Bloomington, IN (SportsNetwork.com) – Rookie NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace dealt with a very contentious relationship with media and even fellow drivers following his first season behind the wheel of a full-time car on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Wallace won four races in the XFINITY Series last year, including his much-hyped debut victory at Atlanta in May. But he endured a lot of criticism from hardcore NASCAR fans who thought he had “no business” racing at the top level after he drove for Jeff Gordon in the second-tier Cup Series as part of Gordon’s full-time retirement tour.
Wallace caused more discord when he donned a pickup truck after victory lane that paid tribute to “The Boss,” the late Dale Earnhardt. The criticism led Wallace to speak out against such actions — saying that drivers are required to protect their image in public — in an interview with FOXSports.com.
But at the beginning of his second season in the Cup Series, Wallace has a much more patient and positive outlook on life.
The Greenville, South Carolina native used to use social media as his primary platform to voice his opinions. Now, though, he mainly focuses on interviews, using his personal account as a landing spot to engage with his fans. And because he has shared his opinions, Wallace has received many positive responses from fans.
“I wasn’t used to talking about myself,” Wallace told FOXSports.com at Barber Motorsports Park, where he was competing in Saturday’s ARCA race. “I felt like I was just a part of the marketing. I felt like I was just another body that goes to the polls to vote. I’m just another color. I didn’t realize how passionate the fans could be. When you figure out how passionate they are, I understood what they were saying.
“I’m a much more engaged fan than I was when I first got into this whole NASCAR thing. They started calling me Mr. Indy, Mr. Jimmy John’s, Bobby Long, all these people that I thought were coming through, so I wasn’t using that. I wasn’t doing that type of stuff. Now I understand what the fans wanted to see. I started listening to them.”
Wallace, who has grown to love the atmosphere of the Fox Sports Racetrac Nationals in suburban Indianapolis, said he is trying to embrace the opportunities presented to him by all his fans.
“When you start getting in a lot of trouble, you get a little more aggravated,” Wallace said. “It used to be that I would get angry, but I’m not angry anymore. I get to learn about myself and I get to learn what I need to do and what I need to block out.
“When you have nothing to lose, you can do whatever you want to do. There’s a lot of things I need to block out, so I’m a better person right now. I was naive and dumb at first. I still am, but I’m not stupid anymore.”
Wallace is currently on the outside looking in on the playoff picture after he was running up front early in the first half of the XFINITY Series regular season but ended up finishing only 28th, 28th and 27th, respectively, in his final three races. He has earned one points point.
While some teams have had success in the top-tier Cup Series the past few years with drivers that had spent time in the XFINITY Series, Wallace said he is well aware that if he cannot perform at the next level, he won’t be able to come back to the championship round at all.
“When you’re in the XFINITY Series, you’re not a free agent,” Wallace said. “I’ve told people a couple of times if I don’t show up in the big league, I’m going to have a little talk to myself. When I go back to the XFINITY Series, I just want to be an XFINITY Series champion. I don’t want to be a part of that we’re-on-the-reserve/can’t-run-in-the-big-league group that nobody wants to go see. I want to be the winner.”