Darrell Wallace Jr. returns to site of milestone win
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Darrell Wallace Jr.'s memories of his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory last fall still play out like a dream sequence. But every time he wakes up, he has a 7-foot tall timepiece staring at him as a reality check.
"I don't even know if it's still sunk in yet," Wallace said Tuesday. "I do wake up and see that (grandfather) clock every morning when I'm here, so it's nuts. But as far as the exciting factor, I don't know if it's gotten there yet. It's something I'll always remember."
Wallace returns to the scene of his breakthrough win this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, site of Sunday's Kroger 250 (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). He'll be eager to take home another of the historic track's signature clock trophies when the tour gets back on course after a five-week layoff.
Martinsville and Wallace will be forever linked after his dominant performance there last October, just a few weeks past his 20th birthday. He led 96 of 200 laps in Kyle Busch Motorsports' No. 54 Toyota to become the first African-American winner in a national series since Wendell Scott's lone victory in NASCAR's premier division in December of 1963.
Wallace capped the weekend by celebrating the next day with Scott's descendants and making national media rounds. But amid the frenzy, there was also validation.
"A lot of people could be saying -- I don't know what they're saying because I'm not really listening -- but they could say it's a handout or I'm only getting a ride because of color, but that win kind of solidified what I'm about and how my career has gone," Wallace said. "I've won plenty of races to showcase my talent and to show that I'm in it because I can drive, for sure. We definitely had a rookie season last year where we could've really shut the crowd up and had four or five wins, but that's just part of the learning curve."
The accelerated learning curve on the .526-mile Martinsville layout has proven Wallace to be a quick study. He's led laps in bunches both times out in the truck series, and seemed to show a knack for the tricky paper-clip circuit in the Virginia hills that sometimes takes veterans years to master.
"I don't know. I guess it's just growing up on the short tracks," Wallace said. "Running Summer Shootout in the Legends Cars is like a Martinsville for us, and it's something I've always enjoyed doing. ... It's something that's always been in my blood. That's what we grew up on, is short tracks. Martinsville suits my style, I guess."
Martinsville will mark the series' debut of the new multi-truck, knockout-style qualifying after time trials were rained out in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Wallace said that teams should have an adjustment period with the new format, trying to record a fastest lap in the second of two sessions with scuffed-in tires.
The other adjustment Wallace hopes to make post-Daytona is in the results column. A crash in the latter stages of the season opener left the second-year driver with a 26th-place finish and some catch-up to play. But a post-race chat with his team owner left him with perspective, that the opener was just one race among 22.
"I talked to Kyle after Daytona and he said, 'You know what, you've just got to throw out Daytona and start your season off at Martinsville and go out and spank 'em,' and then we'll be back in the hunt,' " Wallace said. "That's the plan. I know what I need to do. With the support from Kyle and the whole KBM group, it's going to be a good, solid weekend. We look to make up a lot of ground of what we've lost in the first race."
Though the schedule layoff has kept Wallace out of the cockpit, he hasn't had much in the way of spare time. He traveled for a week's stay in London two weeks ago to visit his girlfriend, a University of South Carolina student studying abroad for the semester. He's also made appearances or interviews at Bristol Motor Speedway, Los Angeles and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in the interim.
It's been a dizzying schedule for Wallace, but it's nothing another grandfather clock couldn't keep straight.
"It's been pretty packed," Wallace said. "I've been doing a lot of media stuff, but it's all part of it and I've enjoyed it. Definitely been tired, but now we can focus on and relax and get ready for Martinsville this weekend."