MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December. We kicked things off Thursday with No. 20, the announcement that the Nationwide Series will be renamed and rebranded the Xfinity Series starting in 2015. Friday, we looked at No. 19, the 2015 Induction Class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Saturday, we brought you No. 18, the upset regular season wins from Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger.
Today, we focus on No. 17, Bubba Wallace’s breakout season in the Camping World Truck Series.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. had a breakout season in 2014, winning four races in the Camping World Truck Series.
Not only that, he also had nine top-5 and 14 top-10 finishes, two poles and ultimately finished a very strong third in the final standings, just 34 points behind champ Matt Crafton.
After such a season, you’d think Wallace would be a cinch to either come back for a third season in the Trucks, or possibly be promoted to the Xfinity Series by either Joe Gibbs Racing or the affiliated Kyle Busch Racing.
If so, you’d have thought wrong.
Bubba won’t be back with either JGR or KBR. The latter could not find enough sponsorship to keep the 21-year-old driver in the Trucks. Likewise, JGR couldn’t find enough sponsorship to promote Wallace to the Xfinity Series in 2015.
How that happens is hard to understand.
Wallace is one of the most charismatic rising stars in the NASCAR world. He has immense talent, is already a big fan and media favorite, and would appear to have a very successful future ahead of him.
But as of this writing, Bubba is without a job.
With no ride likely for 2015, he recently requested and received his release from his contract with JGR, after KBR told him he was not in the team’s plans for 2015.
Where he winds up — if he winds up anywhere — is anyone’s guess.
Rumors have floated recently that Wallace may be heading to an Xfinity Series ride in 2015 with Roush Fenway Racing – to become teammates with Chris Buescher, Ryan Reed and veteran Elliott Sadler – although neither Wallace nor RFR have said much about a potential deal in the works.
Still, you would think sponsors would be flocking to back Wallace. He’s the first African-American driver since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott to capture a NASCAR race in nearly 50 years (Fall 2013 at Martinsville), and then he won four races in 2014.
He’s a good looking kid, graduated from NASCAR’s vaunted Drive For Diversity driver development program for minorities and females, has developed great media skills already, and has a compelling back story on his rise through the racing ranks to get where he got to today.
Still, sponsorship is lacking for a guy who should be a slam dunk when it comes to attracting sponsors with fat wallets and money to burn.
I remember ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty telling me at lunch about seven years ago that no matter how good an upcoming African-American driver may be, he’s always going to have a tougher time getting sponsorship solely because of the color of his skin.
You would think, seven years later, that would not be the case. Yet other drivers, many with less talent, have rides for 2015 and Wallace does not.
And if the RFR rumors prove false, will Bubba be forced to sit along the sidelines for next season, maybe having only a few one-off, fill-in rides at best?
When Wallace won the 2014 season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was a bittersweet victory. He did it once again for KBM, but it would also be the last time he’d do so – at least for the foreseeable future (providing KBM would bring him back some time down the road).
“I’m not sure what the future brings for me, but this is one hell of a way to go out,” Wallace said after his Homestead win. “I came home with five wins (four this season) and a hell of a season.”
We can only hope Wallace truly does wind up at RFR in at least a part-time – if not a full-time – Xfinity Series ride in 2015.
Or, if he returns to the Truck Series with another team, that would be fine too. Maybe some major sponsor will come to its senses and take a chance on backing Wallace.
Because if such a sponsor does, I’m willing to bet Wallace will give him a great return on his investment and pay dividends that could potentially include a championship.
The kid is that good. And just like it was when he was breaking into NASCAR, he’s back to square one: he just needs a good break.
Let’s hope break No. 2 is right around the corner because Wallace, NASCAR and fans deserve it.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski