Five days removed from a frightening crash at Pocono Raceway, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. joked about it Friday morning during a media session at Watkins Glen International.
When asked how his foot and cheek were doing after the wreck, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie quipped, “I think my left foot’s broken and my cheek will never be repaired.”
The actual impact of Wallace losing his brakes and hitting the wall in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet at Pocono is a sore foot that won’t keep him off the track.
Wallace was scheduled to compete in the K&N Pro Series East race late Friday afternoon to gain experience on the road course before returning Saturday for practice and qualifying for the Go Bowling at the Glen. The 90-lap Cup race starts at 3 p.m. Sunday.
“We’re all good. Healed up. Ready to go do it again,” said Wallace, a native of Mobile, Alabama.
The residual pain in his foot isn’t the only reminder of the incident for Wallace, who relived it when he explained to his girlfriend how it happened, not to mention seeing the inevitable replays.
“It’s a fascinating wreck to watch,” he admitted. “I hate that it’s mine. All week long, even to this day, I still see it, just because scrambling through Twitter, people are still putting it out there.
“It’s a tough one to watch. Man, we hit a ton and it’s good to be able to come away and walk away from that and just know that I had a lot of people’s support. That was pretty cool as well. That was obviously a big highlight for me, just getting out and seeing everyone reaching out and showing their levels of concern.”
Wallace, 24, has grown accustomed to the spotlight as the only African-American driver competing full time in the series, especially after he opened the year with an emotional runner-up finish at the Daytona 500.
Since then, his season has featured growing pains typical for many rookies who make the jump to Cup. Wallace is 25th in the points standings and has only one other top-10 effort in 21 starts (eighth at Texas Motor Speedway on April 8).
“It’s just part of it,” Wallace said of the struggles. “You go through these moments where you get signs of success and there are times when you’re fighting and clawing and racing the hell out of Ross Chastain for 25th.”
Wallace was making a playful dig at Chastain, an Xfinity Series regular who was watching the interview as he waited for his own media session to start. Fittingly, Chastain was there to discuss the value of wearing a seat belt as part of a promotion with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Those moments make you stronger, I believe,” Wallace continued. “So those days where you do click and find something, you have that little bit of extra fuel in the tank, fuel to add to the fire, from those tough days to really go out and get the job done.”
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Wallace has had his share of NASCAR success. He was a four-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series, including a victory at Michigan a little less than a year ago in his only start of the year in the series. He competed full time in the Xfinity Series in 2015 and 2016, then had his 2017 season cut short because of a lack of sponsorship for his Roush Fenway Racing ride. Wallace made four Cup starts last year for injured Aric Almirola before replacing him on a permanent basis after Almirola took over for Danica Patrick at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Earlier this season, Wallace said he felt the No. 43 was an eighth- to 12th-place type of team. He said expectations have been re-adjusted since then, then smiled as he mentioned team owner Richard Petty is still probably holding onto the earlier standard.
Wallace signed a two-year extension last week to continue driving for Richard Petty Motorsports through at least 2020. He said the support has been strong from the team as they try to close strong this season.
“Take Daytona out, it’s OK. It’s a rookie year in Cup,” Wallace said of his season. “We’re going to go through the struggles. None of us obviously thought we would be so far behind the eight ball, but what’s cool to see is I show up to the shop each and every week, the guys are still digging hard, 100 percent, trying to find something.”
Wallace is competing in a Cup race on the challenging road course at Watkins Glen for the first time. He raced there twice in Xfinity races, finishing 16th in 2015 and 29th two years ago.
“We think we’ve got something good for this weekend,” he said. “Hopefully it translates to something. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least we’re trying things. We’re not just sitting there with our heads in our laps.”
In the meantime, more and more fans have come along for the ride, buying T-shirts, hats and offering encouragement during the scary moments.
“The true fans know when you do struggle it’s a process that you’re all going to go through,” Wallace said. “It’s awesome to read the tweets. Nobody’s backing away from your camp, everybody’s here for support. ‘Keep doing what you do.’ That’s good to see. Sometimes when you’re really frustrated, it’s like ‘Ah, yeah, yeah, OK, cool, thanks.’ But really deep down it actually really means a lot once you really digest it.”
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