Heading into the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, it was pretty unanimous, Chase Elliott was likely going to be the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the next NASCAR’s most popular driver. While that’s still likely going to be true, another driver is gaining a ton of momentum.
Darrell Wallace Jr. was gaining a ton of attention prior to last weekend’s season opening Daytona 500. Even before his third place finish in the Duels last Thursday night, Wallace was one of the most talked about drivers during Speedweeks. Then, came his runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 itself. Now, the attention is growing exponentially than it was ever before.
Wallace, is arguably the second most popular driver in the sport right now. People within the industry are talking about how much of a star he’s going to be. Team and crew members are saying he’s the real deal. The talk of Richard Petty Motorsports is back is thrown around.
While I do think Wallace can and likely will be a star one day in this sport, the key word there is “one day.” I just hope we’re not doing a disservice to him and his potential by building him up the way that we are.
There’s one thing to pub Elliott or even Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and William Byron. Heck, throw Kyle Larson into that mix as well. They’re all part of this new youth movement but they’re also in championship caliber rides.
Wallace’s second place finish with RPM at Daytona isn’t anywhere close to indicative on how his 2018 season is going to go. I’m not saying a top five finish on a restrictor plate track isn’t hard, so please don’t take this wrong, but it’s far easier to get a top five at Daytona with an RPM car than it is, say Atlanta, the site of this weekend’s race.
This car didn’t magically improve overnight.
RPM was on the brink of not being in existence anymore. They lost their driver and their sponsor too. That forced them to make a manufacturer change from Ford to Chevrolet, then moving to a completely new building in joining forces with Richard Childress Racing as a result. Even with those changes, it’s not like they could magically make them a championship contender.
Aric Almirola drove this car from 2012 until Homestead in 2017. That’s 209 starts in the No. 43 entry. He had just one career win, which also happened to be at Daytona. He also only had 10 total top five finishes and 30 top 10’s in his RPM tenure. He also led just 122 laps with them.
So, why would we expect Wallace to automatically turn this team from a top 20 car to a top 10 car in a span of three months? I don’t doubt Wallace’s abilities, but I also don’t doubt Almirola’s.
To me, the expectations for Wallace has to be at least 10 top 10 finishes and five total top fives this season. Neither of those numbers were reached with RPM in a long time. Even the team is saying which.
Richard Petty himself said in Atlanta that the goal is to finish races between eighth and 10th, Wallace says it should be 10th to 15th.
If he shows up to Atlanta and can finish in the top 20, that’s a good day for them. But, don’t be disappointed if he’s not contending to the win this weekend, or really anytime soon.
I would hate to see all this new found attention fall off because he’s not competing like he did at Daytona. He deserves time to grow with this team and time to gel. I’d hate for potential sponsors and fans to turn away because the early results are there.