It will be months before Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. makes his first official start for Richard Petty Motorsports as a full-time competitor in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Wallace, 24, was named the 2018 driver of the legendary No. 43 on Wednesday.
Announcing the hiring of Wallace was just one piece of the organization’s latest puzzle. Still to be determined are such top-shelf items as sponsorship, manufacturer support and potential team alliance.
On Wednesday, co-owner Richard Petty said announcements concerning sponsorship will be made “later on,” there are “options” as far as manufacturer alignment is concerned and that decision will dictate any possible alignment with another organization.
RPM officials announced in September that current driver Aric Almirola and primary sponsor Smithfield would not return to the organization for 2018.
On the manufacturer front, the group has fielded Ford entries since 2010.
“We are doing one thing at a time,” Petty, 80, said Wednesday. “We decided just to go ahead and get Bubba all signed up, get that behind us, so that we can then sit down and say, ‘OK, what is our next best move?’
“Bubba will be involved in that part of it, too, because he’s going to be a big, big part of RPM for the coming years. … Again, there’s a bunch of irons in the fire. There’s going to be a bunch of different things that we’re going to do. When you see us at Daytona … it’s going to be a completely different RPM than what it’s been in the past.”
Wallace made four starts in the No. 43 earlier this year while Almirola was recuperating from a back injury, recording a best finish of 11th (at Kentucky). He is a six-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series; he competed with Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series and was fourth in that series’ points standings when the team was shut down in June.
“If you look back through NASCAR history, you’ll find out that (every) 10 or 12 years a crowd comes through,” Petty said. “You know, [David] Pearson, [Cale] Yarborough, [Richard] Petty came through. Then the next crowd comes up with Darrell [Waltrip], [Dale] Earnhardt. Then Jeff Gordon comes through, Jimmie Johnson’s crowd comes through.”
NASCAR is going through another cycle, he said, and “We wanted to be part of that change this time.
“We felt like then you have the new drivers, a bunch of new drivers, coming into Cup … that Bubba has already raced with for the last 10 or 12 years,” Petty said. “There are probably six or eight of them to come up together. Now they’ve made it to the Cup Series.
“We wanted to be involved in that part of it, felt like that Bubba was going to be our best bet to be right up to the cutting edge of what’s going on.”