Race Recap: The green flag for the Stater Brothers 300 flew just after 4:30 PM Pacific on Saturday. Through a strong qualifying effort, * Steve Wallace put the ...
The green flag for the Stater Brothers 300 flew just after 4:30 PM Pacific on Saturday. Through a strong qualifying effort,
* Steve Wallace put the #66 HomeLife Communities Dodge on the outside of row four for the start. His eighth starting position was the best of any Dodge team in the field, as well as the best of any rookie driver. Unfortunately, a miscommunication with NASCAR inspectors led to the team unknowingly making an "unapproved adjustment" to the #66 following qualifying. NASCAR thus penalized the team by forcing Wallace to relinquish his starting position and fall to the rear of the field for the start of the event. (Please see Bryant Frazier quotes for more on this situation.)
Despite this, Wallace and team remained optimistic about their chances and it showed on the racetrack, as the #66 stormed through the field, moving from 42nd starting position to pass #60-Carl Edwards and crack the top 30 by lap 10. By lap 25, Wallace had guided his Dodge into the Top 25 and reported that his car's handling was good.
A yellow flag flew for debris on lap 28 and forced most of the field to pit road for the first pit stops of the day. The #66 entered the pits in 26th position and through a 17.26-second stop for four tires and fuel, exited pit road in 23rd position. The team made a slight chassis adjustment to correct a "loose" conidition.
The green flag flew again on lap 32 and the HomeLife Communities Dodge restarted the race from the 22nd position. By lap 53, Wallace, had slipped to 25th and began reporting that his "loose" condition was worsening as nightfall approached and track temperatures began to fall.
An accident involving #0-Eric McClure brought out the yellow flag again on lap 58 and the #66 team took the opportunity to make their second scheduled stop of the day. The team changed four tires, added fuel and made additional chassis adjustments in 15.74 seconds, good enough to advance them from 25th to the 21st position for the lap 62 restart.
By lap 66, the #66 had advanced from its 42nd place starting position to crack the top 20 for the first time in the race. On the subsequent lap, #47-Jon Wood made contact with Wallace and after saving the #66 from a near spin, Wallace found his #66 Dodge in the 26th position.
By lap 72, Wallace had reported to his team that track conditions were changing dramatically. As a result, Wallace radioed that his car had begun getting "tight" and made suggestions for chassis adjustments on the next pit stop.
That pit stop would occur under yellow shortly thereafter, but unfortunately, it was at Wallace's expense. The car's handling condition had forced Wallace to use the apron of the track to turn the car and on lap 74, the #66 spun in turn two. Through an impressive piece of driving, Wallace kept his Dodge from making contact with the wall. The #66 suffered four flat tires in the spin and Wallace was forced to hit pit road immediately, without catching up to the rear of the field.
As the RWI Racing team attempted to replace the car's tires, the pace car and leaders began to exit turn four. At almost the exact moment the leaders approached to put Wallace a lap down, the service was completed and Wallace took off down pit road in an effort to remain on the lead lap. In doing so, he was forced to exceed the speed limit on pit road, the typical penalty for which is having to restart from the rear of the field. Unfortunately, NASCAR officials deemed that Wallace's speed was overly excessive and in a "judgment call," assessed an additional one lap penalty to the #66.
Despite this, Wallace remained poised and optimistic. He restarted the race on lap 78 from the 36th position, one lap down to the leaders. Soon after, Wallace reported that the handling on his Dodge had started to improve and under yellow flag conditions on lap 91, the team hit pit road for its next to last stop of the day, fitting the #66 four tires and fuel.
Following the stop, Wallace found himself the first car one lap down for the lap 94 restart. He restarted the race directly beside then-leader #29-Jeff Burton. On the restart, Wallace tucked his Dodge directly behind Burton's car, and the two quickly began to pull away from rest of the field.
The break that the HomeLife Communities team needed finally came on lap 96, when the yellow flag flew for a spin * involving #35-Bobby Hamilton, Jr. As a result of being the first car one lap down, Wallace was the beneficiary of NASCAR's "lucky dog" rule and suddenly found himself back on the lead lap.
The field took the green flag once again on lap 99 and Wallace, restarting from 33rd, set off to regain his lost positions, with just 51 laps remaining in the race.
By lap 106, Wallace had once again cracked the top 30, but reported that his Dodge Charger was shod with a bad set of tires and was beginning to get extremely tight.
The yellow flag came out for the final time on lap 122, eliminating what was shaping up to be a battle of fuel mileage. The field headed to pit road and in a last minute "audible," crew chief Bryant Frazier called for a two tire change, in an effort to gain track position for the 25-lap sprint to the finish.
The green flag flew on lap 127 and Wallace reported an worsening handling condition. Despite this, he persevered and held off a furious charge in the waning laps from his uncle, veteran driver #7-Mike Wallace. By doing so, Steve Wallace and the HomeLife Communites Dodge team earned the 22nd finishing position in his first start at California Speedway.
The next event for the NASCAR Busch Series is this Sunday, March 4, as the field heads south of the border to tackle Mexico City's tricky ex-Formula 1 road course, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
Driver, Steve Wallace: "Man, if you would have told me before the race that we were going to end up 22nd, I would have never believed you, but that's just racing I guess. I don't know what in the world happened on the start of the race; the NASCAR inspectors at our car said that it was ok for us to make the adjustments, but then right as we came to take the green, they told us to go to the end of the pack. There wasn't any time for us to argue the decision at all. That's NASCAR's decision though, so we had to respect it and just go on. We had a pretty decent car today, but we never really got caught up with our adjustments. I didn't really help the situation by spinning the car and getting us behind, but that's just the way it goes. The track conditions were changing like crazy out there and today was definitely a great lesson for me on how to deal with that. Our HomeLife Communities team did a good job of persevering and staying focused today; I'm proud of their efforts and am really excited about starting my first road course race next weekend in Mexico City."
Crew Chief, Bryant Frazier, on the Pre-Race Penalty Issue: "It was definitely a very frustrating situation for us. During qualifying, Steve ran over a large bump as he pulled onto the apron following his second lap. In the course of that, the front valence of our car was broken. Obviously, that's a very critical part of the car in terms of downforce, which is definitely key at a track like California. We began to make our pre-race adjustments, just like normal, with NASCAR inspectors watching. When we noticed the broken section of the valence, we immediately went to our inspector for approval to change it. Our inspector indicated to us that we had approval, as he told us that NASCAR had also allowed the #0 car to repair the same issue with their car. We had no indication that there was any penalty until NASCAR instructed us, on the final pace lap, to fall to the rear of the field before the start. At that point, they proceeded to start the race, pretty much ending any chance to plead our case or right the situation. Like Steve said, that's the decision that they made and as much as we didn't agree with it, we had to respect that decision."