What happened: Darrell Wallace Jr. will move to the Cup Series to drive Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 car next season, the team announced Wednesday. That will make Wallace the first full-time African-American driver in the Cup Series since Wendell Scott ran 37 races in the 1971 season.
What it means: Bubba gets a well-deserved shot at a Cup ride, and NASCAR gets an injection of excitement with a big personality getting to drive at the top level. NASCAR needs more characters after losing star power over the last few years with the departures of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — and Wallace’s edginess and enthusiasm will help with that. Also, you would assume this announcement means RPM feels like it will be able to find enough sponsorship to continue as an organization after anchor partner Smithfield decided to leave the team. The team’s news release announcing the decision said sponsorship for Wallace will be announced at a later date, so it’s unclear what that will entail.
News value (scale of 1-10): Seven. There are several distinct elements at play here, including Wallace’s skin color (which shouldn’t be notable in 2017 but will grab headlines based on NASCAR’s lack of diversity), the legend of the 43 car and the hope of an potential new star getting a chance at the Cup level. The news is not a surprise, though, based on the frequent updates from SportsBusiness Journal’s Adam Stern about RPM trying to sign Wallace.
Three questions: Does RPM have sponsorship secure, or is it making this announcement in hopes of drumming up funding now that it has a driver signed? Will Wallace, who was 11th at Kentucky earlier this year, be able to have more performances where he finishes ahead of where Aric Almirola typically did in the 43? Will Domino’s be involved with the team in any way, or will the company stupidly ignore a great opportunity to be paired with a rising star?