This is just one man’s opinion, but I think Bubba Wallace gets it.
The 25-year-old driver for Richard Petty Motorsports understands that he’s only in his second full season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup competition. He has much to learn and must avoid the past mistakes he made.
He understands the need of a good relationship with fellow competitors and the media. And he does not need to change his personality to attain it.
Speaking of personality, Wallace is personable, outgoing and likable. If, as an African-American driver, he’s carrying a banner for diversity, he certainly does not talk like it.
He doesn’t have to.
Unlike the time when pioneer and Hall of Fame driver Wendell Scott raced under a cloud of prejudice and inequality, no one gives a darn that Wallace is black.
At the very least, I have not heard a disparaging word said or written. Of course it is only logical to mention that if Wallace wins a Cup race – which is well within the realm of possibility – he will be the first to do since Scott in 1963.
It would seem that to earn a victory will take some time and improvement. Wallace has made only 40 career Cup starts, 36 of which came last year.
His record shows three top-10 finishes, one of which was a surprising runnerup showing in last year’s Daytona 500.
“Coming into the season last year we were like there is no way in hell that we would finish second in my first Daytona 500 attempt,” Wallace said. “I thought I would go out there and cause ‘the big one’.
“Let’s get through the rest of the week and let’s make it to lap 199 and see if we have a shot. If I make it to 199, hell yeah, I’m going to go for it.”
After the 2018 race Wallace became emotional. He had a reason, of course, but he joked that it might not have been what we thought.
“I shed a little tear for TV ratings trying to get those up, that was all part of the plan,” he said. “It worked out.
“Hell I got a lot of people on my side over that. Got to pump up the waterworks again this year.
“Other than that, it was just taking in the first race as a rookie and to be able to accomplish it the way we did was pretty cool.”
Wallace is optimistic that the changes at RPM made after the 2018 season will bring more opportunities for him to go for it.
“We will find out how it works out,” Wallace said. “We haven’t even got a race under our belt yet. We have had some personnel changes, people moved around and moved up and so excited about that.
“We have a new crew chief, new car chief and trying to get some new partners on board throughout the season as well. We will continue to keep pressing forward.
“I looked back. I’ve got a whole list of races where I could do a lot better and see what we can do.”
Not only does Wallace think the personnel changes will have a positive effect, he also reasons that he himself will be improved as a driver because of what he learned.
“I was surprised how much I struggled and let myself struggle,” he said. “It was my rookie year, you know, and I went through it all.
“I’m not using that as an excuse because I have enough experience to know that some of the mistakes I made could have been fixable, could have been preventable I should say.”
Even if performance does not improve for Wallace, do not expect him to change who he is. Fact is, it does not seem possible.
“A lot of people will portray my personality as me being cocky and arrogant,” he said. “I’m just living life. I’m having fun.
“At the end of the day I get paid to drive race cars. I just get to drive, nothing else. Everything else comes with it.
“I am not going to change the way I drive, I’m not going to change the way I interact with the media.
“For me, I’m just going to be me and have fun.”
There’s not a thing wrong with that.
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