It’s never too early to talk about the silly season. As we continue on with the 2020 season I’ll be going over some of the names to keep an eye on that might be changing rides next year, whether for the better or worse.
This is going to be a look into Bubba Wallace, who came in with a lot of hype and a fair amount of leeway based on the equipment he was stepping into. Now that he is heading into the third year of his career, does he still have that same leeway?
Richard Petty Motorsports has been stuck in the pits of NASCAR irrelevancy for so many years now that it’s just become normal to disregard them. We know that Bubba Wallace is the driver, but we assume he’s not going to run well. We don’t actually consider this ride a hot seat because the equipment is so horrible.
Wallace is in the final season of his contract and has yet to forward any of the progress at RPM since taking over for Aric Almirola. There is a reasonable question to be asked: Is Bubba Wallace in the hot seat?
In 80 starts for RPM, he has only managed to put together a minuscule 5 top tens. Aric Almirola in that same amount of time already had 12 top tens and was brining home top 20 standings results. Wallace has finished 28th in the standings for the past two seasons.
No matter who is driving the #43, they wouldn’t be competing for wins every week, but the dropoff in results is too jarring to ignore. Wallace finds himself in need of a breakout season if he is going to secure himself a ride next year.
It does not help that Wallace has not come with a bevy of sponsorship support. When RPM first signed Wallace there were talks with multiple companies – pizza behemoth Dominoes included – to sponsor the young personable driver, but they all fell through. RPM still struggles to find sponsorship in some weeks.
The lack of results and continued lack of sponsorship could force Richard Petty’s hand in looking elsewhere come 2021. For those reasons, Wallace could easily find himself without a ride next year.
Who is a threat to Wallace?
The names that could realistically take over the ride are few. The only development driver that RPM has in the pipeline is Thad Moffitt and considering he is still struggling to bring home top tens in ARCA, it’s safe to say he won’t be making the jump to Cup anytime soon.
Drivers like Ross Chastain and Corey LaJoie are solid options.
Although, Chastain could be biding his time for Kurt Busch to retire so that Ganassi can finally offer a car to Chastain that he promised him a season ago. So it might behoove him to be patient instead of taking a floundering ride like the 43-car.
LaJoie is another interesting option, he’s currently driving the #32 for Go Fas Racing and honestly seems to be just as well off in that equipment. Perhaps it would be pointless to jump to a new team.
I think that there is another name that NASCAR fans should keep a close eye on as the silly season approaches.
The 21-year old Justin Haley.
He has been running well for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series this season after having a great rookie campaign last year. He’s also already a Cup Series winner after a rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona saw him luck his way into victory lane.
Haley has a lot of talent and is currently unsigned to a development contract, which means he is free for the taking to whichever team comes knocking first. It helps his case to step up at RPM that he’s currently a Team Chevy driver. More than likely he will not be up for any of the bigger rides like the 48-car, so RPM isn’t a bad option for him.
Not only landing a solid talent, but RPM would also be incentivized to make this move because Haley brings with him a large number of sponsorship dollars. He currently competes for Kaulig Racing and their loyal sponsor of Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, but whenever he has needed it, Fraternal Order of the Eagles has always stepped in to ensure Haley had a ride.
F.O.E. has sponsored Haley for his entire 2018 championship run in the Truck Series as well as appearing on both his Cup Series appearances. More than likely they would at least fork up a hefty amount to RPM to put Haley in the car.
Getting a sponsorship guarantee and a talented driver might be a deal too good for RPM to pass up.
There are plenty of people who would kill for any Cup Series ride, even at RPM. Wallace has been criticized in the past for not taking things seriously enough and I would implore him to really crackdown this season and not take his position for granted.
Bubba Wallace is a talented driver, but he hasn’t proven to be a Cup Series competitor at this point. There is still a lot that he needs to improve on to ensure that he can hang around in the big leagues for multiple years. He is off to a solid start to the season and if he can continue going in this direction it could go a long way to keeping his job. If there was ever a time for Wallace to pull off a Cinderella moment, it’s this season.