Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace to make first Nationwide Series start at Talladega on Saturday

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Racing at Talladega Superspeedway is a completely different experience than most drivers have ever gone through before in their careers.

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace will find out what kind of beast and monster Talladega can be when he competes in his first-ever NASCAR Nationwide Series start there in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 race.

Wallace, who is in his second full season in the Camping World Truck Series (currently ranked eighth after two races), will be making his fifth career NNS start and first in 2014.

In four NNS starts last season, the 20-year-old Wallace recorded three top-10 finishes and one pole (Dover). His worst finish was only 12th (also at Dover).

Wallace will be driving the Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota Camry in Saturday’s race.

“We’re excited to be able to provide this opportunity for Darrell in Talladega,” JGR president J.D. Gibbs said in a team media release. “He has been doing a great job in the Truck series with his KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) team and we want to make sure he continues to gain experience in our Nationwide Series cars as well.”

Wallace became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR national event in nearly 50 years when he captured last fall’s truck race at Martinsville.

“It’s good to be back behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series,” Wallace said. “I’m excited to work with (crew chief) Kevin Kidd and all the guys on this Nationwide Series team.

“I know they have a good Toyota Camry and Matt (Kenseth) has been running it all season long and posted good finishes. Hopefully, we can go out there, stay out of harm’s way and add to that by posting a good, strong finish at Talladega.”

While it will be Wallace’s first start in a Nationwide car at ‘Dega, he does have one other start at NASCAR’s largest oval (at 2.66-miles around), last fall in the truck series race there.

He started 10th and appeared headed towards a top-10 finish when he was involved in a last-lap wreck coming out of turn 4 and ultimately finished 17th.

Ironically enough, Wallace won the following week at Martinsville.

If he does well in the NNS race at ‘Dega, could lightning strike twice for him in next week’s truck race at Kansas Speedway?

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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