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Steve Wallace to make Cup debut in Daytona 500

January 19, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

Deal with Penske locks Nationwide driver in field with points from No. 77

Third-generation racer Steve Wallace will make his Sprint Cup Series debut -- and some Daytona International Speedway history -- as a guaranteed starter in the 2011 Daytona 500, driving a No. 77 Toyota fielded by Rusty Wallace Racing.

The program was facilitated by fellow team owner Roger Penske, who formed a partnership with Steve's father Rusty Wallace -- who drove in Cup for Penske from 1991 until he retired as a driver after the 2005 season -- in order to use the guaranteed spot in the top 35 of the owners' standings earned by Penske driver Sam Hornish Jr. in 2010.

"There are a lot of people that just hate me and they hate Steve and they're jealous of what we've been able to put together -- and I don't blame 'em -- I understand."

--RUSTY WALLACE

Penske isn't fielding a Cup car for Hornish to start the season due to lack of sponsorship.

"We appreciate we were able to make some calls and pull it together so quickly," Rusty Wallace said. "A lot of things had to come together just right. I'm beyond excited about it."

When he starts the 53rd Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, Steve Wallace will become the fourth member of his family to race in the Great American Race, along with his father and uncles Mike and Kenny Wallace. Previously, the Wallaces were tied with the Allison, Bodine, Earnhardt and Petty families with three members each.

"There are a lot of people that just hate me and they hate Steve and they're jealous of what we've been able to put together -- and I don't blame 'em -- I understand," Rusty said. "But I've done this my whole life, and I've been out of Cup a long time. And I'm dying to get back into Cup, and I'm probably just as excited as Steve is, to get into the damned thing."

"Starting my first Daytona 500 is definitely going to be the most exciting day of my career -- make that my life -- so far," Steve said. "It's something that every kid wanting to be a racer, including me, dreams of doing one day. It's some of the best drivers in the world competing in the biggest race in the world."

Steve Wallace has four lead-lap, top-15 finishes in his past five Daytona Nationwide starts.

RWR purchased a pair of Sprint Cup Chevrolets -- one from Richard Childress Racing and one that was used last season by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing -- and has converted them to Toyotas.

Former Cup Series crew chief Larry Carter, who joined RWR last fall as general manager, will be the crew chief for the program.

Steve Wallace plans to test the RCR version on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway as part of the first open test on the newly-paved track surface that was completed in early December 2010. Both cars will be taken to the wind tunnel following the conclusion of testing.

Penske, who also fielded cars for Rusty Wallace in two races in 1980, including a second-place run in his debut at Atlanta, initially talked about fielding one of his No. 77 cars for Steve Wallace, but the final decision was to race out of the RWR shops.

"Roger said he would really love to see Stephen at Daytona, so we put a deal together," Wallace said. "We're going to run the Daytona 500. Right now we don't have any plans to run anything [after] the Daytona 500, but I will have the cars. We may go to both Talladegas and we won't be guaranteed in, so we'll see what happens."

In addition to the race being Steve's Cup debut, it will also be his father's debut as a Cup owner -- a goal he has sought for several years after fielding cars for 467 starts in the junior series.

"This is a big event for all of us -- for Steve, our team, our family and our sponsors," the elder Wallace said. "When you're a young driver coming up, you dream about racing in the Daytona 500 and now Steve's going to get the opportunity to do it. He's grown by leaps and bounds as a driver in the Nationwide Series over the last few years and we think he's ready for this opportunity."