The Frontstretch: 2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Kenny Wallace by Amy Henderson -- Friday December 23, 2011

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2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Kenny Wallace

Amy Henderson · Friday December 23, 2011

 

Kenny Wallace

2011 Ride: No. 09 RAB Racing Toyota
2011 Primary Sponsors: University of Northwestern Ohio, Family Farmers, Federated Auto Parts, American Ethanol, G-Oil, Iowa Corn Growers
2011 Owner: Robby Benton and Brack Maggard
2011 Crew Chief: Scott Zipadelli

Nationwide Stats: 34 Races, 0 Wins, 1 Top 5, 11 Top 10s, 4 DNFs, 7th in Points. Wallace also broke the Nationwide Series all-time starts record at Texas with his 520th green flag.
Best Finish: 5th – Richmond, September.
Average Finish: 15.8.

2011 Team Ranking: 1st of 1. Wallace raced RAB Racing’s only Nationwide Series entry.

High Point: Richmond in May. Wallace had one of the best cars in the field at a track where he has three wins. He was able to run with the leaders, passing Carl Edwards’ Roush machine for the lead early. Wallace ran in the top 5 all night long, looking like he had a chance at his first series win since 2001, until a late-race miscue by crew chief Scott Zipadelli left Wallace behind in the closing laps, forcing him to settle for a 13th-place finish. The race proved two things: that Wallace didn’t lose a step as a driver after running for three years in the woefully underfunded No. 28 ride, and that RAB Racing, a team which had nearly shut down less than a year before, could run with the big boys… and on a good day, outrun them.

Low Point: Bristol in August. The half-mile bullring is another track which Wallace has mastered in the past, earning a win and a top-10 percentage of just over 50%. He was looking to add to his career top-10 total of 18 at the facility, hot off the heels of a strong qualifying effort when he was caught up in another driver’s mistake. That put a premature end to Wallace’s night and relegated him to a 36th-place finish, his worst of the season and a particularly difficult one to swallow at one of Wallace’s best tracks.

Summary: When Wallace signed with RAB Racing following the 2010 season, it looked on paper to be little more than a lateral move. With Jay Robinson Racing in 2010, Wallace never recorded a top-10 finish and endured the worst points season of his 20-year career. RAB Racing hadn’t fared much better: other than a win by road course ace Boris Said in Montreal, they didn’t have another top 10 despite trying an assortment of drivers in an effort to improve. In fact, owner Robby Benton almost shuttered the operation before Said’s win. But as soon as 2011 began, it was clear that things were going to be different for both team and driver.

After a 28th-place run at Daytona to start the year, Wallace broke his and the team’s top-10 droughts with a pair of tenth-place runs at Phoenix and Las Vegas. The No. 09 was as strong as many teams with much bigger budgets, David beating Goliath on multiple occasions. Wallace moved into the top 10 in driver points after the second race of the year, an accomplishment he would hold for the entire rest of the season. By Memorial Day, there were two more top-10 finishes and just one finish lower than 20th. Wallace almost won at Richmond; a pit mistake cost him that chance, but there was no longer any doubt that RAB was the real deal or that Wallace was back.

The summer brought much of the same. Wallace more than doubled the top-10 total, collecting six more by the time the second Richmond race was on the books. The good results began to come at different types of tracks as Wallace racked up top 10s at Daytona, Kentucky, Loudon, Iowa, and Nashville as well as Richmond.

As summer turned to fall, Wallace and the No. 09 team lost a little momentum. In the final seven races, Wallace didn’t crack the top 10, but did finish 19th or better six times. At Charlotte in October, Wallace tied Jason Keller as the only two drivers in Nationwide Series history with 519 race starts. Two weeks later at Texas, Wallace took the green flag for the 520th time, moving him into sole possession of the top spot all-time. He was honored by Texas Motor Speedway, who named an access road after him, and by NASCAR, who presented Wallace with a special award at the series’ annual banquet. Wallace also finished third in voting for Most Popular Driver, which he has won three times previously.

2012 Outlook: Things look good for Wallace, who says that all of his 2011 sponsors will return for partial schedules though, like in 2011, the team is still looking for backing for some races. For a team operating on a much smaller budget than many of its closest competitors, RAB Racing and Wallace have proven to be top-10 threats at any type of racetrack, and with a year of working together under their belts, RAB and Wallace should enter 2012 as a legitimate threat to both win and take home a top-5 points finish while he extends his series starts record. Many people said that Wallace was back after his 2011 campaign, but the truth is, he never went anywhere… and he’ll be ready to race once again.

Off-Track News: Wallace also had a successful dirt racing season in 2011, taking home heat and feature wins in his Modified.

2010 Frontstretch.com Grade: None.
2011 Grade: B+. Wallace did more with less than his Nationwide competition, reminding fans why he has nine career victories, and his RAB Racing team ran like the Little Engine that Could, surpassing expectations and falling just shy of their first oval win.

Contact Amy Henderson

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