DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – The emotions of a career-best runner-up finish overcame Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, who wept openly after embracing family members Sunday in a poignant news conference at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’m so proud of you,” said Wallace’s mother, Desiree. “We’ve waited so long. So long.”
“You’re acting like we just won the race!” Wallace protested after becoming the highest-finishing African-American in the 60-year history of the Great American Race.
“We did,” Desiree said. “We did. We did win that race.”
“Dang it, mom,” Wallace said.
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There then was another embrace from his older sister, Brittany, whom Wallace joked about having all the good looks.
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Then the Richard Petty Motorsports driver broke down crying while attempting to collect his thoughts about finishing second to Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500.
“It’s a sensitive subject,” he said. “But I’m just so emotional over where my family has been the last two years, and I don’t talk about it, but it’s just so hard, and so having them here to support me is …
“Pull it together, bud. Pull it together. You just finished second. It’s awesome. I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it, but I just want to make them proud. Second is horrible, but it’s still a good day.
“But yeah, I just love my family and having everybody here from my mom, my sister, my uncle, everybody here just means a lot.”
Wallace is the first full-time African-American driver on the circuit in 47 years since Wendell Scott. Before Sunday’s race, he received a call from baseball legend Hank Aaron.
Here’s what else Wallace said after the win:
Q: Walk through the final laps, please. That was quite a finish.
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Yeah, I said, uh‑oh, for the green‑white‑checkered, I didn’t know if we’d end up ‑‑ well, we still ended up in the infield care center, but just wild. I mean, it’s Daytona. You’ve just got to be relaxed for it the whole time. Just like the Duels, I just found myself looking back like a third perspective again, like, just like you’re so calm, you’re doing great, just kind of pumping myself up, but at the same time just trying to stay focused on the task at hand and just not mess up. We battled through a lot of adversity there, and just being able to run every lap, and I wish I could say bring the car home in one piece, but what a great car, what a great Click ‘n Close Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Just fast all day, fast all week, and I think there was a lot of talk in the garage how good our car was at pushing, and I think that gave me a lot of respect out there to be able to do what I can do.
Having everybody from Click ‘n Close here, Richard Petty, that’s another story I’ll get to in a second. But just a great night.
Q: I just wondered if you could talk about the King and Drew were very complimentary of you. This wasn’t just an end of the race, he ended up top 5. You were up front all day. Could you talk about the effort of the entire race and really earning this position?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Yeah, no, thanks to the King and Brian Moffitt, Andrew Murstein for giving me this opportunity and believing in me those four races last year. I just went out and tried not to be a hero, like the King told me right before climbing in. I didn’t try to be a hero tonight, and we’re sitting here in second trying to talk to you guys about a great finish for my first Daytona 500. The chemistry we have with the team, it’s incredible. Drew and I just hit it off. Like when I walked into the garage at Pocono it was like, boom, here it is, we have it. Before we even said anything, we knew it was something there. So we’re able to build off that, and he’s really good at managing races and calling races, and when I mess up like sliding through the box there, he just repeats it over and over, that we’re fine, just settle in, refocus, and just go out there and do what you do, and don’t do it again, obviously. But just the team we have behind us right now is so much fun, and knowing that we’re a smaller budget team, we have a lot of poise and a lot of attitude and just a lot of stuff to fight for this year. I’m really looking forward to Atlanta. Don’t know what the hell we’ll have there because it’s all new for us.
I know this will carry over to Atlanta and be good.
Q: How taxing has this whole week been on you with all the cameras and all the Facebook deal and all that, and then also, can you talk about getting the call from Hank Aaron before the race?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Yeah, Griffin, him and I have almost come to blows over this Facebook deal. Not really, but we both know how stressful it is and we’re both trying to do our jobs, and it’s been very taxing on that. Griffin, I’m not doing another interview after this, so this is all you’re getting. The race went great, we ran 500 miles at Daytona, my first Daytona 500, we finished second. Put that in there. We’re done. His favorite question is what did we do today.
But just an incredible moment. To be in that position, it takes me back to a week ago when Dale called me ‑‑ as soon as I landed here, he says, hey, the next three or four weeks are going to be busy for you, and I’m like, yeah, no kidding, just come off a stressful night. And he just had the words to bring that positive light back up that I try to carry with me every day, and he says, I’ll have the opportunity to do things outside of this sport that not really anybody else can. So take that, run with it, and set yourself up for 10 years from now, look back on it and see how you did.
Q: Darrell, what did the King tell you before the race, and what was your ‑‑ what was it like with him after the race?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Well, he did tell me last night ‑‑ I was his Uber back from dinner, so I brought him back to the bus. We were just making small talk, no cameras there. We were talking what it was like. He’s been here since day one running on the beaches, and ever since this was built, and just hearing all that just was like, wow, first of all, I wasn’t even born yet, wasn’t even a thought yet. My parents were just born. Just kind of showing his age there, and just hearing what he had to talk about.
But right when we pulled in the bus lot, he was talking, just park at your bus, I’ll walk over. I’m like, no, I’ll take you to your bus, we’re not far, and he said, all right, can you do a burnout? I’m like, yeah, sure. Then all of a sudden he follows up, if you do a burnout in the race car I’m going to beat the s‑‑‑ out of you, so I’m like, all right, so we got that out of the way.
But I think having him ‑‑ and then after the race, let me get to that, to where my heart is still pumping over that, sitting on the cot in the infield care center, and I’m pissed off about the finish, obviously, and he walks in lived, and I’m like, yes, he’s mad, let’s go do something. And he walks in, and the first thing he said, what’s the first thing I told you, with a very stern attitude and look, and I’m like ummmm, and he says, “I told you not to wreck the car,” and I was like, I didn’t do it. So we shared a good laugh, and he come in and gave me a big hug after that. To see the smile on his face, I think you had to be there to experience that moment. All the liaisons in there were pretty nervous for me, too, until he cracked the joke. But just a great day, a great week, seeing him after the Duels, how pumped up he was and just the same amount of emotion, if not more right here after the race.
Q: You said that the King told you not to try and be a hero. What did you expect for yourself sort of going into the race? Could you have imagined this? And when during the race did you realize that you really had a chance to make a push?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: You know, I don’t have the experience, nor does anybody out there. I got the rookie stripes for a reason, so making some of those moves today I was a little bit delayed and a little bit late and luckily kept out of harm’s way. But it just all comes with time. Jumping into the Xfinity Series, I was ‑‑ I have the attitude and just the confidence to win every race that you enter. We all know that’s not going to happen, so jumping in tonight we had the same attitude, but I knew the circumstances and how this plays out and the moves that you have to make and the defending and blocking that you do. I’ve never done it at this level. I was like, if we get put in that position, here we go, hang on. Unfortunately we never did, but we come to a really close second, and I was able to push our RCR affiliate teammate there out to the win, so congrats to Austin. That was cool.
Q: You saved your race there at the end with that save in Turns 1 and 2 where you threw sparks. Could you describe going through that? And the second thing is in the beginning of the race, you looked really antsy when you were second, like you wanted to lead the race. What was going through your mind then?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Yeah, I think I was just trying to learn stuff there, make those bold moves, see what happens, and try to ‑‑ if we fell back, it wasn’t the end of the world, but just try to fend off the guys behind me. I think it was myself and Denny that were out front, and wasn’t really trying to get by him, but I just wanted to lead the bottom line, go back to the top line, everything that you’ve watched from Brad doing, Joey doing, Ryan did it all night tonight. I wanted to experience that for a little bit, and I got to, so my notebook was jotted down for sure.
But then after the pit stops, we were just so hard on the splitter, and it looked like I was just kind of driving around, but I was playing it smart, trying to save my race car.
Q: Talk about the save.
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Oh, the save. There’s a reason I skipped that. I don’t want to talk about it. Ooh‑weee, Daytona.
Q: Darrell, you were asked about Hank earlier; you also got a tweet, I think, from Lewis Hamilton. What do those types of things mean to you when you see those things?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: That was cool. My manager Kyle, who’s also my big brother over there, he walks in the bus, guess who just followed you. I’m like, who. He said, Lewis Hamilton. I’m like, what? Freaking out, fan growing out. I look up to him. He does so many great things in the F1 world. He’s just a genuine badass in what he does, so that was cool, and then he sent out a tweet, and I got weak at the knees. Luckily I was sitting down when I was replying to him. I think I was taking a golf cart ride out to an appearance and I replied back. Really cool and really special for Hank Aaron also to call right there before was really special, and just knowing that people are tuning in and hopefully noticing the new face and the new change that’s coming to NASCAR and they get behind it and support it. Just exciting.
Q: Bubba, Denny claims that he got a flat tire at the start‑finish line at the checkered flag. Do you buy that?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: I mean, it looked kind of like the same move he pulled on Ryan at Martinsville if I remember correctly last year with that mayhem. But you know, if I did ‑‑ if that happened, okay, so be it, but it just seems like he got off of me a little bit and then turned back into me. I know the cars drive crazy and whatnot and they’re a handful, but it just didn’t seem like that right away, but it was tough to see from that angle anyways. Who knows. We’re both pissed off at each other. But we’re racers. We’re competitive, and we’ll go into Atlanta and be fine. I might be kicked out of the basketball league, but whatever. And golf league, too.
Q: I’ve been talking to a lot of drivers, and rookies have a bit of a reputation in general, but the drivers that have been seasoned veterans are speaking with respect of you. Clint Bowyer said you earned this ride, and you’re earning the respect of the veteran drivers. How are you able to do that so quickly?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: I don’t know. Thanks, Clint. I’ve always kind of tested his waters, and it’s like, hey, Clint. All right. Thanks, Clint. I don’t know. I just be myself and try not to be a jackass out on the track. Just try to ‑‑ from running trucks and Xfinity, it was always hold the steady line. That’s how you’re going to gain respect. I think all throughout practice and the Duels just having the right guys behind me. I worked with Newman a lot this weekend. I think he was a big fan. I don’t know if he’ll ever admit it, but yeah, it’s just trying to run my own race and not cause any havoc out there. If you run a good clean race, run all the laps, I think you’ll get a lot of respect, and I think our cars, the way my guys built our car, we were a really good push car. We got behind there a little bit, and I’m like, man, we’re not really going anywhere, but I can just run over these guys and we’re making some ground up a little bit. That’s just hats off to the guys back in the shop and everybody on this 43 Chevrolet Click ‘n Close Camaro ZL1. So yeah, that’s it.
Q: Were you at a point there right at the white flag where you thought you might be sniffing a win, or did Austin just have too much of a lead at that point?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: You know, I’ve watched a couple of these races, and it got down to 10 to go, and I said, all right, we’ve still got about two hours left here, I’m all good in here, so I’m not thinking about it, and even on the white flag, we’ve still got two and a half miles to go with Logano breathing down my neck, knowing that he likes to just dart out and everybody is going to go with him, so I’m just trying to keep him in my mirror, so I think I was full of thinking about that and not really thinking about winning the race, knowing that we still had to get through 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and almost got caught up there on the backstretch. But still, anyways, it’s a good day just to come home second, just to come home with a finish here at Daytona. A lot of cars wrecked out early, and we were able to capitalize on that. It really means a lot to be able to just run all the laps, have a good, clean race and earn the respect of your peers.
Q: And how are you feeling? I know you were kind of a little puny ‑‑
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Puny?
Q: Well, you weren’t feeling well earlier in the week. Are you feeling better now?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Yeah, yeah, I’m feeling good. I’m all right. I’m a little emotional right now, but all good. Thank you.
Q: We’ve seen your colorful personality, but tonight we’ve seen a lot of emotion. Are you always this emotional, or did you expect to be this emotional after this good finish?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: I usually just sprinkle water and sprinkle tears on my face to make it look like I’m that emotional. But no, no matter what the circumstances are, when you have family here and you run good and it’s been a while since you’ve been somewhat competitive, it pulls on the heartstrings. I’m competitive. I love to win. I hate to finish second. Obviously that shows for everybody.
But I’m human. No matter if I race cars for a living and enjoy doing it, at the end of the day we all get emotional about something, so I’m just the same as you guys.
Q: I wanted to ask you because over the course of your career, you had some times that were very uncertain, and you stayed with it and you were positive and you joked on Twitter about this could be the sponsor or that could be the sponsor. Could you just talk a little bit about how you feel and where you are today versus even two years ago and the power that you felt in terms of sticking this out and staying with your dream?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Yeah, no, it’s just all about adversity, and looking at the stuff you’ve gone through, it’s motivation. Here come the emotions again. But on the sponsorship side, it’s tough. We should all be firing a tweet to Domino’s because if we finished second, we should at least get free pizza for the media room, right, so they’re missing out on that ball, but that’s why we have great partners like Click ‘n Close. They take the big step not knowing anything about NASCAR, right? And they take the big step and believe in me and give me an opportunity that not a lot of people get, so I had to capitalize. Never quit.
Q: You referenced a little bit earlier about not sure about what you would have at Atlanta. From a competitive standpoint, did you feel a little bit more confident about what was possible at Daytona because of that uncertainty, or are you just not sure what you’re going to have next week?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: I think the exciting thing about Daytona is unless you’re just coming there just to run at the back of the pack all day and accept a finish, everybody that shows up to Daytona has a shot. That’s just the ‑‑ that’s what Daytona produces, and Talladega, as well. It doesn’t matter who you are. A very low budget team or a top dollar team, everybody has a shot to win. That’s why we always say when we go to Atlanta, that’s when we really see who’s playing what cards. Just from everything that’s been going on in the off‑season, switching over to Chevrolet, the alliance with RCR, they were rebuilding their stages there at the end of the year for their program. We’re heading in there like we’re going to win that race. But at the same time, we know we also have a lot of things to check off the list.
Q: Every driver thinks they should be in the Cup Series. If they don’t, they probably shouldn’t be driving a race car. But at this moment for you, was it when you signed your contract? Was it when you rolled in here this week, or was it when you took the checkered today that you finally have that belief in yourself that, yes, you are officially a Cup Series driver full‑time?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: I think the Vegas test, really. We get to test again. That’s nice. I think there, going there, it’s like, okay, we were able to do all these things, two‑day test here, get familiar with the cars and get to experience these cars and how fast they are. We’re faster in Vegas than we are here. It’s incredible. And just getting to experience that, and just coming down here put the icing on the cake, being on this side of the garage, knowing my hauler is over here and getting to see how the fans react with the windows, which I think is great. Not just walking through and, hey, what’s up, waving to everybody at the top because I’m going to cheer on ex‑teammates or whatever they are. It’s my garage stall, my eyes. It’s our team. And I think that’s special.
I’m enjoying it all. Just taking it day by day.
Q: Exactly what did Hank Aaron say to you, and how surprised were you to hear from him?
BUBBA WALLACE JR.: Yeah, he just said, hey, good luck, and just have a good race today, and that was it. He knew that we were pressed for time, and it was five seconds, and that’s all he said. That was really cool. So when Murstein came up to me and said, hey, Hank Aaron is on the line, I’m like, what? That’s awesome. So I was pretty excited about that.