EVENT SUMMARY The green flag flew over the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington Raceway at approximately 8:47 PM Eastern Friday evening. Following a final practice session that...
The green flag flew over the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington Raceway at approximately 8:47 PM Eastern Friday evening. Following a final practice session that saw them turn in the field's fastest time, Steve Wallace and the No.66 HomeLife Communities team had high hopes for a solid finish in the event.
The No.66 Dodge started Friday night's event from the outside of row nine, alongside former NEXTEL Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart, following a best qualifying lap of 29.897 seconds (164.485 MPH). That lap put Wallace fifth fastest among non-NEXTEL Cup Series drivers and right in the middle of some of the series' fastest company, including Carl Edwards, Stewart, J.P. Montoya, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick.
At the start of the event, the young Wallace held his own, maintaining his 18th place position until the first caution period on lap 24 and running lap times that were amongst the five to ten best in the field. Wallace reported that the handling of his Dodge, relative to the field, was improving as the run went on, but that he was experiencing a "tight" condition. Under the lap 24 yellow, the No.66 team elected to make their first stop of the day. A 15.35-second stop saw the team change four tires, add fuel and make chassis adjustments to correct the Dodge's handling condition. The HomeLife team's quick work on pit road saw them pick up several spots and be in the 14th position for the lap 30 restart.
Following the restart, the "tight" handling condition on the No.66 Dodge persisted and Wallace hovered around the 15th position until the team made its second stop of the day under caution around lap 55. During the stop, the team made further adjustments to help Wallace's handling condition. Unfortunately, the normally fleet-footed No.66 crew experienced troubles during their pit stop and executed the four-tire change in 19.41 seconds. As a result, Wallace was punted 18 spots down the running order to 33rd position for the ensuing restart on lap 60.
Despite the poor pit stop, the 19 year-old Wallace picked his team up and stormed through the field. He reported that the handling on his Dodge was much improved over the last run and by lap 70, he had gained nine positions, to find himself in the 23rd spot. Despite Wallace's hard work, disaster struck the No.66 team on lap 75. As Wallace exited turn four, his Dodge was hit from behind by No.59-Marcos Ambrose and spun into the inside retaining wall. The resulting damage forced the No.66 behind the wall for repairs. RWI's HomeLife Communities team completed the repairs in time for Wallace to gain one spot, finish the event in the 39th running position and avoid a dreaded DNF.
STEVE WALLACE, DRIVER, NO.66 HOMELIFE COMMUNITIES DODGE CHARGER: "We had a really, really good car tonight. I was just trying to be careful and take care of it until the last part of the race; unfortunately, we just didn't get there. We had a bad pit stop and it put us back in the field a bit. I thought we would be ok, because our car was really fast and was handling really well. I came off of turn four that one time, turned back down the racetrack like I normally did and just got punted. It was just a racing deal I guess; a combination of things. That was a really aggressive move by Marcos to try and stick his nose in there like he did; I don't think I would have done that, at least at that point in the race. On the other hand though, my spotter never said that anyone was even looking low at all. It's really frustrating, but we have a strong group of people put together on our team; we're going to pull through and be even stronger than ever once we get some momentum going this year."
RUSTY WALLACE, TEAM OWNER, NO.66 HOMELIFE COMMUNITIES DODGE CHARGER: "Nights like tonight are really frustrating, but I'll tell you what, I'd rather wreck while running fast and being up front, than wreck while you're in the back. Some people are quick to point the finger at Steve, but from my perspective, it looked to me like he just got wrecked tonight. I've been in the same position as Ambrose many times before at Darlington and that's just not a place to stick your nose. Marcos was a rookie driver at Darlington--just like Steve--and I'm sure that he didn't mean to do it on purpose. But, that doesn't help us at all in the end. The fact of the matter though, is that everyone on our team knows how much talent and potential Steve has. We're all behind him 100% and our partners are behind him 100%. If you look at the really talented NEXTEL Cup Series drivers out there, all of them wrecked tons of cars in their first few years in the Busch Series. If you judged guys like Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick solely by their initial performance in the Busch Series, none of them would be where they are today. Steve has already shown us a lot of improvement in how he's running his races. I really believe that once we get a couple of good finishes put away and get a little momentum, that he's going to be really hard for most of the field to handle."