Ford Performance NASCAR: Darrell Wallace Jr. Pocono Transcript

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Pocono 400 – Pocono Raceway

Friday, June 9, 2017

Darrell Wallace Jr. will be making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway as he fills in for Aric Almirola, who is still recovering from a back injury suffered during the race at Kansas Speedway.  Wallace held a Q&A session this morning to talk about his opportunity.

DARRELL WALLACE JR. – No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion – WHAT HAS THIS WEEK BEEN LIKE?  “It’s been a little busy, but not too bad.  I think we were able to manage it.  I was able to not let the highs get too high and still be able to focus on this weekend.  That’s the biggest thing.  What an incredible opportunity for me.  When you said, ‘The driver of the No. 43’ that took a minute.  It had a nice ring to it, though, so I like that.  But we’re just out here to have fun.  I’m treating it just like I’m walking around the XFINITY garage.  It’s a little bit more crowded, but there’s nothing different from the game plan for me.  It’s just to go out and do the best I can, not only for myself, but everybody involved in this.  For Richard Petty himself, his whole family, Aric and his family, to help get through this process and get him back on the race track, for Smithfield, for Ford and everybody at RPM it’s gonna be fun.”

HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS THERE ON YOU THE NEXT FEW WEEKS?  “There’s a little bit.  You’ve got a lot of people wanting to see how I’ll run and see how I’ll do against the Cup guys.  I think in years past there was a lot of pressure added just from myself and today I feel great.  I feel good about getting in the car.  I don’t have to overstep anything.  I don’t have to do anything special.  For us it’s just to get the balance right.  We decided to pick the weekend where I get the least amount of practice possible.  We only get one session today and one session Saturday, so there’s a lot of big factors going into this to make it a special weekend, but as far as pressure, just a little bit.  I’m OK, though.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE AT THE TRACK.  HAVE YOU TALKED OR GOTTEN HELP FROM ANYONE?  “Jimmie Johnson had reached out pretty much as soon as we announced it.  He said, ‘See you on Sundays now, bro.’  I was like, ‘Alright, that’s cool.  That’s really cool.’  He said that if I needed anything to reach out to him, so I’m gonna try to meet up with him before practice and after practice just to ask him what do I need to expect.  There’s nothing to it.  At the end of the day it’s just a race car with a little bit more horsepower, a little bit bigger venue, a little bit bigger crowd, but at the end of the day I’ve been waiting for this moment for 15 years or however long I’ve been racing, a long time, and now it’s finally here, so it’s just another stroll in the park.”

YOU COULD BECOME THE 7TH DRIVER TO WIN YOUR CUP DEBUT AND THE FIRST IN 54 YEARS.  WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN?  “You’ve done some digging there for that one.  That’s a big task, but anything is possible if you put your mind to it.  I believe that we can win each and every weekend, so if the opportunity presents itself, then we’ve got to be able to capitalize on it and manage what we have in front of us.  That would be cool.  I don’t know much more I can say on that.  I’d love to win a race.  It’s been a little bit, but it would be special.  It would be a huge historical impact like you say, but let’s just get through practice and qualifying and make sure we can keep all four tires on it right now.”

DO YOU FEEL YOUR PRIOR EXPERIENCE HERE AT POCONO WILL HELP AND WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE WEEKEND?  “I think for the starts that we’ve had here I’ve always run OK here.  I’ve run decent and it’s just one of those places that is tricky.  It’s the Tricky Triangle for a reason and it’s tough to figure out and tough to get a rhythm.  A lot of people say that, so I spent a little bit more time on the simulator this week building up to this day, so we’ll see how that translates over, but expecations, we’ll just have to see how we unload off the truck.  Our first couple laps might be a little bit off, more off than we should be just for me getting comfortable, getting used to it and getting a rhythm down, but then as we start getting later into practice and closer to race day, you’ll start to see where we kind of stack up.  I would say you base your speeds off of practice and see where you end up, but we’d be 15th to 18th in XFINITY practice and we ended up sixth five times in a row.  You just never know how these races go.  If you can manage your race and run a smooth, clean race and be there at the end, some of these guys are gonna fall out from mechanical or error and you’ve got to be able to capitalize on that.  I’m looking just for a good, solid race and gaining respect from the veterans here and to prove everybody that I belong in the series.”

RUMORS HAVE BEEN AROUND THE LAST FEW WEEKS THAT YOUR XFINITY RIDE MIGHT BE ENDING SOON.  HOW HUMBLING WAS IT KNOWING THAT YOU MIGHT BE OUT OF A JOB BEFORE THE DOOR OPENED AND YOU GOT THIS OPPORTUNITY.  WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND?  “It all kind of meshed together.  We knew it would be a limited schedule before the season started and for sure with how we unloaded starting at Atlanta and all the way through finishing sixth that we would get us a win and you can take the rest of the season off then.  You’re locked into the playoffs.  I always say that, so I don’t know why teams don’t save money.  Just stay at the house.  You’ll be at Chicago, but, for me, it was all right around the same time.  We were getting close to crunch time.  Pocono is our last race 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 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.”

WAS THERE A RUSH OF EMOTION THOUGH WONDERING IF YOU WOULD EVER RACE AGAIN BEFORE THIS OPPORTUNITY CAME UP?  “Oh yeah, no doubt.  There was a lot of sleepless nights.  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 gonna do.’  The biggest thing for me was just trying to keep that in check and keep those emotions in check.  I think if you go back to Charlotte that was where I did not keep them in check and really let it get a hold of me and we ended up 28th to 30th, wherever it was, just because I added that extra pressure to myself and that’s one thing I’m not trying to do this weekend.  Hopefully, Aric is back next week.  That’s how fast we want it to be, but we want him 100 percent.  If it’s one race for me.  If it’s five races for me, it’s just five races and it’s nothing more than that.  It’s just go out there and do what I can do best.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHY REPRESENTATION IS SO IMPORTANT IN NASCAR?  “This is huge for the sport.  From the African-American side of this it’s huge.  If you know me, I’ve been in this sport for a little bit and I usually let the results speak for itself, but I think today and this weekend and really leading up all this week it’s been about this historical side from the African-American side.  I mean, it’s huge.  It’s been since 2006 with Bill Lester.  Me winning that race back in 2013, the first in 50 years.  It’s big and it’s got to be talked about and I understand that.  I get that side of it, but, for me, I don’t pay attention to that.  I pay attention to it, but I don’t label that on myself as we’re out there.  ‘Oh, African-American just passed this guy for the first time in 12 days.’  It’s just way too much.  That will probably be an article coming up soon from somebody in here.  ‘He just made his first pass.’  But, for me, you’ve got to look at it from that point because it’s not enough faces in this sport, so for me now hopefully a kid will turn on the TV and be like, ‘Mom, Dad, that guy looks like me.’  I probably look worse than them, and they’ll want to try this sport out.  It’s all about seeing a familiar face and following that footstep, so hopefully I represent that the best way I can and be the best role model that I can for this weekend and the remaining weeks that I have.”

HOW INFLUENTIAL HAS JACK ROUSH BEEN ON YOU THROUGHOUT THIS PROCESS AND HAS HE GIVEN YOU ANY ADVICE LEADING UP TO THIS RACE?  “We’ve been so busy that I’m bummed that I haven’t been able to go check out my XFINITY guys over there.  I’ve been doing a lot of stuff leading up to this, so I haven’t got to talk with Jack about it either.  I’m thankful for the opportunity with everybody there at RFR.  It’s been an unfortunate two years and change without a win, but we were definitely there each and every weekend and proved that.  We were fast.  We had cars, but we just could not finish it out.  It was a fun two years.  Hard fought.  We were definitely on the rebound and making progress to get back to where old Roush was and it’s been cool to see Jack come to the race track pumped up and smiling.  So that was always special knowing that we were kind of helping him by giving those feel-good moments back and leading laps these last couple races and winning stages.  For the company it’s been a whole new attitude this year with Ryan winning at Daytona right off the bat and then Ricky winning at Talladega.  I wouldn’t say that was icing on the cake, but that definitely helped out for sure.  I felt like it was mine or Trevor’s turn this weekend.  Both would be great.  That would be badass to do XFINITY and Cup this weekend, so we’ll see how that goes.  But Jack has been a huge help for my career.  If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if this opportunity would be here.  There are a lot of people involved in this opportunity today.”

YOU TALKED ABOUT LOSING YOUR COOL SOMETIMES.  DO YOU THINK THAT HAS HELD YOU BACK AT ALL?  “I think it’s hurt me a couple times.  Charlotte was a bad pit stop and I just could not let that go, and that cost us in a good finish.  We were a good car.  I don’t know that we were gonna be able to get back up to the top four where we should have been, but top 10 would have been really good, instead of 28th.  I did not think about that.  I thought about it after the fact when we hit the wall, but it was already too late.  But there have been some races that have been like that, but last year was really tough on us because we would show up and practice 20th and run 15th all day, and knowing that myself and Ryan Reed were way faster than where we were running was frustrating and we just couldn’t do anything about it.  I think that’s where a lot of the frustrating moments came from, but this year finishing sixth a lot of times, leading laps, it’s been a good year.  Besides that win column being still blank, it’s been a lot easier to manage those emotions, just showing up and having the speed, going into Dover this past weekend I was so pumped up three days in advance just because of the speed that we have had in previous weeks.  Last year, it didn’t matter if I could qualify on the pole by two-tenths at Dover, we were not gonna do it.  We were just off and we weren’t gonna run in the top 10.  That’s just how frustrating it was going into that weekend, but now it’s a different mindset.  It’s been fun to go to the race track and be there and run fast.”

YOUR CREW WILL BE HELPING OUT TY MAJESKI IN A FEW WEEKS.  WHAT ABOUT YOU?  AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING TO SONOMA IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS?  “That’s gonna be fun, for sure.  We’re still trying to figure out what’s next for the XFINITY side.  I know Ty makes his start in Iowa, which is two or three weeks away, but right now it’s just for me being focused on this weekend and not worry about what’s after Pocono, although I know that I’m in at Michigan for the Cup car.  For the XFINITY side it’s just to go out, we get two practices today to get it dialed in for tomorrow and this is the weekend, this is the opportunity where we can’t be backed up any further in the corner of the wall, and we’ve got to come out swinging, but doing that all in a positive and the right way, and be able to close out the season with a win.  I have a ton of confidence going into this weekend to be able to do that, and that’s what I’m focused on the most.  Hopefully, things will open up after that.  When one door closes another one opens up.”

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.