The Frontstretch: Wallace, Vickers and Andretti Are The Best Story of Speedweeks So Far by Amy Henderson -- Thursday February 14, 2008

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Wallace, Vickers and Andretti Are The Best Story of Speedweeks So Far

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday February 14, 2008

 

It's easy to get blinded by the big picture. Especially when the big picture points out what is wrong with NASCAR today—the top 35 rule, the Chase, and all the other contrived little gimmicks. There's just so much that is so easily fixable.

Some days it's hard to see what's right.

What's right is Kenny Wallace racing on heart and a Hendrick engine to make the Daytona 500. Last week, I talked with Kenny on the phone and he said this: "Our backs are against wall, but I am prepared to make it—I will make the Daytona 500. It's time for the underdog. The underdog won the Super Bowl and it's time for the underdog to make it in the Daytona 500 and that's me! I've been inspired by the New York Giants!"

Mind you, I was hardly inspired by the New York Giants—Patriots fan here, and Kenny knows it, too—but what he said was true. These days, everybody loves an underdog, and Wallace—running on what is, for the moment, a one-race ride—is a favorite. He's personable and outgoing, with a laugh so infectious you can't help but laugh along with him. I've been lucky enough to get to know Kenny over the years and he and his family have been kinder to me than I can say. I can't imagine meeting him and not liking him—he's just one of those people. And that laugh cracks me up every time.

Although the odds were stacked against him, Kenny Wallace made the Daytona 500 starting field.

Kenny is the youngest of three brothers, and all three have forged successful racing careers. This year, Kenny is the lone family representative to grace the Daytona 500 field. He was the top finisher of the go-or-go-home contingent in his qualifier today, running a one-shot deal for a small, underfunded team that let him go for a time last year, only to discover that it had never been the driver in the first place. So they gave him this race (maybe others if they find sponsorship, but for now, this race) and Wallace showed everybody watching what he could do when the car was right. I wanted to shout with glee when he made the field (I thought better of it, though, since I was at school at the time) because well, I understand the journey to here.

Kenny Wallace wasn't the only underdog to make the Daytona 500, though. Brian Vickers and John Andretti both overcame the overwhelming odds imposed by NASCAR's qualifying. Both are also good choices for the underdog spot, while Dale Jarrett's transfer, though less of a surprise, gave his fans one more time to cheer for "DJ." Vickers is one of the few remaining North Carolinians on the circuit, and what racing has given to him, it surely has taken away as well. Vickers lost a close childhood friend when Adam Petty was killed in a practice crash in 2000, and raced through his grief. Then in 2004, on his 21st birthday, Vickers lost his best friend, Ricky Hendrick along with nine others in a plane crash on the way to Martinsville Speedway. Vickers and Hendrick had planned to celebrate Vickers' birthday that night. Instead, Vickers' birthday will always be the day he lost his best friend.

If that isn't enough for you, this is the same young driver who jumped out of an airplane and about lost—well, let's just leave it at something very personal—on a wild kite-tubing escapade with Casey Mears a couple years back. That one ended up with Vickers on Mears' sofa with a frozen dinner, well, you can imagine…

John Andretti isn't a bad choice for underdog, either. Here's a guy who has a heck of a name to live up to, but it's somehow fitting that Andretti made this race, because with the 50th anniversary festivities comes a lineup of several past Daytona 500 winners. One of those is synonymous with speed itself—John Andretti's Uncle Mario. Both Andrettis have won at Daytona before, but just making this race with a small, underfunded team in a day and age where small, underfunded teams don't always get a slice of the pie was a victory for John.

Andretti is a quiet person with a winning smile and a humble attitude, despite having arguably the biggest name in American auto racing. He's soft spoken and unassuming, personality-wise the polar opposite of Kenny Wallace, but somehow they both fit in just fine.

With today's qualifying rules, not many underdogs get a shot at the big race anymore. This year, we got three gems to pull for on Sunday in Wallace, Vickers, and Andretti. Rooting for the guy with odds stacked against him has long been a part of racing. And NASCAR hasn't quite managed to take it away. It's a small picture in the giant spectacle that is the Daytona 500—but from where I sit it's the brightest spot by far.

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J. Meyer
02/15/2008 12:38 AM
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Lets not forget Dale Jarrett!!!!
It would have been terrible if he had not got in the 500. This being his final one and all. Go Dale Go!!!

FS_amy
02/15/2008 07:49 AM
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I didn’t forget DJ, but as I said, I expected him to make the race with Mikey and Reut to push him, so it wasn’t a surprise.

Marc
02/15/2008 07:26 PM
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Wallace, Vickers and Andretti the best story so far, boy has NASCAR really sunk to the bottom!!!!

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.