Truck Series win leaves Wallace 'speechless'
October 26, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Results | Tensions flare after Harvick, Dillon wreck | Wallace's win was historic
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Darrell Wallace Jr. didn't simply become the latest first-time winner in NASCAR on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.
The 20-year-old's victory in the Kroger 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race marked just the second time an African-American has won in one of NASCAR's top touring series.
Wallace joins Wendell Scott, the Danville, Va., native who scored his only win nearly 50 years ago, taking the checkered flag at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla. Scott's victory came in what is known today as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"Oh my god. This is -- I don't know man, I'm speechless right now," Wallace said after surviving several late-race restarts to collect his first victory in his 19th start in the series. "I couldn't even hold it together coming off Turn 4 … I still can't.
"I had so much confidence coming into this race and I told my guys that I did. … I told everybody that asked if I was going to win, I said, 'Hell yeah' every time. It was no 'maybe, we're going to try.' This one was for sure and we capitalized."
The driver of the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota led three times for 96 laps, including the final 50 laps.
"This is certainly a monumental day and hopefully one that he remembers for a long time and can cherish," said team owner Kyle Busch. "The first one is always the most important one because it seems like after that they can just come pretty easily."
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France called Wallace's victory "one that will be remembered as a remarkable moment in our sport's history.
"Darrell's success, following fellow NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate Kyle Larson's win earlier this season, is indicative of a youth and multicultural movement that bodes well for NASCAR's future growth," France said in a statement provided by the sanctioning body.
Crew chief Jerry Baxter said the breakthrough win was a culmination of a season's worth of hard work and experience finally coming together.
"He's had speed since the first race of the year," Baxter said of his young driver, "he's had speed every week. It seems like we led a lot of laps … but he's getting mature, he's learning how to race and I think our whole team is."
Wallace shot to the front for the first time on Lap 10 of the 200-lap even on the tight, unforgiving half-mile, passing Johnny Sauter. He stayed on point until fellow KBM driver Denny Hamlin took the lead on Lap 41.
Wallace returned the favor on a Lap 106 restart to lead 15 laps before Ross Chastain muscled his way underneath the leader on Lap 121.
When the race went green following a caution for contact between Hamlin and points leader Matt Crafton at Lap 150, Wallace and Ty Dillon staged a brief side-by-side battle for the lead until Wallace gained the advantage.
Three subsequent cautions inside the final 30 laps kept the leader from building any substantial advantage, until Dillon, running third, tried to get inside second-place Kevin Harvick in Turn 1 with 12 laps remaining. The resulting spin also collected Crafton, who was running fourth, and Chase Elliott.
Harvick and Dillon exchanged sheet metal following the incident as each headed to pit road, and when Harvick stopped briefly in Dillon's pit stall to show his displeasure, crewmen from the Richard Childress Racing team of Dillon had to be pulled away from his truck by NASCAR officials.
"I had to do some muscling there at the end and get around Ty," Wallace said, "and keep it away from Harvick. Dodged a few bullets during the race … this is awesome.
"This is good for not only myself and my team, Kyle and Samantha, Jerry, Toyota, everybody involved. This is big."
Wallace is one of nine African-Americans who have competed in the Truck Series since its debut in 1995.
A six-time winner in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East, Wallace had a best finish of fourth (at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) before Saturday's win. The lack of success, he said, was "tough."
"I forgot how to win," he said. "I forgot what it feels like to win. It's been over a year. … But this one … I couldn't even hold it together coming off Turn 4 -- I wasn't even on the throttle … because I was in tears.
"I knew we had a big enough gap, but I was just praying that the checkered flag was out when I did cross it."