DARRELL WALLACE Jr.'s victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville, Va., Saturday would have attracted attention under normal circumstances. Wallace is a young (20), talented racer, which NASCAR needs.
That Wallace is product of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program focused greater attention on his victory. Wallace is the first African-American to win a NASCAR race since Wendell Scott won at Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963. Talk about long overdue . . .
"This means everything," Wallace said. "This is an emotional win for me, especially doing it in Wendell Scott's backyard."
A historic marker honoring Scott, a native of Danville, about 30 miles east of Martinsville, was erected on a nearby highway last April. Scott died in 1990.
The Scott family attended the race Wallace won.
"Everyone in Danville is excited, and the phone's been jumping off hook from all over the country," Scott's son, Franklin, said Sunday at Martinsville. "We knew he's going to do well. We ask for the fans and media to support him and allow time for ups and downs, because, in racing, they will come."
Wallace's father Darrell Sr. is white; his mother Desiree is African-American. Darrell Sr. owns an industrial cleaning company. Desiree, a track athlete at the University of Tennessee, is a social worker.
Wallace Jr., nicknamed "Bubba," is a developmental driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. He drives the No. 54 Toyota truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, sees Wallace's victory as a positive for NASCAR.
"He has the talent and the personality [to be successful]," McGlynn said yesterday from his Dover, Del., office. "He has an awareness of who he is and where he fits in the NASCAR world.
"I'd like to see people pay attention to him. But it would be nice if too much wasn't made of him being a minority. It's important to recognize it, but not dwell on it."
McGlynn recalled standing in victory lane with Wallace at Dover 2 years ago.
"He was looking over my shoulder at Max Gresham holding the [K&N series] championship trophy. He said, 'Next year.' He has that [championship] drive."
Nick Igdalsky, COO and executive vice president of Pocono Raceway, has known Wallace since he began racing Legends cars at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, which is operated by Pocono.
"He was a little kid and absolutely killed [the competition]," Igdalsky said. "The Legends cars are close. From the way he drove, you could tell he had potential."
Unlike some younger athletes, Wallace has a sense of his sport's history. He met Wendell Scott Jr. several years ago. Wallace seems capable of handling the attention he'll receive.
"It's for the better and trying to change the sport. I'm all in for that," the Mobile, Ala., native said. "Just carrying the torch that Wendell Scott laid down for us and taking it farther. That's the biggest thing I'm trying to do. But I don't pay attention to the media stuff and let that get to me."
Three Chase races to go and Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are tied for the points lead. This race is tighter than Michael Vick's hamstring.
Kenseth and Johnson are known as precise, level-headed racers, making it unlikely they'll do anything goofy in the remaining races. However, both know things happen out of their control on the racetrack.
Last year, Johnson won the Chase race at Texas and led eventual champion Brad Keselowski by seven points. Then Johnson crashed at Phoenix and finished 32nd. In the season finale at Homestead, Fla., the five-time Cup series champion encountered mechanical problems with his No. 48 Chevrolet and, after leading 25 laps, stumbled home 36th and placed third in the Chase.
In nine full Cup seasons, Carl Edwards has observed Kenseth and Johnson up close at high speeds. Edwards and Kenseth were Roush Fenway teammates for 8 years, until Kenseth joined Joe Gibbs Racing this year.
"Matt and I obviously didn't get along really well at one point," Edwards said earlier this week, "but, to me, he's one of the guys I'm closest with in the garage. I really think a lot of Matt, and once I understood him, and, I assume, he understood me a little better, I think that we were as good a teammates as I've ever had.
"It appears to be one of those years where a great driver, a great team and great luck are all coming together, and they're making the most of it. I can tell you one thing: Matt won't make mistakes. He will not lose the championship."
Speaking about Johnson, Edwards said, "A great way to describe Jimmie Johnson is inevitable. Or, I guess, his performance. That's one of the things I think is going to make this championship [special] for whoever wins it is, you're going to have to beat Jimmie Johnson.
"It is amazing what they're able to do. I think everyone in the garage looks up to them. People talk about championship rivalries, and someone put it really well the other day: They said the best rivalry that's gone on in the past decade has been the field vs. Jimmie Johnson. Those guys are really good."
AAA Texas 500
Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas
When: Sunday, 3 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WNPV (1440)
Course: 1.5-mile oval
Distance: 334 laps/501 miles
Forecast: mostly sunny, mid-60s
Last year's winner: Jimmie Johnson
Last year's pole: Johnson, 191.076 mph
Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch, 196.299 mph (April 2013)
Track facts: Kyle Busch led the most laps (171), including the last 20, in winning this year's spring race at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. was runner-up, Carl Edwards was third. Truex led 142 laps…Four of Matt Kenseth's seven victories this year are on 1.5-mile racetracks. Jimmie Johnson has not won on a 1.5-mile track this year…Non-Chaser Jamie McMurray's has one win, a fifth place, a 10th- and an 11th place in the Chase races…Danica Patrick's 17th-place finish at Martinsville was her best since a 13th at Michigan in June. She is 28th in points…
1. Matt Kenseth 2,294 points
2. Jimmie Johnson 2,294
3. Jeff Gordon -27
4. Kevin Harvick -28
5. Kyle Busch -36
6. Clint Bowyer -55
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -56
8. Greg Biffle -58
9. Kurt Busch -75
10. Carl Edwards -76
11. Joey Logano -85
12. Ryan Newman -106
13. Kasey Kahne -124
Wins: Matt Kenseth, 7; Jimmie Johnson, 5; Kyle Busch, 4 each; Kevin Harvick, 3; Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, 2 each; David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMuray, Jeff Gordon, 1 each.
Up next: Kobalt Tools 500, Nov. 10, Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Ariz., 3 p.m.; TV: ESPN; last year's winner: Kevin Harvick.