Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. is set to become the first African-American driver in the NASCAR Cup Series in more than a decade as he replaces the injured Aric Almirola in the iconic Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 car. The 23-year-old Wallace will make his Cup debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway.
Wallace is fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings for Roush Fenway Racing, which will suspend operations of his Xfinity car because of a lack of funding after this weekend at Pocono. Wallace will continue to drive for RPM until Almriola recovers from a partially crushed vertebra in his middle back suffered in a May 13 accident at Kansas Speedway.
"I'm incredibly grateful that Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports and [sponsor] Smithfield have the confidence in me to help fill the seat until Aric fully recovers, which is the most important piece of this," Wallace said in a news release. "Moving up to the Monster Energy Series is a tremendous challenge, but I am ready to represent this organization, help the 43 team get the best results possible and prove that I belong at this level."
Wallace has six top-five finishes in 83 starts in the Xfinity Series to go along with five wins in 44 starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Both Roush Fenway and RPM field Fords, making the collaboration to put Wallace in the car a natural fit.
"[Wallace] has shown success in NASCAR's national series and we look forward to him continuing to display his abilities in our car," said RPM CEO Brian Moffitt, son-in-law of team co-owner Richard Petty. "We're fortunate to have someone with Bubba's potential in the Ford Performance family who can step in for us until Aric is healed."
Not since Bill Lester drove for Bill Davis Racing in two Cup races in 2006 has an African-American driver competed in NASCAR's top division. Wallace is the fourth full-time African-American driver in NASCAR's three national divisions -- Wendell Scott (1961-73 in Cup), Willy T. Ribbs (2001 in trucks, with three Cup races in 1986) and Lester (2002-07 in trucks) -- and will become at least the eighth black driver to compete in the Cup series.
Wallace has enjoyed some of the best performances of his career this year in the Xfinity Series.
"He's very determined, and that determination has turned into results over the last couple of months," said 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick. "If you look at where they are performance-wise from the start of the year, I think he's definitely earned an opportunity to go out there and make something out of it."
What Wallace will do once Almirola returns remains to be determined. Roush Fenway will continue to look for sponsorship for him but is not committed to anything beyond this weekend as far as the Xfinity Series.
"We are very proud of Bubba and his development at Roush Fenway Racing," Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said in a news release. "We believe that Bubba has tremendous potential and will continue to excel in NASCAR's top series.
"He has been a great representative of our organization both on and off the track and we've enjoyed being part of his growth as a driver."
Regan Smith had filled in the past three weeks for Almirola, expected to miss another five to nine weeks because of a fractured vertebra in his middle back suffered in an accident May 13 at Kansas Speedway.
Smith had finishes of 22nd and 34th in his two points races at RPM.