Darrell Wallace Jr. emotional after making history in Daytona 500
Before Sunday's race, Wallace received a telephone call from Hank Aaron and was wished good luck from Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
After 60 years of the Daytona 500, the iconic No. 3 and No. 43 cars finished 1-2 in the Great American Race, bringing the rich history of the sport full circle.
Austin Dillon took Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s famed No. 3 back to victory lane with a last-lap pass Sunday, but the most surprising finish might have been Darrell Wallace Jr. in Richard Petty's ride.
Wallace, the first African-American driver in the Daytona 500 field since 1969, was overcome with emotion after his second-place finish.
Wallace's finish was the highest for a black driver since Wendell Scott was 13th in 1966. Before the race, Wallace received a telephone call from Hank Aaron and was wished good luck from Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
"That makes you feel good. It definitely pulls on your heartstrings a little bit, just to know that you’re being watched by so many greats," Wallace told reporters following the race. "They’re the ones you’re looking up to and they reach out to you and that’s really cool. So, I kind of feel like that little kid that looks up to me and I respond back to them.
"So, I kind of get that little girl feeling in me, or little boy feeling, or whatever it is. But it was just a great day and a great week for our Click n’ Close team. The new Chevy Camaro ZL1 is in victory lane and the RCR alliance is one-two, so it’s pretty good. It’s good to see the No. 3 back in victory lane here in Daytona with the No. 43 at the top of the board as well."
Wallace was making just his fifth career Cup Series start after taking over for Aric Almirola in Petty's No. 43 Chevrolet. The race team transitioned from Ford to Chevy this offseason and moved its race shop to Welcome, N.C. amid downsizing its team.
"Thank you to the King (Petty) for giving me this opportunity putting them second-place, putting Click N’ Close in second place," Wallace said. "We know how much stress this team has been through in the last three or four months just trying to get this program together."
Wallace didn't leave 2.5-mile Florida track squeaky clean as his runner-up finish came after a side-to-side collision and drag race with Denny Hamlin.
"There were a lot of close calls out there on the race track in just getting experience in my first Daytona 500," Wallace said. "We wanted to do two things. We wanted to run a lot of laps and not wreck the car.
"We came home with one of those. We ran all the laps and got wrecked there at the end. But, that’s part of it. When you put that aside, what an unforgettable week and a half it’s been."