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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Good Races, Bad Races & Writer’s Cramp

Every time we got to Kansas, it seems like it’s the end of the year – it’s September, it’s starting to get cold. It’s only about four hours from my house in St. Louis, so it’s kind of got a home feel to me. This year, I elected not to run my dirt car out at Lakeside and I had my total focus on the race. It just didn’t go good for us. I finished 20th. It was the type of race where – it was actually the race that inspired us to try different things. We just did not run good in Kansas City – it was not a good weekend. I think that race was the race that gave us a wakeup call. We said, ‘you know, we’ve got to try some different setups here.’ So it just didn’t turn out good there; we drove hard all day long, but did not run as well as we wanted to.

Fontana was the type of deal where we had to go straight from Kansas City to California. We qualified horrible and we ran horrible. It was a brutal week. I thought to myself, “How did we get this thing so bad?’ We did everything we could do to get the best finish we could with track strategy, but we definitely did not run good. California is the type of track that I love racing on. If you look back through my stats, it’s been a good track for me in the Nationwide Series. I have definitely not gotten the finishes there that I’d like. My biggest problem there is I just need more speed. That was a really bad race for us and we finished 24th. We got really lucky with pit strategy. We could have definitely been down a lot of laps, and we were lucky. My car owner Jay Robinson did a really good job at pit calls. I told him that, too. Both of those races, at Fontana and Kansas, our pit strategy really helped us. We didn’t run good, but pit strategy saved us at both tracks. With this new rule, the drive-around, our big strategy when we don’t have the speed is we just keep the car full of gas. Right now we don’t have the speed we need, so we strategize the race. We keep the car full of gas so when everyone else comes down pit road, we can stay on the track and gain position that way. So that’s what we did in California.

Charlotte was a really good race for us. We qualified 14th and we ran really good but we ended up 21st. Charlotte was the type of race where they dropped the green flag and we settled in at about 18th position. Now that track is the track where we took the setup and we learned some things from California and Kansas City and we said, ‘let’s change this-let’s try it,’ and it really helped me. We have been watching my throttle trace on TV, and every time I qualified, network TV says that I win every week with the most throttle. I run around the racetrack very close to wide open, and all the other cars let off the gas. Well, I don’t use any brake and I’m running wide open. That tells me that I’m going through the corners good; I just need more speed. So, at Charlotte, I ran wide open around the racetrack like we were at Daytona or Talladega. You have to be pretty nervy to do it – I’m a pretty brave person, though. So I went out and qualified 14th, and then I worried about when they dropped the green flag if I was going to be able to stay up there. And I did – I stayed up there at about 18th. Then my car just barely started pushing, and when it started pushing, we started fading. But we were really close to getting ourselves about a 14th-place finish there. We used some pit strategy and we kept the car full of gas again – we were like a half a lap from a lead lap finish. I really liked the way the car handled, and we finished 21st.

I’ve got 10 poles in the Nationwide Series and I’ve started in front a lot. I probably started inside the top 10 more in my career than I’ve started outside the top 10 except for the last couple of years. Once again, there’s that generation gap – back in 2006 and before I was qualifying good with ppc Racing and with George DeBidart, and so on. What was good about qualifying fifth at Memphis was it was the highest position that Jay Robinson Racing has ever qualified in in their 12 years of existence. For me to have the highest finish and the highest qualifying position is pretty cool. What’s crazy is, they both came at the same track. Last year we finished third – that was their highest finish in their history – and then I come back one year later with a different car and qualify fifth and now that’s the highest in their existence. I’m really happy for Jay Robinson that he can now say that they have had a top-five run and a top-five qualifying effort. It’s a feather in their cap.

As far as the race went, we qualified fifth and were running seventh – it was just a crazy race. It was crazy for me like it was for everybody else; I wasn’t the only driver out there on an island. There were a lot of wrecks. One wreck, the caution comes out, we all slow down, and my nephew Steven didn’t see it and he spun me out. I went from seventh to 18th, but we just kept overcoming everything. Then we got spun out again in the wreck that Eric McClure got hurt in. Luckily both of them could have been really bad accidents, and both times I just spun out. So we found ourselves running 10th with about 20 laps to go. I did not want to see the caution come out; because of both spinouts, we were out of tires. I spun out twice and we had to put new tires on both times and we didn’t have any tires left in the pit. We did have a set of 10-lappers, so we had the debate on the radio while I was sitting there running 10th and getting ready to pass Kyle Busch – doesn’t that sound funny? His tires were worn out, my tires were worn out. I’m getting ready to move into ninth and the caution comes out. I was like, ‘darn it!’ That changed everybody’s world. If that caution didn’t come out, it looked like Brendan Gaughan was going to win in Rusty Wallace’s car. There have only been two drivers to win a race in Rusty’s cars. One was me when it was Wallace Racing; back in 1990, we got our first win. Then he shut the team down and started again with Jamie McMurray. So the only two drivers to get RWI a win were Kenny Wallace and McMurray.

So that caution came out and Gaughan had a half straightaway lead – he was going to win that race. The caution ruined him, because he was going to win. It didn’t ruin me, but it hurt me. I needed it to go green. So we stayed on the track and I got gobbled up. Memphis is just like Darlington; it eats tires up. It’s got an old surface. With five to go, I went from running 10th back to 20th because everybody else had tires, so we finally came in and put those 10-lap tires on, and I went from 20th all the way up to 13th. I was lucky because the single-file restart put me on the inside. So we qualified fifth and finished 13th – a damn good weekend for this little underfunded Jay Robinson racing team.

Right now I’m really excited. Our goal was to be in the top 10 in driver points and top 20 in car owner points. Right now it’s looking pretty good. We’ve got three races to go and we’re 160 points ahead of the 21st-place car. That could be worth a hundred thousand dollars or more for Jay Robinson. That’s going to be a really nice check to keep the team running through the wintertime. A top 10 in the driver points is going to be hard on me. We’ve been finishing anywhere from 15th to 22nd all year long. Michael Annett has done a good job – he’s learned how not to wreck and he’s gotten really good, and I’m three points behind Tony Raines right now for 11th. We had two goals and with only three races to go, we’re right there with them – maybe we can pull it off. The big money goal is that top 20 in owner points. I want to get Jay the hundred-something-thousand dollars, that’s the cutoff. Only the top 20 in car owners get money. He’s never been in the top 20 before. It would be nice to send Jay Robinson into the wintertime with a couple hundred thousand dollars to help him out.

It’s an off week for me. That feels strange. I’ve been at home every day. I’m excited that the Montreal fan car was a total success. I signed 7,000 photos. We do have a couple hundred extra for my fan club. I’ve had a lot of people ask about them. The fan car pictures that they got for sponsoring the car have all been sent out in the mail. But if people didn’t sponsor the car or did and want extra pictures, we do have them. They’re the only ones left in existence-there are no more! It was a lot of hard work to sign that many – I underestimated the response – there were so many, it was just unbelievable. It took me a month. They’re completely done and all in the mail – the Post Office has them!

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