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Short track win helped push Wallace to Cup ride

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 11, 2018 at 4:12 PM

With Darrell Wallace Jr. racing one of the most iconic rides in NASCAR for this Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, it's hard to believe just 11 months ago he was at a career crossroads.

He was sitting at the Olive Garden in Johnson City, posting on twitter about having a lonely dinner and brainstorming about the future. He would soon be out of the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and admitted his confidence was at a low.

"At this point of the season last year knowing that the end of the season wasn't there at all, and we were trying to get a win to get locked in (to the NASCAR playoffs) and try to force the team to run (the rest of the season)," Wallace said. "It was a tough point that no driver wants to see. Especially, we had come off a really good season of finishing fourth in the points. It was a kick in the teeth, so we did everything we could to get races together."

Two days later, he won the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway and it set him back on track toward his longtime dream of being a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. Just two weeks later, he was picked to fill in for Aric Almirola in the famous Richard Petty Racing No. 43 car while Almirola recovered from an injury suffered at Kansas.

An impressive four-race stint in the No. 43 car and a NASCAR Truck Series win at Michigan led Wallace to being named as a full-time driver in the ride for 2018.

"I was just trying to stay busy and race like I had for the past 15 years," Wallace said. "To be able to go and win the Short Track race, it really meant a lot. Bristol has always been one of my favorite tracks. I had been racing there since late models in 2008 and I always wanted to win there. A win at Bristol meant a lot, but it was still what's next after that."

His other performances set Wallace to become the first full-time African-American driver in the Cup Series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott nearly 50 years earlier. With this opportunity, he started off the season with a second-place finish at the Daytona 500.

The rookie driver scored his second top-10 finish of the season last Sunday with an eighth-place win at Texas. There has been a good chemistry with the team, especially with the 24-year-old Wallace and Petty, his 80-year-old car owner. On Sunday, the 43 car will be running a special paint scheme — which incorporates the design run by Petty in the 1970s — designed by Wallace

"He's been great. You hear everything he has gone through and you try to put that to use," Wallace said. "He's been our biggest supporter and our biggest critic. He wants us to not make mistakes and get the car back in victory lane. At the same time, we know we're working with limited resources. He's always at the race track to brighten up our mood. He wants to make sure we focus and do our jobs, but also that we have fun at the end of the day."

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