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Wallace Jr. Has Become A Driving Force For Change

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 30 2013

Emotions ran high when Darrell Wallace Jr. reached Victory Lane at Martinsville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

His breakthrough NASCAR victory was validated by a cell phone call from mom, a tweet from veteran driver Mark Martin and kudos from team-owner Joe Gibbs. And then there was the moment that Darrell Wallace Jr. only could imagine, and a message 50 years in the making for big-time stock car racing.

“If Wendell Scott was alive I would like to call him,” Wallace said Saturday afternoon at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where his victory in the Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 made him only the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR touring series race.

Wendell Oliver Scott was 42-years-old when he scored his historic victory in NASCAR’s premier Grand National – now Sprint Cup – Series at Jacksonville (Fla.) Speedway on Dec. 1, 1963. Scott prevailed at the half-mile dirt track in a Chevrolet Bel-Air purchased from 1961 GN champion and North Carolina native “Gentleman” Ned Jarrett in an era during which NASCAR was a regional, Southern – and overwhelmingly lily-white – sport.

Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, Buck Baker initially was declared the winner at Jacksonville Speedway, until officials acknowledged two hours later that Scott not only had won the race but also had covered the field by two laps. NASCAR officially awarded the win to Scott two years later, although his family did not receive the trophy until 2010 – 47 years after the checkered flag fell and 20 years after Scott had died from spinal cancer at age 69. Scott, whose highest point finish was sixth in 1966, compiled 147 top-10s in 495 GN starts and one largely white-washed victory. Scott died on Dec. 23, 1990, in his native Danville, Va., about a 30-minute drive from Martinsville.

“What do you think about that?” said Wallace, displaying a sense of history beyond his 20 years. “I don’t know, just let it set in.”

Wallace led the final 50 laps and 96 in total around Martinsville’s famed paper-clip oval to win in his 19th

It was a landmark win for Darrell Wallace Jr. and NASCAR at Martinsville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

NCWTS start, surviving a late restart when a caution came out after Ty Dillon and Kevin Harvick crashed in Turn 2. Wallace maintained his lead on the final restart and held off series veteran Brendan Gaughan for a margin of victory of 1.673-seconds.

“To do it here in the backyard of Wendell Scott means so much more,” said Wallace, driver of the No. 54 Toyota Care Tundra fielded by owner/Cup regular Kyle Busch. “This is an emotional win and a big win for all of us.

“I forgot how to win. I forgot what it feels like to win. It’s been over a year. That’s tough. But this one, I mean, I couldn’t even hold it together coming off (Turn) 4. I wasn’t even on the throttle coming off 4, sorry –  just so you know now – because I was in tears. I knew we had a big enough gap, but I was just praying that the checkered flag was out when I did cross it.

“It feels good to win, and like I said, this win isn’t for me. It never is for me, it’s always for my guys. And without the help of the Good Lord getting us here, it wouldn’t have been able to happen.”

For the record, Wallace is a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity initiative, and as such de facto model for any minority working his or her way up through the grassroots ranks.

“Darrell Wallace Jr. is the face of a changing NASCAR,” said three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, a NASCAR on FOX analyst and the sport’s first DW. “He’s in the Truck Series with other 20-somethings with a ton of talent who have earned the right to be there. But he now has stepped a little higher as a more diverse face. We need more yellow bumpers (rookies) out there and we are right on the verge of a breakthrough with several young, talented drivers who will shake-up NASCAR again like what happens every 15 or 20 years. Darrell Wallace Jr. is one who can fill those shoes.”

Former Cup regular Kyle Petty, now also serving as an NASCAR on FOX analyst, reiterated that trend has been painfully slow to develop despite expansion into several major markets.

“Only in the last 20 or 25 years has it become more of a national sport,” Petty said. “But we’ve been seeing change with Danica Patrick, Johanna Long, Bubba Wallace and crew members all through the industry.

“The sport is well on its way to being just a microcosm of any other business. The last barrier to break is the driver barrier because of sheer numbers. There aren’t more than 100 or 125 drivers in NASCAR, so the numbers are against everyone – not just minorities. But if the door is open and the barrier broken, it’s easier for people with talent – regardless of race, creed or color – to get here.”

Wallace made it clear he’s up ready to do more than fly the obligatory “role model” banner. “I want to be an inspiration to the younger kids and just change the sport as a whole and change it for the better,” said Wallace, a native of Mobile, Ala. “Winning helps everything. Winning, there’s nothing better than winning. And I think that’ll help kind of pave its own way there, and hopefully get my name out there even more. Winning this big race can always do that and that’s what I’ve been trying to do all year is to get my name out there, to keep pushing, to strive for kids younger than me to get in the sport.

“This sport isn’t easy at all for sure. With this, hopefully it’ll just make them want to jump in it now. Like I

Darrell Wallace Jr. and his Martinsville clock. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

said, you’ve got to be willing to do it and stick out through the thick and the thin. In this sport it’s more thick than anything. But you’ve just got to keep chugging along, man. This is one of many (wins), I hope.”

Team-owner Busch, who will join Wallace in the field for Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 350k at Texas Motor Speedway, assured his protégé the first cut really is the deepest.

“You know, we’ve seen great things out of Darrell this year and he’s really come a long ways throughout the season,” said Busch, a consistent winner in NASCAR’s Cup, Nationwide and Truck series. “I think that’s what you get when you are a rookie in NASCAR’s top three national series is the experience growth that you gain. What he’s shown behind the wheel and the poise and having (crew chief) Jerry Baxter as a leader I think is a huge part of that program, as well, too. Just appreciate these guys being a part of Kyle Busch Motorsports and carrying the team name to Victory Lane. That’s certainly fun to see. I’ve done it and Denny (Hamlin) has done it and now Darrell has done it.”

Baxter said the win was the latest evidence that Wallace is learning how to race at this level. “He’s had speed since the first race of the year, he’s had speed every week,” Baxter said. “It seems like we led a lot of laps, we led the most laps sometimes. But he’s getting mature and I think our whole team is. He and I are more confident working with each other for sure. Used to be at the beginning that I had to…he would tell me what’s wrong but it was a big panic all the time for him because he didn’t know, and so I had to kind of decide what (setup) was right and what wasn’t right. Now it’s just normal. It’s just like we just go. It’s becoming pretty darned fun. I’m really proud of him.”

Wallace said his track smarts and confidence have grown exponentially while running against any number of Cup regulars and wannabes.

“You can always have speed, but you’ve got to put it together,” Wallace said. “Kentucky, Charlotte, Michigan and other places…Charlotte, got excited running with Kyle and Brad (Keselowski) and ended up wrecking. Now, just finally calmed down. Denny was out there, Harvick was out there. Yeah, they’re big factors but I started asking, ‘Who are they in this race?’ That’s what you’ve got to do. You can’t let the big guys get to you because you can beat them. This is my rookie season and you’ve got to wreck to learn, and I’ve learned my lesson and I’m going to use that to capitalize.”

The Camping World Truck Series is scheduled to open activity on TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval Thursday with practice from 5-6 p.m. (CDT), followed by final practice from 6:30-8 p.m. Pinnacle Propane Qualifying Days starts with the NCWTS on Friday at 2:10 p.m. The WinStar World Casino 350 (147 laps/220.5 miles) is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 as well as on MRN radio (national), Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 (national) and The Fan 105.3 KRLD (local).

ThorSport Racing’s Matt Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Fisher Nuts/Menards Toyota, has all but locked-up his first Truck Series championship in 13 seasons heading into Fort Worth. Crafton owns a commanding 51-point lead over reigning series champion and native Texan James Buescher, driver of the No. 31 Rheem Chevrolet Silverado fielded by Turner Scott Motorsports. Kyle Busch Motorsports sits just 15 points behind ThorSport in the owners’ championship following Wallace’s short-track contribution.

A four-time Truck Series winner in 2013, Busch recalled a test on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway earlier this season during which Wallace added to his ever-growing notebook.

“I mean, he was super-fast right off the truck,” said Busch, who will drive the No. 51 KBM Toyota at TMS. “We shared a lot of time jumping back-and-forth _ me in his truck, him in my truck, and Joey Coulter was there with us, as well, too. We had two trucks and four drivers, we all swapped back-and-forth. We learned a lot about each other. We had data on the trucks so we could really communicate about how my steering was compared to his and throttle traces and things like that, and I think Darrell picked up on a little bit there of just the different tendencies that drivers do have. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with working with data. So sometimes the things you’re saying that you feel like you’re saying it the right way may not translate exactly to another driver.

“I think that’s the thing that Darrell is most focused on is being able to continue that through everything he drives. That’s how we all get to where we want to be, which is the Cup Series one day.”

That said, Busch acknowledged KBM is continuing to seek funding for Wallace to return to the Truck Series in 2014.

“I want to see him back in our trucks,” said Busch, who has logged 35 career NCWTS wins. “I think a second season does a world of wonders. I think we’ve seen it with a lot of drivers over the years who have stayed one year in this and that and moved on and then all of a sudden you don’t see them anymore. You know, I think it takes a two-year season to get your feet really wet and get dug in and get a platform and get comfortable in this sport, and the Trucks is the best way to do that and the Nationwide is the best way to do that after that. There’s a stepping-stone here for a reason.

“Darrell has been great. He’s been awesome to have on the team with the help of Joe and the whole Joe Gibbs Racing organization, the help of NASCAR, Camping World, the help of Toyota Care of course, all those partners, and Liberty Tire. If we can put all that same stuff back together again for next year and get the people to say ‘Yes,’ we’ll be right back here doing the same stuff again. We just need to be able to put the pen to the paper and call it a 2014 season.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 30 2013
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