By: Ashley McCubbin
After being out of a racecar for the past 68 days, Bubba Wallace will be strapped behind the wheel of the No. 43 Chevrolet on Sunday at Darlington Raceway for The Real Heroes 400.
“I think we’re all excited and itchy to get back going, and interested to see how it will shake out without any practice or qualifying – just strap in and go,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “Darlington, I don’t think there’s a better place than to go and experience it all there.”
Combining a lack of practice and qualifying, with the fact the Cup Series will run four races over the next two weeks, Wallace says it’s all about getting through this first event with no mistakes.
“We don’t need to give up any unnecessary points,” he commented. “We just need to get down there and hope our travels are right on our Chevrolet and the set-up is decent. I’ve always kind of struggled there, so we’ll see what kind of package we bring and how much effort is being put into our racecars under this limited amount of time that the guys have been back at the shop.
“It’ll be interesting to see how much hard work has gone in. I know I have a great group of guys – road crew, pit crew, and shop crew. They’re all doing a good job to get our cars ready to go. So if we can get the best finish possible, that’ll be a win for us.”
On top of the challenge to the crew members in their return to work, it is also a challenge for the drivers. They’ve been out their normal practice of racing weekly, and the events are seeing temperatures rise, meaning conditioning inside the car will be critical.
“I think I’m going to find out if I’ve worked out enough or not – I think that’s how everybody is going to take it with all of these races coming up,” Wallace commented. “Darlington is a tough track, mentally and physically, so you have to be on your Ps and Qs around there each lap, so you have to be up on the wheel. This will definitely be a learning race, a learning curve for us in figuring out what we need for our cars to be better.
“I have to do a good job of not overstepping the boundaries early and taking ourselves out of contention, and managing the race, having Jerry (Baxter) talk to me on the radio and make adjustments under pit stops to get our Chevrolet where it needs to be.”
Wallace comes into the weekend in a unique position, as crew chief Jerry Baxter has spent the last several seasons in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series, before joining Richard Petty Motorsports this season. However, they have past experience together, having won some Truck races during their time at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“I think our confidence level is high, just because we know each other so well,” Wallace commented. “I think he’s going to be a great mentor and leader, and although he’s new to the cup series, I can share some of my experience – the very little that I have. He’s one that keeps our heads in the game, and focus how to be better and manage our races together. It’s going to be a lot of fun getting back into a rhythm with everybody on the team. Jerry is just the perfect leader for our team and organization right now.”
In the first four races ran this season, Wallace scored a pair of top-15 finishes, including a sixth.
“I think we got off to a good start,” he said. “I think there were some races that I wish we could go back and do over – Daytona for sure, but it’s definitely the best start that we’ve had on my cup resume. We’ve got some good cars being built and brought to the race track, so we just have to dig that momentum back up from California. It wasn’t one of our best races but we were able to manage and survive. We just need to keep on trucking to get into a routine like we all know how to do and take every race as a race.”
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