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ANDERS: Wallace's sponsor troubles a worrying sign

NASCAR Pocono Auto Racing-1
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Driver Darrell Wallace Jr. looks out from the garage before practice for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 auto race, Friday, June 9, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

NASCAR Pocono Auto Racing

The Daily Reflector

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I’m a pretty avid Twitter user.

As a journalism nerd, and a sports nerd, most of my follows are reporters (sports and otherwise) and athletes. Predictably, most of them skew toward NASCAR, with a solid portion consisting of drivers up and down NASCAR’s touring series, as well as crew chiefs, spotters, owners and whomever else interests me.

One of my favorite follows is Darrell Wallace Jr. (He’s @BubbaWallace, if you’re wondering). At 23 years old, the kid is personable, insightful and genuinely entertaining, as well as a great promoter of the sport.

Wallace is in the news this weekend because he’s making his first Monster Energy Cup Series start today at Pocono, driving the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports in place of the still-injured Aric Almirola. Wallace qualified 16th for today’s race, ahead of the likes of Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott.

As the first African-American to make a Cup Series start in 11 years, what he does today is undoubtedly a big story. Where I’m hung up, though, is what happened Saturday and will (or won’t) happen on Saturdays to come.

Wallace drives the No. 6 car in the Xfinity Series for Roush Fenway Racing — at least, he did. Despite being fourth in points entering the weekend at Pocono, that team suspended operations following Saturday’s race due to lack of sponsorship.

Here sits a 23-year-old kid who is well-spoken, extremely marketable, who has proven his talent behind the wheel by winning five Truck Series races when he drove for Kyle Busch Motorsports. His status as the only African-American driver in the Xfinity Series represents a unique opportunity for some company, any company that would want to hitch its wagon to him.

Don’t believe me. Just listen to Kyle Busch, whose team (and parent organization, Joe Gibbs Racing) was unable to retain Wallace after the 2014 season due to lack of sponsorship.

“Darrell Wallace, if he’s not the most marketable driver in the truck series, I don’t know who else would be,” Busch said then. “He’s fun. He’s engaging. He’s witty. ... He loves to do anything you want him to do. He’s a PR dream.”

And the fact that a kid like that doesn’t have sponsors knocking down the door to be associated with him is unnerving when it comes to the future of the sport.

Of course, Wallace is far from the only driver, rookie or veteran, who has had trouble securing sponsorship. It’s harder than ever for teams to convince companies to foot the bill when the cost of being competitive has skyrocketed, in turn driving up the cost for companies to be associated with a winning team.

If it takes a serious overhaul of NASCAR’s cost management system to lower the asking price for more companies to be willing to advertise in the sport, then that’s what should happen. All I know is it is criminal that Wallace, once Almirola returns to reclaim the No. 43, will have no clue when or where his next ride will be.

BALLS AND STRIKES: The aforementioned Busch will start on the pole today in the first of four races without crew chief Adam Stevens. Stevens, as well as the No. 18 team’s rear tire changer and rear tire carrier, is serving the first of a four-race suspension stemming from the left rear tire coming off Busch’s car early in last weekend’s race at Dover.

The reason for the suspensions reaches back to when NASCAR went to its digital system of policing pit road and removed officials from pit boxes. No longer having an official in the box to ensure all the lug nuts were tightened, teams began to game the system by tightening fewer than all five lug nuts, forcing NASCAR to circle back and institute a rule mandating a four-race suspension for the crew chief, tire changer and tire carrier if a tire were to come off a car during competition.

That rule was absolutely the right decision, in place to act as a deterrent for any team to sacrifice the safety of tightened wheels in the name of a quicker pit stop. With that said, the penalties for Busch’s team — as well as that of Brad Keselowski Racing’s No. 29 Truck Series team, which suffered the same fate last week — seem to be a bit harsh, given that both instances came as a result of a simple mistake.

Busch’s rear tire changer inadvertently had his air gun in reverse, meaning it was spinning the lug nuts in the wrong direction when he hit them. That’s an error, and to hold it in the same regard as someone who intentionally didn’t tighten lugs and had a tire come off seems heavy-handed.

In basketball, you’re going to get ejected and/or suspended for punching a player in the face. If you inadvertently elbow a player in the face, the end result is the same, but the intent and the fallout are completely different. That’s what happened here, and NASCAR levying penalties for an instance that clearly doesn’t fall within the spirit of the rule didn’t make much sense.


After two weeks of getting wiped out early by bad luck, I’m picking a guy who won at Pocono in 2011 and has finishes in the last three races there of second, third and second.

PICK: Brad Keselowski.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.