CONCORD — There was a blue moon over Charlotte Motor Speedway tonight, and for a brief time it was a Petty blue moon.
Bubba Wallace didn’t win the All-Star Race, but he provided some of the best moments, making himself part of the story and maybe giving the struggling race team some hope.
These days, there are only rumors of hope against a backdrop of despair.
They say there will be some sort of big announcement this week about the future of Richard Petty Motorsports, but like most things you hear these days about RPM, no one knows what’s to come.
But for one night, it was a little like old times for the 43.
Wallace wasn’t in the all-star race when the night began, but when it ended, he’d been in two side-by-side battles in the Monster Open qualifying race, banging his way to a win in the second stage to earn a bid to the main event.
And then he went out and finished fifth.
“Honestly, I haven’t had that much fun in a long, long time,” Wallace said.
The night ended in a fight involving Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman’s face, and Kyle Larson won a million bucks. But you could make the argument that the next most interesting development was the sudden emergence of Wallace.
He’s not sure where it came from, but he hopes it’s the beginning of something good. Wallace has needed this for some time now. He broke down in tears at Kansas last week, admitting he’s struggling with anxiety and depression. He was in tears again tonight, crying into the shoulder of fellow driver and close friend Ryan Blaney.
“I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time,” he said after qualifying for the all-star race.
He’d shown signs of pressure on his normally upbeat social media threads, admitting to not “being in a good place” and tweeting “lonely dark roads ain’t fun.”
His team’s performance on the track and the rumors swirling about RPM’s financial situation and pending announcements haven’t helped. Team owner Andrew Murstein is apparently trying to sell the team, which has had sponsorship issues and money problems.
Wallace hasn’t been quiet about the situation, openly complaining about a lack of funds and an inability to race with the big teams week in and week out.
Asked about the situation tonight, he shrugged.
“We didn’t win a million dollars, so we’re still a million dollars short,” he said. “But were doing a lot. We’ve got to keep stringing together some consistent runs and then see what the financial statements say.”
A rumor was circulating last week, started by former driver Mike Wallace, who said Petty and Mario Andretti were close to announcing a deal for Honda’s entrance to stock-car racing, but a source in Indianapolis told the Associated Press that the rumor isn’t true.
And there’s still no day or time set for the “major announcement” this week, so it’s possible that nothing is pending.
So it was against that backdrop that Wallace almost stole the show tonight in the all-star race. He was daring and down-right determined to win a stage in the Open, dragging his banged-up Chevrolet into the garage where he did interviews exposing raw emotions rarely seen in stock-car racing.
A week ago, he broke down in the garage in the middle of an interview.
”I’m on the verge of breaking down,” he said.
It was tough to watch.
Tonight he admitted he’s had to dig deep just to keep his wits lately.
“As many dark moments as I’ve had and telling myself to give up, I know it’s like a broken record but man it’s been tough, it’s been really tough to keep climbing in and keep going,” he said.
That’s exactly what Wallace did tonight, surviving a wild Open and refusing to give in, driving his way to a top-five in the all-star race and managing to smile though the tears.
“Ever since I was a kid, they said I drive better pissed off,” he said. “I was pissed off. But I’m showing teeth when I smile.”