Bubba Wallace’s decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports ahead of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series was surely a difficult one, an emotional call months in the making.
But look beyond emotions and it’s clearly the right decision to make.
Once a driver struggling to find sponsorship, Wallace has gone on a sponsor shopping frenzy this summer. The Tennessean has signed on brands like Cash App, Columbia and DoorDash while garnering an endorsement deal with Beats by Dre.
This has been Wallace’s best Cup season to date, with five of his nine top-10s and a 20.2 average finish that’s nearly four spots better than his 2019 mark. But those results wouldn’t have been enough to garner Wallace the support — it’s also surely been tied to his social justice efforts off of the track.
He could take the funding and use it to help RPM in its efforts to rebuild. But the safer bet for both himself and his newfound supporters is to try to make a splash in free agency now.
Because his peak time to capitalize could be short.
Wallace has spent years working to get to this point, steadily progressing through NASCAR’s ladder system despite minimal funding. Three solid years in what was then the K&N Pro Series East led Wallace to the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2013. In that top-tier equipment, he secured five wins in two years and finished third in the 2014 championship.
The opportunity for a full-time move up never materialized at Toyota, but Wallace found new hope with Roush Fenway Racing (RFR) in the Xfinity Series. He never had a stand-out moment, but put together two serviceable years and was fourth in the standings midway through a third when his No. 6 team was shuttered in the summer of 2017.
Had it not been for an unfortunate injury to Aric Almirola at Kansas Speedway in that year’s spring Cup race, RFR could have marked the end of Wallace’s career. But he secured a four-race stint with RPM while Almirola recovered from a broken back and impressed with an 11th-place run at Kentucky Speedway. RPM deserves credit for seeing his potential, because that stint led Wallace back to the No. 43 team full-time in 2018, where he immediately finished second in the Daytona 500.
That run was symbolic of his career to date in NASCAR’s top two tiers — close to a breakout performance, but unable to score the sort of needle-moving result that can land him in the limelight.
It’s not entirely fair to attribute that lack of a breakthrough to Wallace. Save perhaps for a strong 2015 campaign with RFR for Chris Buescher, results from both organizations show that Wallace’s time at both the Xfinity and Cup levels largely fell with teams a step below the top of the ladder in their respective tours. Whether he’s a premier talent remains to be seen because he hasn’t truly had an opportunity to prove either way.
Wallace’s lack of a breakout result left him in a precarious spot entering 2020. His team was nervous about sponsorship moving forward, leaving Wallace due for a potential drop into free agency. But Wallace quickly found himself embroiled in a much bigger cultural discussion.
The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor drove American society into a full-on movement against racial injustice over the early summer, compelling Wallace to speak up and lead the charge within the NASCAR realm.
Efforts from Wallace saw his fellow drivers create a video speaking out against racial discrimination. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its facilities. Wallace donned a Black Lives Matter shirt and even drove a black No. 43 Chevrolet supporting the movement at Martinsville Speedway.
All of this happened while most other sports were still shut down for COVID-19, making Wallace a leading Black figure in the sporting world. Seemingly overnight, the third-year driver became a global cultural brand, garnering both the love and hate that come with it.
The noose incident saw the hatred. When a garage pull rope fashioned in the shape of a noose during the Fall 2019 race weekend was identified and reported in his stall in the height of the BLM movement in June, Wallace found himself taking flack from thousands, including the President. Never mind that he hadn’t seen it himself due to the pandemic race protocol.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wallace saw support ring in from people like LeBron James and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton offered support for him before leading his own anti-discrimination charge in the world’s most popular motorsport tour.
The love and vitriol combined into a whirlwind of attention that have helped make Wallace a cultural leader for diversity. Important for the future of his racing career, the spotlight also brought major brands that are eager to be affiliated with Wallace while he works both on and off-track.
That places Wallace in a position similar to Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya and others in previous years. Win or lose, he’s going to be among the star attractions for the series for the foreseeable future.
But Wallace has years of stock car experience that those others didn’t, including six wins at the Truck level. That gives him stronger potential to make trips to victory lane — an accomplishment his newfound sponsors are presumably eager to be associated with.
Do they need him to win in order to gain value from their deals? Not at all. Being associated with Wallace at a time when many consumers are seeking to support brands engaged in diversity and social justice efforts is already a win for most involved.
But Wallace can’t be certain of how long that support will stick around. Other “star of the moment” drivers have seen their sparkle fade after a few years, or sometimes less, of pedestrian results.
The easiest way for Wallace to incentivize his supporters to stick with him for the long term is to win, and as quickly as possible.
RPM could eventually return to that point, but the organization isn’t positioned with any guarantee to do so yet. Other rides at companies that would seem to be a step up remain open for the taking, though most are denying involvement at the moment.
Hendrick Motorsports has an entry remaining open with Jimmie Johnson’s impending retirement. Chip Ganassi Racing has yet to fill the No. 42 currently being driven in a lame-duck partial season by Matt Kenseth. Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t confirmed Clint Bowyer’s return to the No. 14, though the organization has openly stated it envisions all four drivers returning for 2021.
Wallace isn’t the only driver on the market. Erik Jones remains unconfirmed for a 2021 drive, while Kyle Larson’s name has filled the rumor mill while he continues to win dirt races en masse, though he’s yet to be reinstated by NASCAR. Surging Xfinity stars Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric could also factor into the silly season discussion.
But Wallace’s apparent funding makes him an attractive prospect, as does the value that could come if he can pull off a trailblazing victory.
Leaving RPM places him one step closer to doing just that in the short term. Now we all wait to see where he lands.
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Is the FRONTSTRECH losing their older wiser contributors? Aaron Bearden is what is exactly wrong with the indoctrination of our college campuses. And then they leave….Sad for his parents, nothing to be proud about. The political and “social” angle he gleefully embraces without facts or a healthy debate is typical and tired. Just flucking damn tired. Stick to the facts…you would be better served for readership.
So by your count AARON, “BUBBA” didn’t see it so he is absolved from any responsibility for his diarrhea of the mouth after the fact??????????????????? Spewing a shit storm for RPM and NASCAR and having the other drivers support him, when they looked like total fools in doing so? In so doing hating on NASCAR fans, America, etc???????
So true KB. Ridiculous speculation Aaron. Bubba’s white father keeps asking don’t I count. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. If indeed there is no offer for a bubba ride from Chip, what then ! Don’t forget, Childress is trying to find a ride for Ty. Enough bubba stories frontstretch, plenty of talent to write about.
Man… that is so true. Where do they find these ignorant wanna be journalists anyway. Racing is racing, not some social justice experiment. This “never was Wallace” will soon become a fading memory.
Give him a ride where he can’t hide behind his race. Tired of his victim act.
If you want to see one of the reasons why Nascar is losing in popularity here it is. It is the treatment that anyone who doesn’t fit the mold gets, whether it is justified or not. . Totally predictable.
Just one question. How can you say it was the right decision until you know where he lands? Or, do you already know and just can’t say? Or are you just assuming Gannasi or Hendrick? (So I lied…. that was 3 questions).
One last question to those who run Frontstretch. Has something changed there in the last couple of weeks with your website? I have noticed the response time is getting so slow that it is becoming annoying.
Anyone else notice very slow response time for the site to load?
Yes Bill B, I have noticed slow response time to the site…..and then the articles.
Glad I am not the only one. I have noticed it for the last couple of weeks. There have been times where I’ve just given up.
Seems like someone heard our voice… the site appears to be loading and responding perfectly now.
To whoever is responsible … THANK YOU!!!!
Same here – I’m running business speed internet and still takes eons to load … might be a new hosting company?
I’ve had trouble loading the site regardless of what device I use.
First off I appreciate it that Frontstretch is one of the few places left that want input from fans. Most of the articles that are posted on Jayski don’t allow fan input.
As far as the Wallace deal goes, I compare it to the Danica situation and a few others. It’s called “ride buying”. Racing talent is now taking a back seat to it. Everyone knows that Kyle Larson is a hellava racing talent but if no one will sponsor him he won’t be back. I think everyone agrees that Suarez is good race car driver but the sponsor dollars left and so did he. Erik Jones didn’t do a bad job at Gibbs. He’s out. Right now Wallace is riding high with some sponsorship dollars but the important thing is that they were not received for racing talent. And fans know this. Just read various blogs. The overwhelming responses on them are negative towards Bubba. The reality is that no one has the nads to admit it that he hurt the sport more then he helped it. Fact of the matter is I posted on another race site “who cares”in response to the stories that Wallace was leaving RPM. Every reply so far has been “I agree”.
There’s an old expression “when the green flag drops, the bull$hit stops”. This is going to be the true Bubba Wallace fate.
Spot on! Couldn’t have said it better, myself.
He fanned racial flames by insisting the pull rope was a noose and by wearing a shirt promoting a violent racist organization.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??????
I am outraged that these “writers” and NASCAR have been kissing his also ran ass. I do appreciate the mention of Danicant however. There seems to be a connection there.
He never put on a TRUMP shirt
It’s also surely been tied to his social justice efforts off of the track. Surely not his driving abilities. He’s got sponsorship only for one reason. The NOOSE incident.
Do you want a driver or a SJW. I would like a driver. This article makes Bubba sound like he is up and coming and nothing could be farther from the truth.
Whats that old saying? Get WOKE, go BROKE. Welcome NASCAR you are now in this crap up to your neck. Before long you will be back to a regional sport and Everingham and Stewart will bury you in their wake.
If Bubba is going to shine, he needs better equipment. Period. He knows that, the team knows that. I think he has an offer on the table, but just hasn’t announced it yet.
I think he is a better driver than RPM shows him to be. If he can get in a better ride, we will find out.
Wow. Just….wow. Judging from the remarks here, Nascar has a LONG way to go before it feel inclusive to anyone not from the ‘old school’ mold.
Amen. Preaching to the choir there fellow.
Wow….those first comments are so full of anger, rage and hate. You are the minority who thought the drivers looked like fools supporting Bubba. My other thought is who are you KB to bring the writers parents into the conversation? Go.back in your basement and drink your kool-aid.
Yep people here just refuse to be PC and say the “right” things. They tend to call them as they see them and not wrap them in flowery language designed to make everyone feel good. A lot of us were brought up with the old adage “sticks and stones….” and we don’t understand why we should care if someone’s feeling get hurt by something we say. No one is getting hurt, really and no one’s life is changing as a result of what we say. What’s worse is that we don’t like being told what we can and can’t say nor will we bend to the pressure that certain segments want to force upon us. I hope no one ever comes up to me at a restaurant and tries to force/pressure me to raise my hand, I just might go off the deep end.
We weren’t brought up in a basement looking at our participation ribbons. We have been working and enjoying the fruits of our labor and not waiting on someone to give us something. If you think we are racist that is the farthest thing from the truth. We simply despise people wanting something for nothing. We simply despise whining about feelings and he/they hurt my feelings. If you don’t like the real world then stay in the basement. Its a tough cruel world out there and there are no safe spaces. You must make your own way and not depend on others for a handout. Please, don’t tell me how far we have to go to be WOKE. I never will be and I don’t need this crap pushed down my throat 24/7. So tired of it.
I find it a little odd that, while hundreds of drivers have had careers that were less than stellar, almost none of them have been heavily criticized.The two most notable exceptions happened to be the two who were not white males I.e. Wallace and Patrick.
Coincidence? I think not.
Of course that’s the way you see it. I won’t speak for anyone else but myself here but it annoys the hell out of me when someone gets more attention then the deserve just because the are a minority. If Bubba was winning races then I’d expect to see many articles written about them and rightly so. Danica was treated like a superstar by the media and never finished in points in the top 20. Bubba has had similar results and has had even more stories written about them. Meanwhile other, non-diversity drivers with sucky stats and results do not get any press and rightly so because they don’t deserve it. I don’t want some driver jammed down my throat by the media or treated special by the sport for any reason but their on track performance. Win a couple races Bubba and then you will deserve the press you get, until then just drive around anonymously at the back with all the other back-markers.
I would like a world in which we don’t discriminate or celebrate anyone because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or gender. The only people we should celebrate are those who do something worthy of celebrating.
I used to be a Bubba Wallace fan, I enjoyed his win at Eldora in 2014. He seemed to be a talented race car driver who respected the sport. However, things began to change a little later. In September of 2019 he threw water in the face of Alex Bowman while Bowman was clearly in medical distress. Real classy. Also in 2019 Bubba used his struggles with depression to seek sympathy for poor on track performances. After tangling with Michael McDowell in the Bristol All-Star qualifier Wallace decided it would be a good idea to insult McDowell’s Christian faith. Some might call that bigotry, but what would I know. One thing I do know is that Bubba said people like me (white) are “simple-minded” – he said this multiple times. He also said of people like me, “Their job is to always deliver hate.” This was in response to anyone who questioned the idea that there was a racist among the competitors or NASCAR officials at Talladega who was leaving lynching threats in his garage stall. After the FBI concluded that the skeptics were right, Wallace declared that it wasn’t right for people to “test my character and the person that I am and my integrity.” Interesting take from someone who only days before impugned the character and integrity of hundreds of NASCAR competitors, track officials and thousands of NASCAR fans. Then again, according to the morals of people like Aaron Bearden and Darrell Wallace, I guess slandering the character of white people is okay, as long as you are sufficiently “woke.” As for me, I think bigotry is wrong regardless of the color of your skin or political affiliation. I also choose to judge a person by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Call me old fashioned, I guess.
I think the BLM driver might win a race someday. Even a blind squirrel can find an acorn. But he’s been around for a while and he’s known as a black driver not a driver. It’s his choice to exploit his minority status.. it diminishes any legitimacy he or his writer friends can claim.
Bubba played his race card (he’s only half black) and NASCAR took the bait. He ruined the sport for thousands of fans. I hope Bubba & RPM are both missing from 2021.