HAMPTON, Ga. - After 500-plus miles of racing, Bubba Wallace couldn't hold back. In the Daytona International Speedway media center, the 24-year-old NASCAR driver teared up as he talked about his family watching him finish 2nd in NASCAR's biggest race. The clip went viral, exposing a wide audience to a rising star in racing.
"You've seen the tears of joy there, all at once," said Wallace. "I couldn't stop until an hour after the race, two hours, really, to finally take a deep breath, be able to decompress."
That moment was just one small chapter on what is already a remarkable rookie season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Wallace is best known for being the first African American full-time driver in the Cup series since Wendell Scott in 1971. His second place finish at Daytona is the best ever in that race by an African American driver.
Wallace says questions about his race in a field of mostly white, male drivers "comes with the job right now." Not that he minds, because he sees a chance to help NASCAR's fan and driver pool become more diverse.
"I'm trying to grow that number of African Americans and minorities in the sport, it's been up and down battle with it, it's been a hard-fought journey," said Wallace. "To be blessed with so many opportunities in so many ways, to go showcase what I can do out there on the racetrack."
In the final episode of "Behind the Wall," a documentary-series on Facebook about Wallace's rookie season concluding with the Daytona 500, former NFL player Charles Woodson shook Wallace's hand to thank him for breaking down barriers. Later, a young African American fan came up to Wallace, saying the little boy himself would drive a race car one day.
Wallace knows how a generation of up-and-coming female drivers have been inspired by recently-retired Danica Patrick, and hopes to have a similar effect.
"I believe so," said Wallace. "If we do the right things on the race track and off the race track as well, I think we'll start to have kids saying those things in interviews [that they were inspired by me]."
Wallace is no stranger to Atlanta Motor Speedway: he won a Legends car race at AMS, he guessed back in 2014. Sunday will be his first time in a Cup series race at the track.
This week, Wallace's team announced E.E. Ward Moving & Storage as a new associate sponsor for the team. Wallace says that move is especially meaningful because E.E. Ward is a business that's been continuously owned by African American businessmen, and they have a history with Richard Petty Motorsports.