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NASCAR driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace confirmed that he will be leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the 2020 season.
In a social media post, Wallace wrote the following: “This was not an easy decision as I have nothing but the utmost respect for Richard Petty and his family, but I believe it’s time for someone else to take over the reins of the No. 43. Thank you to the King and everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports for giving me the opportunity to start my Cup Series career. I’ve grown so much as a driver and as a person since joining them. We’ve got nine more races together, and I hope we can finish the 2020 season on a high note.”
Wallace reportedly had turned down an offer from Richard Petty Racing to return following the season, which included partial ownership of the team. Richard Petty Motorsports ranks ninth amongst NASCAR’s most valuable teams going into this season, valued at $28 million.
So the questions becomes: what does it mean for both sides?
For Wallace, the decision comes at an interesting time. Though he has yet to win a race or a pole in his career, he has quickly become one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers. He gained a lot of support following an alleged hate crime when a noose was found in his garage.
At age 26, accepting a partial ownership role with Petty Motorsports would stunt his potential. As mentioned, he’d partially take over the ninth most valuable race team. This would tie him to that team’s equipment for the life of his ownership.
Given that the last win for the team came in 2014 (Aric Almirola at Daytona), it may be that they haven’t been great with staff or equipment. If that’s the case, testing the free agent market may be his best bet to make more money and possibly even win a race or two.
Wallace had previously said that he had an offer on the table from Chip Gnassi Racing to drive the number 42 car, currently driven by Matt Kenseth. Prior to Kenseth, the car was driven by Kyle Larson who was fired after he used a racial slur in an iRacing event. While the redemption aspect would be there, it would put him on a team that’s won more races in recent years.
Another rumor that’s made the rounds is that Hendrick Motorsports would be interested in taking over the 48 car for Jimmie Johnson, who is retiring at the end of the season. Hendrick Motorsports has historically been one of the most successful teams in NASCAR since 2000, winning eight Cup Series championships in that time and more than a hundred race wins. If the rumor has any backing, it would put Wallace in the best place to succeed.
According to Jenna Fryer from the Associated Press, Wallace does not have a contract from either team at this time. She would go on to mention that an offer could be resurrected, given his situation.
For Petty Motorsports, this would mean they’d have to find someone to replace him. The problem is, a lack of success and teammates could scare off other drivers. More than likely they would have to either sign a driver looking for a second chance or a rookie.
If they go with a possible redemption story, Larson may be the best candidate. Aside from the controversy surrounding him, he’s won six races and has 101 top tens. Teams won’t touch him because of the controversy.
Erik Jones may be another. His current race team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has already come out and said he wouldn’t be returning. Though he hasn’t had the best success, one driver that went with a lower budget race team, Martin Truex Jr., built his stock up after a rough early career by racing with Furniture Row Racing for four years, even winning a championship in that time before signing with Joe Gibbs Racing. Maybe some time away from a bigger race team would help him a bit.
If they went the rookie route, watch for drivers like Noah Gragson, Chase Briscoe, Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek to take the spot. They’re four of NASCAR’s brightest up-and-comers. They may receive better team offers, but it would help them build confidence and even potentially drive up their offers if they can garner success at NASCAR’s top level with a smaller team.
Whatever the case, both sides have options and could build towards a brighter future. Who knows what each future could hold? Either way, we will find out in a matter of months.