Event: Daytona 500
STEVE WALLACE REBOUNDS FOR IMPRESSIVE LEAD LAP FINISH IN SPRINT CUP DEBUT
--Top-Ten Effort Halted Only by Flat Tire in Final Laps of Daytona 500--
DAYTONA BEACH, FL (February 20, 2011)--For Rusty Wallace Racing's Steve Wallace (No. 77 5-Hour Energy Toyota Camry), this afternoon's 53rd annual Daytona 500 left the 23-year old thinking not only of what was, but also of what could have been.
On one hand, the 5-Hour Energy pilot defied a bevy of critics in a big way--with an impressive lead-lap top-20 finish in what was his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut and NASCAR's most prestigious event.
On the other hand, with just 20 laps to go, Wallace's finish in his first run at the Great American Race was shaping up to be even more impressive.
After fighting a lack of drafting partners for the first part of today's race, Wallace found eventual drafting partner David Gilliland in the second half of the event. The duo made an impressive march towards the front of the field, storming from outside the top-20 to inside the top-ten with less than 30 laps remaining.
Unfortunately, the right front tire failed on Wallace's Camry with approximately 20 laps to go, forcing him to pit road under green flag conditions and knocking him off the lead lap.
A determined Wallace refused to give up, however. He ultimately clawed his way back onto the lead lap for the final green-white-checkered finish, but any additional progress was limited by a pass-through penalty on the final restart.
Meanwhile, drafting partner Gilliland went on to record a third-place finish in the 53rd Great American Race, leading Wallace and team members to think not only of their strong result, but also of what might have been.
Said Wallace, "Today was definitely a frustrating race to drive. As a rookie, it was hard to find drafting partners and it took a lot of patience not to get overly-frustrated. We had a pretty good car, but I can't tell you how many times we got drop-kicked from the front to the back or the back to the front.
"We eventually got hooked up with the 34 car (Gilliland) though and for one reason or another, our two cars worked really well together. My car was especially good pushing his. I really have to thank him for working with us. A lot of guys didn't want to draft with a rookie driver, but he went with us and it really worked out.
"We drove all the way up to the top-ten towards the end of the race. Then, the six car (David Ragan) and two other guys decided to make it four-wide going into turn-three with like 30 to go. I knew it wasn't going to work and backed off to keep from wrecking all of us. The six car still got into my right front though and it eventually cut the tire down.
"When you look at where we were running with just 20 to go and see that the 34 car--the guy we ran nose-to-tail with all day--finished third, it makes you kind of sick. I mean, if not for that flat tire, we could have very likely finished in the top-ten at the Daytona 500--or possibly even the top-five.
"Still, I'm really proud of this 5-Hour Energy team and our effort down here. For us to have a lead-lap top-20 finish at the biggest race of the year--in the first-ever Cup race for either me or the team--it's pretty cool."
-source: rusty wallace racing