Darrell Wallace Jr. has not yet announced full-time sponsorship for what will be the Xfinity Series next year.
Joe Gibbs Racing is continuing to work on it, and team owner Joe Gibbs says he will have “a big program” for Wallace next season.
While nearly three months remain before the start of the 2015 season, most drivers like to have their sponsorship lined up. Companies need to budget the millions of dollars it takes, so few solid deals come along in January.
For a driver who has five career wins, including four in 2014, in the Camping World Truck Series and four top-10s in six starts in what will be the Xfinity Series next season, how much more does Wallace have to do?
“I’ll take what I can get,” Wallace said. “I can only go out there and continue to run up front, lead laps, and win races.
“If something doesn’t come out of that, then dad has got to come up and fill out an application for him (to work for him).”
Wallace isn’t alone among young drivers scrambling for sponsorship or still trying to figure out their 2015 plans.
Ryan Blaney, who won races in both Nationwide and truck in 2014, doesn’t have full sponsorship for any series. He will run at least 12 Sprint Cup races for Wood Brothers Racing and will split time in Xfinity with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and maybe run a few truck races for Keselowski’s team.
Chris Buescher, who also won on the Nationwide Series this year and finished seventh in the standings despite missing a race, could compete for another season with limited sponsorship and Roush Fenway footing part of the bill.
Jeb Burton, who was left without a ride at the start of the 2014 season when sponsorship fell through but then landed a full-time truck deal with sponsor Estes Express Lines and ThorSport Racing, is waiting to hear if the sponsorship will be renewed next season.
Some of these drivers are considered among the top up-and-comers in the sport and they’re scrambling for money, especially to get to the Nationwide Series where the Cup teams are spending $5-6 million a year to cultivate talent, new mechanics and lots of trophies.
“Cost containment is a huge issue, and the ability for Ryan, Darrell or whoever to raise the funding that I can raise (as a Cup driver) is limited,” said Keselowski, who has two full-time entries in the truck series. “You combine that with the resource-sharing, Cup-affiliated team, which makes more use of that funding, and it’s already higher (to run), and you have a very lethal 1-2 punch that can be crushing to any newcomer to the series.”
Blaney isn’t even worrying about running full time anywhere next season. He sees Cup as his future and is working on finding more money to add Cup races, whether that be with the Wood Brothers or a third Penske car for select events, for next season.
“I hope we can get it upwards to 17 to 20 (Cup races),” Blaney said. “We’re working really hard to get that done. I’m going to be racing a lot next year and fortunate to be in great cars, so I can’t worry about it too much.
“My mindset is try to do more Cup races, just with that is the ultimate goal, obviously, and try to get more experience in that. I want to try to find more Cup races instead of Nationwide just because it progresses you a lot faster learning the cars.”
When racing, it’s hard to think about both the race and the impact. Wallace won the truck season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and hopes that will help.
“It’s getting people looking, and that’s what we have to do,” Wallace said. “We have to get people knowing who I am and wanting to be a part of this organization.
“I don’t spend too much time thinking about that. … I just wanted to go out with my guys on the weekend and win races and have fun, and that’s what I strived on. We’ll continue to chip away at future plans.”
In the week after the Homestead race, JGR officials had some meetings that they hoped would land more sponsorship for Wallace, the only full-time African-American driver in the three national series.
“We’ve got some good stuff lined up for him for next year, so I think we’re going to wind up with a real good package for Darrell,” Gibbs said.
If Wallace runs any truck races next season, it won’t be for the team he has driven for the last two years. Kyle Busch Motorsports has all its seats filled, so he would have to run for another Toyota team, either ThorSport Racing or Red Horse Racing.
“I don’t know what you have to do,” Busch said in a blunt assessment. “We have won 14 of 22 races and we have nobody calling (to sponsor him in trucks). It’s the truck series. In reality, if we won 14 of 22 in the Nationwide Series, you’d probably have somebody calling.”
Busch said television ratings and attendance for the trucks likely have an impact, but he was still surprised that he couldn’t find more sponsorship for Wallace in the trucks.
“Darrell Wallace, if he’s not the most marketable driver in the truck series, I don’t know who else would be,” Busch said. “He’s fun. He’s engaging. He’s witty.
“He loves to do anything you want him to do. He’s a PR dream. We were unsuccessful at selling the guy (for the truck), his agency was unsuccessful in selling him, JGR has been unsuccessful in selling him. We have three or four sales forces trying to sell Darrell Wallace and we can’t. I don’t know if it is because of the series or what, but we struck out and I feel really bad for that.”
A full Nationwide sponsorship for Wallace could be tough to come by before the start of the season, but Busch thinks if he has some immediate success, people will begin to take notice.
“You’ll have a little bit better luck in the Nationwide program, but he needs to show he’ll be successful in that first,” Busch said. “He needs to win a couple. If he ran the first eight races of the year and he won two of them, boom, I think you’re going to start selling something.”