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Darrell Wallace becomes first African American driver to race full time in NASCAR's Cup Series since 1971

Darrell Wallace Jr. replaces Aric Almirola and will become the first African-American driver to race full-time in the NASCAR Cup series since 1971.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola
Darrell Wallace Jr. is introduced prior to the Cup Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2017.
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Richard Petty Motorsports named Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. to drive its No. 43 car full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series next year, the team announced Wednesday.

Wallace, 24, replaces Aric Almirola and will be the first African-American driver to race full-time in NASCAR’s top division since Wendell Scott in 1971. Scott, inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, is the lone African-American driver to win a race in NASCAR’s top division.

“It's big,” Wallace said about following in Scott’s footsteps. “There's been a lot of people come up through the ranks and try to carry on the legacy that Wendell Scott laid down for us. For me to step in that realm and take on that role, there's a lot of pressure. But we're going to go out there and just continue to do what we do on and off the race track.”

Wallace owns six wins in the Camping World Truck Series in 45 starts, and has a best finish of second in 85 starts in the Xfinity Series. He was second in Xfinity points when he lost his ride with Roush Fenway Racing in June due to a lack of funding.

Wallace made four Cup starts with RPM this summer filling in for the injured Almirola, who broke his back in a crash at Kansas Speedway in May. Wallace improved his finish in each subsequent race placing 26th in his series debut, followed by results of 19th, 15th, and 11th.

When Wallace made his Cup debut in June, he became at least the eighth African-American driver to compete at the sport’s highest level, according to NASCAR. Before Wallace, Bill Lester was the last African-American driver to race in Cup, making two starts in 2006.

RPM is co-owned by Richard Petty, a seven-time premier division champion whose 200 wins is a NASCAR record. All seven of Petty’s championships came driving the No. 43 car, considered one of the most famous in the sport’s history. He retired following the 1992 season and Wallace is the 10th driver to drive the car full-time since.

“When you have one of the most iconic numbers, one of the most iconic guys in the garage walking around, he decides I'm the one that's going to be driving his car the next year, it's pretty special,” Wallace said. “Definitely gives you goosebumps, raises a couple hairs on the back of your neck.”

Petty said Wallace’s talent and ability to connect with sponsors were the sole factors in signing the Mobile, Ala., native who’s been racing since he was a child.

"We looked at the talent," Petty said. "We looked at the way he handled the fans, how he handled the sponsor deals, all that kind of stuff. I didn't care what color was [or] where he come from.”

Almirola announced in September he would leave RPM after a five-year stint driving the No. 43 car. The 33-year-old Almirola earned one victory with the team and qualified for the 2014 playoffs. Although he has not formally disclosed his plans for the 2018 season, he is expected to join Stewart-Haas Racing where he will replace Danica Patrick.

RPM said a sponsor for the No. 43 team will be announced at a later date.