NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Top 10’s, A Car for the Fans, and a Benefactor

I was really disheartened about being involved in that wreck in Daytona. But I knew we were a top 10 car leaving Daytona, and I knew we had to have a good race at Phoenix to start building points. I went in with an open mind and feeling positive. We didn’t get the qualifying run we wanted-we were 18th-but I think we were pretty good. I thought the car was handling pretty good. They dropped the green flag and we went forward right away.

What was good was when they dropped the flag, we started picking off positions. It was a really clean race and we found ourselves running seventh to eighth. On our last pit stop, we dropped a lugnut on the left front. It was a bummer. We came in like seventh and went back out 11th, but we were able to finish 10th. Finishing 10th at Phoenix, on the lead lap, not having to take a drive-around, that was a big feather in our cap as a team, and it felt good. It made us know that we have the cars and we were all getting along really well-it was a big positive for us!

Then we went on to Las Vegas, and we had a one-day practice session there before we raced and that session really helped. Not the car, not me, but I believe it really helped me and my crew chief, Scott Zipadelli. I was able to really formulate how we should be communicating. That was really big. That practice really made me and Scott figure out the words for when I’m pushing or loose, or what I need as a driver.

We qualified 15th at Vegas. I didn’t like the way the car was driving at the start of the race, and we went down a lap. Then we adjusted the car really well and were able to get a drive-around and get back on the lead lap, and then we weren’t even in jeopardy at all of going a lap down. We got up to 12th on our own, it looked like we were going to finish 12th. My goal this season is a top 15 every week, and try to make all the right moves and turn that into a top 10.

The Toyota engineers were outstanding; they gave us what we needed, and that was to know what to do in order to conserve gas mileage, They told me to let off a second and a half. I let off a second and a half and we were able to finish 10th. My wife Kim said she had tears in her eyes because she said it was an incredible team effort. She said all those Toyota engineers got on top of our pit box and started working with the computers and they told Scott what I needed to do, and we ended up with a top 10. We were going to finish 12th, and we finished 10th because of the Toyota engineers.

Last week was Bristol, and we went there thinking we had a shot at a top 5. So we get there and we had problems getting through tech inspection. We were under a lot of stress, a lot of pressure. We were surprised because after practice we were ninth, and I didn’t feel real good. So anyway, I practiced in ninth and then we went through tech inspection and could not get the car through tech. We went through three times, and I was late to qualifying. The official was out there telling us we had one minute to qualify. I about didn’t make qualifying, but we qualified 20th, which was disappointing, but it was actually okay because I didn’t even think we were going to make qualifying. It caught us totally off guard. But we weren’t bummed out because we’d just worked through all this drama.

So anyway, they dropped the green flag in the race. They had a mandatory caution on lap 25 because we had to change tires. All of a sudden around lap 26 or 27 my car started bottoming out really bad. We went two laps down; we were junk. Then we didn’t have any cautions. We went 100 laps without a caution. What happened was, we finally pitted, and we raised the left side of the car up two rounds, and when we raised it up. I only bottomed out a little bit, and I was able to finish 17th, two laps down.

So we got the car back to the engineers, and come to find out that because we were coil-binding so hard on the left front spring, we literally bent the frame. We bent the frame and lost our frame height. I said ‘wow!’ It’s been happening, though. It’s been happening with some Cup teams, too; they’ve been breaking shock mounts and things like that. So we were able to finish 17th. It was a bad race, but we have two 10th-place finishes and a 17th-place finish, and we’re seventh in driver points and 13th in car owner points.

What I really pay attention to is car owner points. That’s how they determine where the truck and trailer park every week. It de-BS’s everything. Car owner points are really competitive with all the Cup teams. So when you come in the garage area right now, our hauler would line up 13th. What everybody said to me is, “Kenny, last year, 17th would have been a good finish for you,” and I had a bad race at Bristol and finished 17th. So we escaped Bristol with a bad finish and still moved up in the points, both car owner and driver.

In 2009, we did a fan-sponsored car because the fans wanted the fan car. I always told everybody it was not my idea, and I didn’t want to do it. But the fans convinced me to do the fan car in 2009. Well, it was incredibly successful and over 6,000 people signed up and put their name on the car. So last year and through the start of this year, people kept saying, “Kenny, we want to do the fan car again.” So this year, we took a poll of I think 800 people, and I think 798 people wanted to do it.

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UNOH has been a presence on Kenny Wallace’s No. 09 car for much of the 2011 season, and that relationship will continue with Wallace’s fan car program at Charlotte this October. (photo courtesy of the Hot Lap’s Phil Cavali)

UNOH is sponsoring our car at Charlotte, and I thought, ‘you know what? I can give the fans what they want at Charlotte, because it’s the home of NASCAR, the Hall of Fame is there, all the race shops are there, so I’m going to give the fans what they want. On October 14th at the Nationwide race in Charlotte, it’s going to be the fans’ car. I’m driving the car for the fans. UNOH is going to take the hood. They’re thrilled to do it. All around the UNOH logo will be the fans’ names, and the fans’ names are going to be on the hood, the deck lid, the rear TV panels. We’ll design the car when we get closer.

Here’s what fans can do to get a name on the car: Go to “www.kennywallace.com”:http://www.kennywallace.com/. We have a Paypal account set up there, or you can find out where to send a check. $20 will get a fan’s name on the car in alphabetical order this time, so everybody can find their names. We made some mistakes last time, so this year we’re going to put the names in alphabetical order so everybody can find their names. $20 gets your name on the car and a photo of the car sent to your home.

If you’re in Charlotte that Wednesday before the October race, we’re going to have a meet and greet at my race shop where you’ll be able to see the car, find your name, and take pictures of the car. UNOH is going to provide drinks and snacks, so we’re offering more this year. I can definitely say that this is all about the fans and giving you what you want.

I have an incredible story this week. This is the way it goes. I got a text out of the clear blue, and this man says, “ I want to help you win. I have a little bit of extra money. Can I co-sponsor your car at Texas, or what do you need?” I called the man right away and I asked, “who are you, how do I know you?”, and he said, “I met you at a dirt track before and I got your number from some people in dirt racing. I have followed your career and you’re a great driver, and it’s very noticeable how good you’ve been running this year and that money buys speed.”

I said, “oh my God, I feel all choked up; I feel like I could cry right now. This was unreal. He said, “Kenny, I don’t want anything. I don’t want you to tell everybody my name, I don’t want anything. I just want you to tell me what I can do to help you.” So we talked about the price of motors, I told him that it costs $25,000 a race for a motor. I told him we spend $11,400 a race on tires. And he says, “I’m sending you a check, where do you want it sent?” So I told him. Well, I told everybody on Facebook what happened, and of course there were some pessimists. Then all of a sudden, the check showed up on Thursday afternoon.

So like Paul Harvey says, that’s the rest of the story. Even I was a pessimist, I was like, “there’s no way.” But it came overnight, a money order. I’m not at liberty to tell anybody how much or his name, but my wife got the check. His name will go on the fan car. It was just an incredible story. I am forever grateful to this man! And he’s going to continue to send money all year long. It seems like it’s right out of a movie. The man told me he doesn’t want any recognition. He said, “When you ran those two top 10s this year, I couldn’t believe it. It’s true; money really does buy speed.”

_Photography for this article provided by “The Hot Lap’s”:http://www.thehotlap.com/ Phil Cavali_

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