Richard Petty Motorsports to honor John Andretti and Kobe Bryant

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 12: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Chevrolet, speaks with the media during the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 12, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace’s famed No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet will essentially be even more legendary for Sunday’s Daytona 500. The team will carry memorial tributes to the car’s former driver John Andretti and also to NBA great Kobe Bryant.

The front roof pillar will carry Andretti’s name, an homage to the popular driver who passed away Jan. 30 after a long, valiant battle with colon cancer. Andretti drove for Petty in the 1998-2003 seasons earning a victory at Phoenix in 1999.

Bryant, a perennial All-Star, played for the Los Angeles Lakers and was killed along with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash in California on Jan. 26.

Wallace said it was a “given” that the team would honor its former driver Andretti, a popular competitor both in and out of the race car. And Bryant was a particular favorite of Wallace’s.

“I was going to put his name where my name was on the door, but then we were like, we need to honor every single person there and I agreed with that,” Wallace said following last weekend’s pole qualifying session. “We decided to come up with a cool decal. …It offsets from our Air Force scheme, but just a lot of people riding with us for the 500 on Sunday.”

A few days later, Wallace was optimistic that the decals and his brief record in the Daytona 500 may provide just the positive vibe to get the season off to a promising start. He finished runner-up in his Daytona 500 debut in 2018 and said he dreamed Wednesday night that he drove the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet into Daytona’s Victory Lane after the 500, although those dream details were a little murky.

“I’d say if I won the race, I should remember,”’ Wallace said smiling. “We crossed the line and I’m like, ‘Yeah, we just won. Cool. We’re in the Playoffs.’

“Then I woke up.”

Greg Engle