'Bubba' Wallace has a plan

Undoubtedly the most surprising driver move of the offseason was Darrell Wallace Jr.'s transfer from Joe Gibbs Racing to Roush Fenway Racing.

Wallace, a JGR development driver since 2010, said he believed his progress wasn't being moved along fast enough with Gibbs. So he sought a release and promptly signed with RFR. He'll drive the full Xfinity Series in the No. 6 Ford.

The change was unexpected, because Wallace had achieved plenty of success during his tenure with Gibbs. He ran four Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) races in 2012, finishing in the top 12 in all and claiming the pole position for the last. But he was placed in the Camping World Truck Series for 2013.

Wallace finished eighth in the Truck standings in 2013 after claiming his first win at Martinsville Speedway, then improved to third in 2014 with four victories, including at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

An Xfinity Series campaign with JGR was on the table for 2015, but Wallace was more concerned with what happened after that.

"We had to look further into my career to see what the next step was," he said. "We were going to get a shot at Xfinity next year with JGR, but beyond that, the future was unsure.

"Roush gave me a great opportunity to keep going on and keep progressing. If this year certain things don't work out, the next year is there. The goal is to go out and win races and attract a big sponsorship."

JGR has an all-star lineup of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. RFR has veteran Greg Biffle along with young -- and largely unproven at the Cup level -- drivers Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. With JGR maxed out at NASCAR's rule limit for teams, there's an open spot for a fourth driver at Roush Fenway.

Wallace, 21, gives credit to NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program for his rapid career progress. He is the most successful African-American driver to participate in stock car competition since the era of Wendell Scott, who was recently inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

"The Diversity program has definitely gotten me here today," Wallace acknowledged. "Without them, it wouldn't have been possible. It's been fun to see the progress coming through the different classes. You definitely have to deliver and be aware for every aspect that comes at you.

"[Drive For Diversity participants] Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola have made it to the Cup level," he added. "I'm still trying to get there, taking the right steps at the right time, and getting all the opportunities I can, like this one with Jack Roush and Ford."

Wallace's Truck Series win at Martinsville in October 2013 was the first achieved by an African-American driver since Scott won the equivalent of a Sprint Cup Series race at Jacksonville, Florida, nearly 50 years earlier.

Wallace has established a relationship with the family of the late racer, and his truck carried Scott's No. 34 and blue and white paint scheme for his milestone moment at Martinsville.

"To win at Martinsville in that No. 34 truck was huge," Wallace said. "I was glad to have the family there because they were able to remember their dad and what he was able to accomplish. I'm excited to carry on his legacy. It was an exciting moment, not only for the family but for myself and for the sport.

"Now having Wendell Scott inducted into the Hall of Fame says a lot. It speaks volumes about how far the sport has come."

There's plenty of reason to believe that Wallace isn't done creating NASCAR history.

But he still has a big learning curve ahead of him in the Xfinity Series to negotiate on the way to his eventual goal of racing full-time in the Sprint Cup Series.

There are several tracks he has never been to, and he has competed only twice on a road course. Plus, Roush Fenway is still scrambling to assemble a full sponsorship package for their late signing.

But Wallace doesn't view that as adding any extra pressure.

"I think I've been battling that for the last 11 years of my career," he said. "One thing I can do better is just ask more questions about how I can do better."

He says he has enjoyed the transition from Gibbs to Roush, particularly interacting with crew chief Chad Norris and getting "hands-on" with the design of his car liveries and driver's suits. The biggest challenge has been getting his team to call him "Bubba" instead of "Darrell."

"That [Darrell] is my dad," Bubba said and then laughed.

Now the real work starts.

"It's huge," he said. "To be in the Xfinity Series behind the wheel of a Jack Roush Ford Mustang is going to be exciting. It's going to be action packed for sure. We're going to go to Daytona and try to run for a championship.

"We just need to make sure to keep a cool head and be there when it counts."