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

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 09: Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 9, 2017 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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.”

After an admirable qualifying effort Friday, Wallace rolls off 16th Sunday.

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