If Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. looks a little cross-eyed this weekend at Talladega, don’t be alarmed.
While sitting behind the wheel of the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, Wallace will have one eye focused on Saturday’s Fred’s 250 Camping World Truck Series, in which he hopes to close the points gap.
Wallace is in fourth place in the standings, 33 points behind series leader Matt Crafton.
“I don’t like to think about points,” Wallace said after Friday’s first practice session at Talladega. “I know what we have to do, but this is a race and a big enough stress ball to worry about.
“So if we can come out of here (unscathed) then maybe we can start talking, but I probably still won’t talk after this race. … Because of incidents happening early on this season, we should be higher up in the standings than where we are now. I can say that for sure.”
Staying out of trouble – particularly wrecks on the 2.66-mile superspeedway – will be the key if Wallace hopes to accomplish his goal and narrow the margin between himself and Crafton.
“It’s Talladega, cautions breed cautions here,” Wallace said after Friday’s first practice. “We just have to be on the plus side of that and on the front end of it.
“Really you’re in trouble anywhere you go. If you’re at the front, the middle or you’re at the back then you can get caught up in it. I just think of where I see Kyle (Busch) running at Talladega and he’s either second or third or leading the race and he ends up winning. That’s what we need to do.”
Wallace then added an understatement that can be applied to any NASCAR vehicle – truck or car – while competing at Talladega.
“You’re never safe until the checkered flag,” Wallace said. “(We) try to control our own destiny and just ride. You feel like you’re doing that already and (then) something happens so you never know.”
As for Wallace’s other eye, he can’t help if he’s looking ahead to next week’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
It was one year ago that Wallace won on the tiny half-mile bullring, becoming the first African-American driver to ever win a Truck race, and the second to win a NASCAR race on any pro level in nearly five decades since Wendell Scott did so in December 1963.
“It’s huge and I’m excited to get back to Martinsville,” Wallace said. “It’s going to be an exciting weekend for sure, a huge media hit for us. We’re coming back to keep the title going. We need to win us another grandfather clock and win us another race. We should have had a couple more before this.”
To commemorate the anniversary of his breakthrough win, instead of driving his all black No. 54 Tundra, Wallace will be driving a truck with a different paint scheme and truck number (34) at Martinsville, both in honor of Scott, who will be inducted early next year into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The No. 34 was Scott’s number, as was the blue and white paint scheme, during most of his NASCAR racing career.
“I’m excited, the colors look good with the blue and white Toyota Tundra and the No. 34 will be different for sure,” Wallace said. “I’m excited to carry on the Wendell Scott banner and represent their family and his legacy for that weekend. It’s going to be an exciting weekend.”
The significance of his first win at Martinsville – he’s since added two additional wins earlier this year at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis and in the dirt track race at Eldora Raceway (Ohio) – is not lost on Wallace.
In fact, it’s had a profound effect and impact upon him and his career.
“I turned 21 since then so happy birthday to me,” Wallace quipped. “The maturity level has gone up I would say inside the race car.
“I think just learning everything and learning the tracks and understanding how things work, letting little stuff go and focusing on the end of the race instead of getting flustered at the beginning when I lose six or seven spots and get upset and end up wrecking – (like) Charlotte and Kentucky last year.
“Now we just go out and have fun, smooth race and we’re still not happy if we don’t win. But it’s still a good points day finishing sixth versus 26th. I think that has changed a lot and I’ve relaxed and learned to take in more and listen more and go out there and utilize that what I’ve learned in those races and it’s definitely shown.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski