You can tell Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. are close because of how freely they rip each other. Only really good friends would take so many good-natured jabs at each other in interviews and on social media.
But the two NASCAR drivers got serious this week when it was announced that Wallace would make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in Sunday’s Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway. With Wallace behind the wheel of the No. 43 car and Blaney piloting the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing, the two young drivers will have a ton of history on their sides.
Blaney realized that enough to send Wallace a text message Tuesday with a special request.
“He wants a picture this weekend,” Wallace told USA TODAY’s Brant James. “I was like, ‘OK.’ He was like, ‘We’re driving the two most iconic cars in the sport this weekend. We definitely have to capitalize on that. That’s huge.’ ”
The No. 43, of course, is the winningest car in Cup history, thanks to Richard Petty racking up 192 of his 200 career victories with those digits on various models. But the No. 21 is no less revered, thanks to David Pearson and Cale Yarborough combining for 56 wins in “the” NASCAR Ford.
While the ascension to Cup for Wallace, the first black driver to race at that level since 2006, is momentous for NASCAR, he and Blaney are both key to the sport’s future. Both 23, they are part of NASCAR’s youth movement that includes Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who are injecting a feeling of diversity and personality the sport hasn’t seen in some time.
Thumbnail photo via Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images