Race Weekend Central

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Drive the Hell Out of the Car – But Don’t Wreck It!

My Jay Robinson Racing team continues to find our way. This is a new situation for me to try to make our team better. We went to Nashville and we were competitive to where we were able to finish 16th, on the lead lap which was a feather in our cap. We’re pointed in the right direction. That was a good run for us. Our team was happy – I didn’t think I would ever be happy with a 16th-place finish, but I thought it was good for our team.

After Nashville, we went to Kentucky and had a fuel pump break at the drop of the green flag the very first lap. That was disappointing because the goal on our team is to finish every race in the top 20. When I do that – finish in the top 20 – that really makes us feel like we’re headed in the right direction. But life goes on there and you move on.

I got my 400th start at Milwaukee. That meant a lot to me. I spent so many years trying to win a Sprint Cup race, some 350-something races. I finished second three times, but I never did get that win. At Milwaukee, we celebrated my 400th Nationwide Series start, but I think that we could have just as easily been celebrating my 754th start. I think that when I celebrated that 400th start, that was OK, but didn’t really mean that much to me, because the number that really meant a lot to me was my 753 NASCAR starts.

I’d heard those numbers before with guys like Ricky Rudd and some of the other drivers, like Terry Labonte. I thought, man, oh man, how do you race 800 NASCAR races? When they’re 300 and 600 miles long, that’s a lot of racing. And here I turned around and looked and I’ve done that, just in three different series – 400 in the Nationwide Series, 300 and some in the Cup Series and 10 truck races. I feel like I’ve accomplished my place in the sport, though I’ve never accomplished one thing I wanted to do, and that was to win a Cup race.

Milwaukee was a complete disappointment. My crew chief, Rick Gay, and I decided on a different setup. It was different, but it wasn’t totally outlandish. We gave it all our effort, but I guess you could say we made a mistake by testing it in the race. It was really hard on Rick and it was really hard on me. It was a really bad run, and we just didn’t get it. The best part of that whole run at Milwaukee was that my car owner, Jay Robinson, is behind me 110%.

He even said to Rick and me, “Look, you guys are trying, you’re swinging, and pretty soon we’ll hit it.” So Milwaukee is gone and done and now we’re headed to New Hampshire, the site of one of my biggest Nationwide wins ever. I’m excited to get there and hopefully things will turn out better there than they have the last two weeks.

My very first Nationwide start was in 1988 at Martinsville, Va. NASCAR told me they wouldn’t allow me to run Daytona unless they took a look at me and see me race. My Mom and my wife, Kim put together a portfolio of what I’d done and part of that portfolio that I sent to NASCAR was that I ran ASA at Michigan and Milwaukee, so I’d been on mile and mile and a half tracks.

But still, NASCAR wanted to see me race. So my brother Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt have always been good friends, and they put together a ride for me, and my very first Nationwide start ever was in the No. 8 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet at Martinsville. It was awesome.

Now that I look back at it, I didn’t realize what the meaning of it was until we lost Dale. Earnhardt was always really good to me – he always helped me. That first start meant a lot. What happened in the race was funny. Earnhardt was in the infield and Rusty was on the spotters’ stand. I had Earnhardt telling me to drive the hell out of the car and I had Rusty telling me, “Don’t wreck it. Don’t wreck it!”

I remember when we first got there, we had motor problems, so Rusty and Earnhardt were changing the motor – Earnhardt was in there working like a mechanic. I think it was the most fun I’ve ever had. Looking back now after all these years and realizing that Dale Earnhardt was changing my motor for me, I’ll never forget that week. It was a big week. Times have changed, but that’s why when I see a picture of Dale Earnhardt today, it just seems so wrong for him to be gone. Dale Earnhardt helped me get my first start in the Nationwide Series. That’s a pretty big start.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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