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A long road back to racing for Wallace

May 24, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com

Steve Wallace

Son of Hall of Famer looks to make an impact in first Nationwide start in over a year

CONCORD, N.C. -- Steve Wallace has been in an underdog scenario before, but not one quite like this. The only difference this time around is that he can virtually count his crewmembers on one hand.

The third-generation driver will make his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start in over a year Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the History 300 (2:45 p.m. ET, ABC), hoping to make enough of an impression to attract more sponsorship to keep his shoestring operation going.

“I’ve got one bullet in the gun and that’s this race,” Wallace said. “We don’t have an option to run bad here.”

Wallace’s road back to the NASCAR garage is a winding one. He competed full-time in the Nationwide tour from 2007 to 2011, with a best finish of seventh in the series standings in ’09, driving for his Hall of Famer father, Rusty.

When sponsorship and economic woes forced the team to suspend its racing operations after the 2011 season, Wallace’s career took a hiatus and the team regrouped. In the interim, the younger Wallace became more hands-on in what he calls a “two men and a truck” effort by himself and crew chief Blake Bainbridge to get back to a NASCAR national series race.

"I feel like we’ll have a shot to have a really good run."

-- Steve Wallace

“I never saw that day coming,” Steve Wallace said of the team’s closing. “It’s just hard to explain how appreciative I am and how thankful I am for these guys to come help me. The whole family’s standing behind me, and we’ve just got a lot of countless hours just the two of us trying to get to this event. I can’t explain how thankful I am to be back in NASCAR, even just for this one race. It just feels great. I took a lot of stuff for granted before, but man, I’ve worked my ass off to try to get back.

“I wasn’t really worried about me or my dad, I was worried about the 55 employees we had and their families. It’s just so hard to get a job in racing right now with the economy so bad. ... It seems like most everybody landed on their feet and we were able to regroup our program and learn to do a lot more with a lot less. It’s definitely been an eye-opener for sure.”

Rusty Wallace will be the car owner of record for his son’s No. 66 Ford Mustang at Charlotte, but he insists that when it comes to the car’s preparation and sponsorship recruiting efforts, he’s been a silent majority partner. Now he’s ready to sit back and see how his son’s determination on multiple levels pays off.

“Overall, I think he’s paid his dues. That kid got roughed up because they thought he was Daddy’s boy and Daddy’s paying the bills, and that’s not the case,” Rusty Wallace said. “I said, ‘I’m not putting any more money into the racing.’ They went out and looked for the sponsors, I helped them with the car, but had nothing to do with putting the car all together. They did it all by themselves. ...

“He has absolutely matured a ton. He knew what it was to be full-time and now he’s been humbled. There’s not a bolt on this car that his hand hasn’t touched.”

Wallace has received plenty of support from family and friends, including some of his former Rusty Wallace Racing crew on loan from other teams. The No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing crew for Sprint Cup veteran Mark Martin will handle pit-road duties for Wallace Saturday, and plenty of refurbished Roush Fenway Racing parts will be on the car for its first race since it finished 11th last spring at Richmond International Raceway. The team also has backing from mortgage broker Richard Tocado, with the hopes that more sponsorship help could be on the way with a solid performance Saturday.

Early indications are that the team may have found speed on the 1.5-mile track, clocking the 10th-fastest lap in a 43-car test session Wednesday and running well in a private test two weeks ago. If nothing else, it helped Wallace become more acquainted with a Nationwide car on an intermediate speedway after months of barnstorming short tracks across the Southeast.

“When we came out here and practiced two weeks ago, my second lap on the track was the fastest we went all weekend,” Wallace said. “I thought maybe I’d be a little gunshy or antsy or a little timid, but I jumped right back in it and was just as fast as some of these guys. I feel like we’ll have a shot to have a really good run.”

No matter the result Saturday, the work in simply bringing a race-ready car to the track has been worth it for Wallace.

“We’ve learned a ton from it. We’re getting back, it just took a little longer than we thought,” Wallace said. “Can’t explain how happy I am to have a sponsor and two really good Ford Mustangs to race. I’m looking forward to Saturday, for sure.”

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