With popular drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin leaving NASCAR in recent years, who's left to cheer (or boo, as the case may be)?

The next wave is already here, even though we don't know them well yet. So, can I suggest a young racer to follow?

How about Cup series rookie Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr.?

He spent Thursday afternoon at Talladega in the media room and took advantage of a chance to charm us writer types.

Asked about his quick rise up the NASCAR ladder, he jokingly feigned outrage that fellow racer William Byron has risen much faster.

He also good-naturedly poked fun at fellow driver Ryan Blaney for being boring, adding with a smile, "I'm going to get a text about that in probably five seconds."

He embraced his Mobile roots, which is where he was born, although he grew up in North Carolina. He didn't shy away from one of the most important questions he'll field all year — which college football team does he support?

It's Tennessee because his mother ran track there. He has attended several games. As for Alabama/Auburn, he prefers Alabama, mostly to annoy a pair of Auburn-loving cousins.

He's an underdog in the sport, too. Almost two weeks ago at Bristol, he led six laps, which made him the first African-American driver to lead a race in the sport's top series since Wendell Scott in 1964. (The sport badly needs more diversity.)

After lunch and questions from reporters, he delivered pizza to some fans buying Talladega tickets.

He's just 24, so we likely will get to see him race for a long, long time. Lucky us.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.