Editor’s Note: SPEED analyst and full-time Nationwide Series driver Kenny Wallace does a monthly diary about his life in NASCAR, both behind the mike and behind the wheel of the No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet for Jay Robinson. This edition is his final entry for 2009.
The last couple of races of the year were quite unique from the standpoint that we were under a lot of pressure to finish in the top 20 in car owner points [with the No. 28 car] – we had a quarter million dollars on the line. Although we don’t compete for all the wins, we did have literally a quarter million dollars on the line. If we didn’t watch ourselves, we could have fallen out. But we finished 13th at Memphis, 17th at Texas, 17th at Phoenix, and 17th at Homestead – those were really good runs for our team. I had to hold off drivers like Kasey Kahne at Texas, until he broke a sway bar bolt, and then I just flat beat David Reutimann at Phoenix in that No. 10 car. The No. 10 car – the third Braun car – was our main competition. Well, turns out we focused so hard on getting into the top 20 that we were able to jump another spot in points, so we went from 20th to 19th at the end. It will be exciting to go to Daytona and see our truck lined up 19th, which puts us on the front row (in the garage) and gives us a premier parking spot. It will make our team feel big time!
What was most disappointing was coming up 29 points short [of the top 10] in driver points – we were about a hundred points out of tenth with six races to go. We just kept getting solid finishes, and lo and behold, we just kept gaining every single race. But those midseason motor failures killed us. So at the end of the year, we accomplished our goal with a 19th in car owner points, and I was only 29 points out of 10th in driver points. All in all, a little bit of a dagger in the heart right there.
So, the year ended up really good. We accomplished a huge goal for our team.
I’m looking really forward to next year. We have a new sponsor that we will unveil – a great sponsor, a very high-end sponsor that will be on our car for eight races. We’ll be able to make that announcement soon – I’ll go ahead and make that announcement in the next couple of weeks – the contracts are already signed, so it is a done deal. Also, people can look forward to our team running every single race.
I’m looking forward to the new car coming out at Daytona in July. Right now, we are buying some used Cup cars, and we are going to take those used Cup cars and turn them into the new Nationwide car. It costs $100,000 to build a new car, but we can build a new car for about $60,000 because we’ll be able to buy some used Cup cars with the ignition boxes, with the brakes [already] on them. So, I look forward to unveiling the new sponsor soon. I look forward to me running all the races; I look forward to running the new car at Daytona. Also, we will sign some new sponsors – we’re very close to getting some new sponsors. I need everybody’s support – help me out by buying their products! We are not done yet with the U.S. Border Patrol or Customs Border Protection.
I think another thing people can look for is the dirt car. I’m going to focus a little more on running in the South this year. I have raced at every racetrack there is in Iowa, and I’m going to focus more on Missouri and down this year. We’ll start out January 26th through the 30th at Tampa, Fla. Then, two days off and February second through the ninth, we’ll be at Volusia, Fla. Those are the first guaranteed UMP Modified dirt races on my schedule.
There is a lot going on, and we’re not even three days removed from the last race of the year! It’s time to recharge the batteries and get ready for next year.
I think – when I look around me, there are not a lot of people who have been in the sport much longer than me. You look at me, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton – there’s only a handful of us, maybe five drivers or so, racing every week who have been around a long time. My Mom taught me to be nice to people.
My relationship with Jimmie Johnson is a funny one. We get along really well. Jimmie told me he remembers when I was big time in ASA, and when I came to St. Paul, Minn. – he said the night before, the big story in St. Paul for the ASA race was, “Kenny Wallace is coming to town.” So Jimmie says he remembered that – this was in the late ’90s. Jimmie says he remembers when I was the top dog, and I came into St. Paul, Minnesota for the ASA race and sat on the pole and finished, I think, third in the race. We’ve always hit it off.
We’ve always been good friends. I support Jimmie Johnson because I know Jimmie – I know the real Jimmie Johnson. I’m lucky. I feel bad for the fans, because all they see is the corporate side – they don’t know the real Jimmie like I know him. At Indy this year, we got talking about trading helmets. We talked about how it was a fad in the garage area – everybody was trading helmets. Jimmie looked at me and said, “Hey, Herm, let’s trade helmets.”
So I said, “OK, let’s do it.” Well, we kept wanting to do it, but then he was getting close to the championship, and we did not want to jinx him. We wanted to trade helmets that we used this year. He has a total of four helmets – two Kobalt helmets and two Lowe’s helmets. So Jimmie waited until they wrapped the championship up, and then I gave him my helmet that I had been racing this year – I had four helmets as well. So I gave him one of my real helmets and he gave me one of his real helmets. That caught people off guard. There’s a lot of things people don’t know about me, like how good of friends I was with the late, great Dale Earnhardt, or how close I am with Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Mark Martin or Kenny Schrader. It seems to surprise a lot of people, because I don’t go around talking about it. I might leave something on Facebook about it; after all, these are my very good friends.
So sometimes you need to step up for your friends, and that’s what the whole helmet exchange was about – friendship, and his respect for me when I was winning. So that’s how I got one of Jimmie Johnson’s helmets this year. It will be in my fan club office with a helmet I got from Michael Waltrip and the hood for the fan car we ran at Montreal.
Now, I just want to go relax for a bit. Let a couple of weeks go by, then we’ll stir it up again!