BRISTOL, Tenn. — Darrell Wallace Jr. endured the range of emotions Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway, from leading laps to being lapped.
Wallace led laps 375-380, the first laps he led in his 12-race NASCAR Cup Series career and the first laps led by an African-American driver since Wendell Scott won in Jacksonville (Florida) in December 1963, but the handling of his car went away. He settled for a 16th-place finish, one lap down, in the Food City 500.
The 24-year-old Wallace, a rookie on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, sat in his car for a moment after the race.
“[The car] was on rails, and then all of a sudden, it was like a kick in the teeth,” Wallace said. “That was just the look of dejection, devastated, everything that relates to that.”
Wallace sits 21st in the NASCAR Cup standings and has posted two top-10s this year: a second-place finish in the Daytona 500 to open the year and an eighth-place finish last week at Texas.
“We fired off like a freaking badass and got our way up to 10th [by lap 250] … and got up to the lead,” Wallace said. “I was as surprised as anybody. [I’m] going through the emotions. … You could be good for a second, and then the next second you are not, but [we have] awesome takeaways.
“The momentum is still here. I’m just dejected because I’m scratching my head on where in the hell we went wrong. I don’t think we did anything wrong. I guess that is big-time auto racing, but it was a good day.”
Wallace is the eighth African-American driver in the NASCAR Cup Series and the first full-time African-American driver since Scott, who retired in 1973. Between then and Wallace’s Cup debut in 2017, four African-American drivers combined for eight starts in the series.