Bubba Wallace will hit the free agent market in 2021. On Thursday, he announced he will leave Richard Petty Motorsports at the conclusion of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. His future team and a successor in the #43 were not immediately revealed. The news was initially reported by The Athletic before being confirmed by the team and driver later in the day.
“This was not an easy decision as I have nothing but the utmost respect for Richard Petty and his family, but I believe it’s time for someone else to take over the reins of the No. 43,” Wallace said. “Thank you to the King and everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports for giving me the opportunity to start my Cup Series career. I’ve grown so much as a driver and as a person since joining them. We’ve got nine more races together, and I hope we can finish the 2020 season on a high note.”
It has been a tumultuous 2020 season for NASCAR as it navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice movements. During the summer, Wallace became stock car racing’s most-discussed driver in his support of Black Lives Matter and championing of the Confederate flag ban. Both would lead to major news stories like the GEICO 500 noose investigation and attacks from President Donald Trump, but also a marked increase in attention for him and NASCAR that included an influx of sponsors new to the sport like Cash App, Columbia, and DoorDash.
On the track, Wallace and RPM have enjoyed improvements from their first two seasons together. Reunited with crew chief Jerry Baxter, Wallace sits twenty-third in the Cup standings after spending much of the season in the late teens and early twenties—a stark contrast from his consecutive points finish of twenty-eighth in 2018 and 2019—with a career-high five top-ten finishes and a best run of fifth in the regular season finale at Daytona. However, his contract expires after 2020, and efforts by the team to retain him included extending an ownership stake.
Wallace’s 2021 team is unknown, but Chip Ganassi Racing has expressed interest in having him pilot the #42. Currently driven by interim driver Matt Kenseth after Kyle Larson‘s early-season ousting, the #42 is sponsored by McDonald’s, also a personal partner of Wallace, while such a move will allow him to stay in the Chevrolet camp. Other possibilities include the #48 of Hendrick Motorsports, which is set to be vacated after Jimmie Johnson‘s retirement.
His departure also means RPM will have to search for a new driver. Some have speculated Ty Dillon is a possible candidate as Germain Racing‘s fate is up in the air after sponsor GEICO confirmed it will not return in 2021; RPM is an ally of Richard Childress Racing run by Dillon’s grandfather. Other drivers looking for new rides in 2021 include Erik Jones and Corey LaJoie. The team had also received calls from potential investors, with Adam Stern of the Sports Business Journal reporting in late August that a figure from the music industry has expressed interest.