Darrell Wallace Jr., a/k/a “Bubba,” will put his formidable skills to use this year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where he’ll drive full-time in the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota with assistance from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Wallace, 19, a native of Mobile, Ala., is a graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. More than that, though, he is a prodigious talent with tremendous upside potential.
Last year, in four starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Wallace finished on the lead lap all four times, posting three top 10s. In 36 career races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, Wallace has posted six race victories and 16 top-five finishes.
Wallace said he’s ready for his big shot.
“I was watching NASCAR Race Hub the other night. They had the Shane Hmiel story on,” Wallace said. “That was a very cool story that they did, seeing him fighting through his struggles to get back in the car. And they were showing highlight footage from last year's races and stuff, and I was getting excited. I was like, ‘Man, it’s here. It’s finally coming.’
“And I knew what I had going; I just couldn’t say anything,” said Wallace. “So I’d be off testing somewhere and I couldn’t take any pictures, couldn’t post anything, and that was the hardest thing. If I’m somewhere racing a car, I’ll definitely post a picture on Instagram and let somebody know. Keeping it hushed was the hardest thing for me. It was kind of like torture.”
Wallace said he hopes to have a strong rookie campaign, but he’s trying to keep realistic expectations.
“The biggest thing is just having fun,” said Wallace. “Go out there and learn as much as you can, and everything else will settle into place — top fives, top 10s. Everybody’s expecting to have a couple of wins by the end of the season. We’ll be alright.”
JGR Team President J.D. Gibbs said he believes strongly in Wallace’s potential.
JGR has been at the forefront of NASCAR’s diversity movement, initially working with former NFL great Reggie White, who died in 2004.
“It’s a big deal,” said Gibbs of Wallace’s development. “What you kind of learn is other sports, if you’re a good athlete, football comes naturally, basketball, you can shoot. Racing, you have to have some resources to make it work. So when we started with Reggie White a few years ago, the hope was for him to become an owner someday and continue that lineage. He passed away, which was heartbreaking.”
Aric Almirola, a driver of Cuban descent, came through the JGR diversity program, and others have tried out, as well, but Wallace might be the best talent yet.
“You can’t force it, “ said Gibbs. “Either you’re good, or you’re not. And Darrell’s one that’s good. That makes it fun for us.”
As for Wallace, he’s ready to go.
“It’s going to be an awesome time,” said Wallace. “The season’s right around the corner. Two weeks to Daytona — can’t wait to get there. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.