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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: No Excuses, A New Direction & Playing in the Dirt

My last month of racing has not been stellar by any means. We feel like we should be achieving a little bit more. At our race team, we have every right to make excuses about why we don’t run real good, because we probably have, oh, maybe 25% of the budget that most people have. Anyway, we could have made excuses as to why we don’t run good, but I really feel that my team is talented enough that we can overachieve and become better than what we are. From that viewpoint, we feel like we can take equipment and motors and things that we have and be respectful. Our goal is to always finish in the top 20.

It seems like the last month, we’ve kind of missed our goal. We were 23rd, 25th, 27th and then 18th at St. Louis. It seemed like I was always fighting the same thing – the front end of the car. I was always fighting my cars to the point where I didn’t know which way it was going when I’d get into the corner. Or if I did have the car going the right way, it would be as free was we could get it and it would still be too tight. We’re very lucky to have a new engineer helping us out. He’s not hired full-time – we don’t know how long he’s going to be with us, but he’s a pleasant surprise. He talks very smart and he really knows how to plot out front end geometry. I feel like after the St. Louis race, that was our second best qualifying effort of the year – we qualified 22nd. Our best qualifying effort was Richmond, with a 21st.

I have some newfound hope. There was a point where I was getting frustrated, and I think when anybody gets frustrated it’s hard to stay calm. You don’t mean to be upset with anybody, you don’t mean to be short with anybody, but I was getting to the point where my cars were driving so bad. If I was just finishing 23rd, that would be fine, but I was finishing 23rd and I couldn’t even drive my cars. I was getting three laps down and things like that. So we had to figure out what we had to do. Right now I think we’re on a new path. That’s good when you have a new direction. I have a lot of hope right now with our new engineer. He started at St. Louis, and we qualified 22nd and finished 18th. I thought we ran competitively all night. Right now, I think, in racing people say ‘why do teams go through bad streaks?’ and I think it’s true that sometimes you just lose your way. We kind of lost our way for a minute, but then we did what we had to do. We hired this engineer to work on front-end geometry. We’re getting our cars on a pulldown rig every week, that was very important. So now we’ve found that right direction to head in.

I’ve had a couple people that I admire ask me if the dirt racing I do takes away from my asphalt racing. One was my Dad, and last year Joe Garrone, my team manager at Furniture Row Racing, asked me that. So I’ve had two people – just two people asked me – but when two people ask you that, you think, are other people thinking the same thing? Do they think when I go to my dirt car that it’s taking away from my asphalt racing?’

Let me explain how my dirt racing works. First of all, my Nationwide car, the U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet, is the number one thing in my life right now. It is number one and it supersedes everything. The dirt team is located in St. Louis, Mo. I have one full-time employee and two part-time employees. All I do is when I’m done racing on the weekend and when I’m done doing TV on Sunday, I fly into these races, usually on a Tuesday or a Wednesday and I run my dirt car. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s really like therapy for me. If I have a bad NASCAR race, instead of going home and getting in an argument with my crew chief, or being miserable, my dirt car allows me to get away and have a really good time. Running my dirt car is like being on vacation for me. For example, like right now, I’ll get into Indianapolis late on Thursday night, and Kim and I will hang out in the motorhome all day Friday. We don’t have anything to do; we’ll just relax. Then I’m all fresh and I’m ready to go. The way that my dirt team is set up and the way my NASCAR Nationwide team is set up is that they run on their own. I’ve got my Nationwide team in North Carolina and my dirt team in St. Louis. They don’t have anything to do with each other. They’re very important to me. It bothered me when somebody said that, “do you think dirt racing gets in the way?’ I really cannot see how it does. All I know is, if I’m racing, I’m staying sharper.

On the other hand, I’ve had more people, including my former crew chief Chris Rice, tell me that I’m a better since I drove my dirt car. A lot of the teams that I race with, they like to come see me race dirt because they see a different side of me. It shows them the wild and aggressive side of me. When I drive the car sideways and I run up front, they go, “wow, Kenny Wallace really does have a lot of car control.” It’s a lot of fun for me to run dirt because I have more control of the outcome. I know the car. The track changes a lot, but I can do a lot of different things with the car to run good.

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