan Blaney before being checked and released from the infield care center.

‘I just kind of looked at my ‑‑ I don’t know what I was looking at, and then all of a sudden I was like, all right, let’s go to Victory Lane, let’s go congratulate Ryan,” Wallace said. “I’m all good.”

The Mobile, Alabama native admitted Sunday wasn’t the first time he’d passed out on pit lane, explaining that he’s prone to the issue when frustrated.

“No, it’s happened three times now where I’m very hard on myself and I’m super pissed off at myself, and I’m just so mad I just pass out,” Wallace said. “Competitive.”

Despite his issues, Wallace finished just one lap down from the field in a race that saw few opportunities to regain laps with cautions. Despite that, the Alabaman’s favorite memory from the race came not from himself, but from Blaney’s first win.

“Super pumped for him, his family,” Wallace said. “We grew up together, so they’re all family, and it’s really cool to be best friends with him, and to see him get it on this special day for the sport after that picture we took this morning, all the stars were aligned for him.”

Next for Wallace is a trip to Michigan International Speedway for his second-career Cup Series start. He’ll continue to pilot the No. 43 Ford until Aric Almirola – who’s recovering from fractured vertebrae sustained in a May crash at Kansas Speedway – is deemed eligible to return.

Wallace hopes the two-mile Michigan oval track will suit him better than Pocono.

“I like that place,” Wallace said. “Not that I don’t like this place. I think I run a little bit better at Michigan.  Big speeds there, so need to be prepped for that. But like we just talked about, I’ll be spending all of first practice running up and down pit road, bringing it in hot, running the length of pit road each and every run. But I’m looking forward to it. This is a first step. I know we ran a good, clean race, and that’s all you can ask, didn’t wreck the car, brought it home in one piece, so I’m pumped for the guys.”

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