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Friday Pocono Notebook

Bubba Wallace spent sleepless nights waiting for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series opportunity

LONG POND, Pa. - Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. was in limbo.

He knew his NASCAR XFINITY Series ride in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was ending because sponsorship dollars weren't available to sustain it.

And though Wallace had reached out to Richard Petty Motorsports about filling in for injured Aric Almirola, there was a brief period in which Wallace didn't know if he'd be racing beyond this weekend at Pocono Raceway, his last scheduled ride in the No. 6 Mustang.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights," Wallace said before Friday's opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at the Tricky Triangle, where he will make his in NASCAR's top series on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on FS1). "You can ask my girlfriend. I was pretty stressed out for a couple days leading up to this. When you're a young guy - I call me a young guy; I feel old sometimes - but it's pretty stressful now that I understand the business and life itself.

"It's pretty devastating not knowing what's next. I'm like, 'Hell, I didn't go to college, so I don't know what I'm going to do.' The biggest thing for me was just trying to keep that in check and keep those emotions in check."

Fortunately for the 23-year-old Wallace, the ride in Petty's vaunted No. 43 came together just as his stint with Roush Fenway was ending. Wallace will be the first African-American driver to make a start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since Bill Lester competed in two races for owner Bill Davis in 2006.

One of the primary lessons Wallace learned during the process was just how precious opportunities in NASCAR racing are. In this case, the opportunity came unexpectedly when Almirola suffered a compression fracture of the T5 vertebra in a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway.

"We were getting close to crunch time," Wallace said. "Pocono is our last race (in the XFINITY car), and then the unfortunate accident with Aric happened, and we were making phone calls and trying to see what we could do.

"At the end of the day, everybody is fighting for a seat, no matter who it is. Jimmie (Johnson) could be out in a couple years, but you're already fighting for it. You're trying to get in there. It doesn't matter who it is. It's all about the up-and-coming talent coming up through the sport, and we're always ready for that next ride that opens up."

KURT BUSCH ENCOURAGED BY PROGRESS WITH FORDS AT STEWART-HAAS

Kurt Busch was trying to take the next step last Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

Unfortunately, it was his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Ford that decided to step out before Busch could make a move.

"We've been cranking out top 10s, but we haven't been cranking out top fives, so I was pushing really hard last week and the car stepped out," said Busch, who collected fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski in an early wreck at the Monster Mile.

"I took it beyond its limits, and it's because we're right there. We're solid top-10 when things go our way, but we're not top-five, and that's what I'm pushing for."

The wreck at Dover, however, doesn't overshadow the progress Stewart-Haas has made as the organization goes through growing pains after this season's transition from Chevrolet to Ford. As the defending champion of Sunday's Pocono 400, Busch is excited to return to the triangular 2.5-mile track.

"Our expectations are high, but we have to keep them in perspective," Busch said. "Yes, we have run well the last few weeks, and it's been a matter of changing the car's dynamic balance as far as our setup to match the aero changes.

"We've found some things in the wind tunnel that have helped us understand the difference with our Ford versus where we were at this time last year with the GM car, and so balancing those things has helped us, and I think we turned a good corner at Texas (where Busch started a run of four top 10s in six races).

"This is a great track for us to come back to because we won here last time, and it's one of my favorites. So balancing out where we are with the team, the setups and if we can get a top-5 this week, that would be great. But, of course, we're going for the win."

MARTIN TRUEX JR. GETS THE POINT OF NEW PLAYOFF SYSTEM

Halfway through the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Martin Truex Jr. leads the championship standings.

He also leads the series in playoff points earned, having won two races and an additional eight stages within the events to bring his total to 18. Should Truex retain the championship lead after the 26th race, he'll claim another 15 playoff points as the regular-season champion.

More than any other entry this year, Truex and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team have mastered the art of winning races without sacrificing stage wins in the process.

"It's difficult with the pit strategy - the way it can play out - and the stages," Truex said. "It's definitely changed the racing, without a doubt, and it's been hard to manage how to be up front for the end of the race to try to get the overall win yet not give up those playoff points throughout the race.

"It's definitely been different, and I think each week and each race track is different. I think Pocono this weekend is going to be interesting, because you can pit without going a lap down, almost like a road course. There's going to be some wild strategies going on, and just depending on how the cautions play out, it could mix things up a whole lot. We'll see how it plays out and hopefully we get some more points."

-- NASCAR Wire Service --