When Aric Almirola was injured at Kansas Speedway in May, it created an opportunity for Darrell Wallace Jr. He was just about to lose his job with Roush-Fenway Racing due to a lack of sponsorship and needed a ride. His reputation in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series preceded him: Wallace was an aggressive, take-no-prisoners type of driver who could be counted on to make his car hard to pass.
Wallace’s first Cup race came at Pocono Raceway in June. He immediately garnered attention with a 16th-place qualification effort. After losing a lap, he slipped to 26th—but that was enough to make him a good bargain at his fantasy value. In his second start at Michigan International Speedway the following week, he earned his first top-20. That was followed by his first top-15 at Daytona International Speedway. He kept the streak of finishing better in each successive race alive in his fourth and final start of 2018 when he crossed under the checkers 11th at Kentucky Speedway.
In addition to improving every time he climbed into the car, the also showed a talent for adjusting quickly to new courses types as he raced on a flat track, a two-miler, a restrictor-plate, superspeedway, and a "cookie-cutter". It seems like a foregone conclusion that Wallace is going to be able to score several top-10s next year and it’s anyone’s guess as to where he is going to accomplish that feat.
The good news about rookies is that they are typically undervalued in fantasy games. That is going to be especially true of Wallace in 2018 as William Byron captures most of the headlines and is likely to run away with the Rookie of the Year honors, but as the Hendrick Motorsports Young Gun starts to accumulate those strong runs, his salary cap is going to rise exponentially—just like Erik Jones did last year. Wallace is going to fly under the radar.
It was surprising that neither Jones nor Suarez won a race last year given how well they ran and the type of equipment they were in. Richard Petty Motorsports is not likely to pull an upset in 2018 unless it comes on one of the wild card tracks, but with some seasoning, Wallace should be able to post his name in the record books as only the second African-American driver to win at the Cup level. He already set himself apart with six wins in the Truck series and six in the K&N Series—and in both of those divisions, he won at least once each year he drove.
As he climbed the ladder, the competition became stiffer and he failed to win an Xfinity race in 85 starts, but he did record six top-fives and came up one position shy of Victory Lane in June 2016 at Dover International Speedway. Equally impressive, his first three starts in that division ended in top-10s at Iowa Raceway and Richmond International Raceway. Both of those courses are short courses that behave like similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and if one had to venture a guess, Richmond is where he can be expected to score his first Cup top-10.
2018 Top-25 Fantasy Values
15. Newman, Ryan
16. Busch, Kurt
17. Almirola, Aric
18. Dillon, Austin
19. Stenhouse Jr., Ricky
20. Menard, Paul
21. Bayne, Trevor
22. Dillon, Ty
23. Buescher, Chris
24. Allmendinger, AJ
25. Kahne, Kasey