Wallace in 2nd: Best Daytona 500 finish for black driver

Darrell Wallace Jr_567970

Darrell Wallace Jr greets fans as he is introduced before the NASCAR Daytona 500 Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Darrell Wallace Jr. let the weight of his milestone in the Daytona 500 hit him when he saw mom. He sobbed as Desiree Wallace stepped onto the dais and wrapped her arms around her son for a hug neither wanted to end.

”You did that thing, baby,” she said, sobbing. ”I’m so proud of you. I’ve waited so long, baby.”

Wallace’s runner-up finish to Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500 suddenly felt like a checkered flag.

”You’re acting like we just won the race,” he said, laughing.

”We did win that race, baby. I love you. I’m so proud of you,” Desiree Wallace said.

”Dangit, mom!” Wallace said.

His brief moment of levity gave way to an embrace with his sister Brittany, who as child coined the ”Bubba” nickname that has stuck to this day for Wallace.

Wallace bawled some more into a towel before he finally composed himself.

”Pull it together, bud. Pull it together,” he told himself. ”You just finished second. It’s awesome.”

Wallace carved a slice of NASCAR history Sunday night when he posted the best finish by a black driver in the Daytona 500. Wallace was the first black driver to start the Daytona 500 since Wendell Scott in 1969. Scott was 13th in the 1966 race, the previous best finish for a black driver at Daytona.

Wallace, the son of a white father and black mother, was feted by sports royalty on his big day, and not just from his team owner, Richard Petty. Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron wished him luck on a phone call and four-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton tweeted his support.

”I just try so hard to be successful in everything I do,” Wallace said. ”My family pushes me each and every day. They might not even know it but I just want to make it proud.”

The 24-year-old Wallace was one of the stars of Speedweeks. He topped the speed chart at practice, qualified seventh and was a fixture on social media pushing his new show on the Facebook Watch show page. He had cameras trailing him from pit road to the media center to chronicle the feat.

He handled the pressure with ease – until he collapsed in tears in the presence of family.

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