Aided by Busch's influence, rookie aims to apply lessons learned in Canada
BOWMANVILLE, Ontario -- Darrell Wallace Jr., like many other NASCAR drivers, is often the subject of photos. But Wallace is unique in that he’s a composer of photos as well.
It’s not uncommon to see Wallace at the track in a media photo vest, camera in hand, milling about pit road or in the garage on days he’s not racing. At a venue as picturesque as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, site of Sunday’s first international NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Wallace says he’s tempted to trade places and search for the perfect vantage point through his lens.
“When I’m in the corners here, I was watching the cars of course, but then I’d catch myself looking at the photographers,” Wallace said. “I need to grab mine and jump out there with them. It’s fun to be able to do that and just step away from racing, even though you’re at a race track. It’s just, you’re in your own element.”
Whether it’s looking through a viewfinder or out the windshield of his No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, Wallace has found a certain level of comfort and growth in his first season of truck series racing. He aims to put it to good use Sunday in the series’ inaugural Chevrolet Silverado 250 (1:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) at the 2.459-mile road course in southeastern Ontario.
Wallace’s season has been one of missed chances at victories and results not necessarily reflecting in-race performance. The missteps are why the 19-year-old rookie currently ranks 11th in the series standings despite leading the most laps in two of 13 races this season.
“That’s what’s so frustrating is that I know we’re an inch away and something always happens,” said Wallace, whose last two races have netted 21st- and 28th-place finishes. “Michigan, we had a very, very fast truck and we ended up getting caught in a wreck on Lap 27. We were down in Bristol running eighth, had a top-five truck and caught on fire.
“I feel like now that I’ve settled down and finally figured out how to race these trucks after our Kentucky wreck, I feel like we got in a good rhythm with Eldora, Iowa and Pocono with all top-10s, so I was expecting a very good finish at Michigan and Bristol, but then it’s bad streaks that come up again. That’s what’s frustrating. When you start getting in a rhythm, something knocks you out.”
Despite the frustration, the lessons that Wallace has learned in his maiden voyage have been priceless. He has also built a rapport with his KBM crew chief, Jerry Baxter -- a gradual process that, like his maturation as a NASCAR driver, has taken time.
Even then, Baxter has noticed that his driver has proven to be a quick study.
“He’s a lot more confident in what he’s saying now,” Baxter said in between Saturday practices at the former Mosport track. “At the beginning, he had no experience on a track bigger than a mile at all. He was pretty lost at the beginning with the draft, especially with the trucks as big a draft as it is. Now he’s getting better at it, and all of a sudden, the trucks are turning better in the draft. I think I’m getting a little better at understanding, but it’s probably him knowing how to position his truck. He’s doing a better job, but as far as our communication, it’s tenfold better than it was to start with, for sure.
“He gets it quick, like even coming here. He’s not a road racer, and he’s fast. He just adapts quick. I’m a little surprised that he adapts as well as he does, and that’s a good thing.”
Beyond his pairing with the veteran Baxter, the young Wallace has also benefitted from mentoring from team owner Kyle Busch, winner of 120 races over NASCAR’s three national series. Busch’s part-time participation in the truck series has given Wallace the seldom-seen opportunity to compete against the team owner who has taken him under his wing. It’s also allowed him more one-on-one time with Busch during a given race weekend.
“Learning from him, talking to him, just figuring out what he’s all about helps you going in,” Wallace said. “You don’t even have to talk about racing -- just figure out his attitude on how he takes things, and that helps out.”
According to Baxter, Busch’s analytical nature is one worth adopting. Wallace has responded, spending Mondays in the shop helping to tear down the previous weekend’s race truck, then turning his attention to race setups on Tuesdays. The crew chief has done his part with informal show-and-tell on the truck with Wallace, helping the rookie better visualize and understand the concepts behind his adjustments.
So far the process, and Busch’s influence, have helped.
“Kyle’s a student of the sport,” Baxter said. “I’ve known him for a long time but I’d never worked with him, and he’s a student. He wants to know everything, why things are that way, and Darrell’s kind of been led down that path now.”
The task at hand this weekend for Wallace is adapting to the treacherous layout of the Canadian Tire track and what he calls its “sketchy turns.” The elevation changes, the blind corners and all the shifting have kept Wallace busy in the truck over two days of practice thus far. Now it’s up to him to apply what he’s learned in hopes of erasing the sour taste of the last two races.
Drawing a parallel to his handiwork with a camera, it’s a goal he pictures happening.
“We come here to try to get back our hot streak,” Wallace said. “I think we’re pretty fast and able to compete. We’ve got a top-five truck, I believe. Those road course guys are pretty tough, but we ought to be able to hang with them.”