THE LOWDOWN The Emerson Radio 250 started just after 8:00 PM ET on Friday, from the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway in Virginia. Despite some slight struggles in practice and...
The Emerson Radio 250 started just after 8:00 PM ET on Friday, from the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway in Virginia. Despite some slight struggles in practice and qualifying, Steve Wallace and Team HomeLife Communities RWI Racing turned in one of their "gutsiest" performances of the year this weekend. The No.66 team clawed their way from the 33rd starting spot to gain 15 positions and emerge from battle unscathed, earning a lead-lap, 18th-place finish.
Following a lackluster performance in the morning practice sessions, Wallace, along with longtime RWI head wrench Steve Darne and crew chief Tony Liberati, decided upon several major chassis adjustments to the No.66 Dodge, prior to the afternoon qualifying session. Although the team's qualifying effort was not quite what they wanted, their run was encouraging, as the changes made to the car had actually over-adjusted it from tight to loose. This left the RWI squad optimistic, as the track was expected to "tighten up" under the cooler temperatures expected at race time.
Immediately upon the start of the race, Wallace began to show the potential of his No.66, moving into the top 30 by lap seven, although fighting an ever-worsening "loose" condition. The team's first chance to remedy that condition came during the race's second caution on lap 37. The HomeLife team took the opportunity to bring Wallace to pit road for regular service and chassis adjustments. The No.66 team gained two positions in the exchange and found themselves in the 26th position for the lap 41 restart.
Wallace's Dodge was even more ill-handling immediately after the stop. As the run progressed however, his condition became more complex, with both loose and tight conditions in different sections of the race track. Despite this, Wallace held his own, getting by NEXTEL Cup star J.J. Yeley on lap 53. Although Wallace's lap times were equivalent to the top-15, an unusually-long 81-lap green flag run saw all but the top-15 cars, including Wallace, fall a lap down to the leader by the time the caution flew on lap 121. Following the team's second stop, made during the lap 121 caution, Wallace commended his team, stating that the car's condition was much improved from practice and qualifying.
The green flag flew once again on lap 126 and Wallace immediately took advantage of the improved handling. The series' youngest full-time wheelman stormed past Yates's Stephen Leicht and DEI's Paul Menard to move into the 24th position by lap 135. A caution on lap 161 brought out another yellow and gave Team HomeLife the opportunity to make its final pit stop of the day. After making another major chassis adjustment, the team sent Wallace back into competition in the 26th spot for the lap 168 restart.
Wallace continued to persevere against a field heavily laden with NEXTEL Cup drivers; the 20 year-old cracked the top-20 for the first time by the lap 201 restart. Immediately following the restart, Wallace found himself contending to be the first car one lap down and thus, the beneficiary of NASCAR's "Lucky Dog" rule. Tasting a potential lead lap finish, the young wheelman aimed his gun sight squarely upon Richard Childress's No.21 and the No.1 of J.J. Yeley. By lap 210, Wallace had sliced his way past Yeley and on lap 215, the No.66 stormed around Childress's No.21 and into the 18th position, the first car one-lap down.
The break Wallace needed finally came on lap 237, when the caution flew for the penultimate time, allowing Team HomeLife to join the lead lap. Due to an extended final caution period, Wallace and the No.66 team would be unable to advance their position further, despite a heated last-lap battle with former NEXTEL Cup Champion, Bobby Labonte. They ultimately ended their day unscathed, with a well-earned 18th place, lead-lap finish.
POST-RACE QUOTES: STEVE WALLACE, DRIVER, NO.66 HOMELIFE COMMUNITIES DODGE CHARGER
"Although our weekend didn't start out very well, we ended up having a good day. Steve Darne, Tony and all of the guys worked really hard to make our car better as the race went on. That was the key; we kept working on it and got our car actually got pretty good by the end of the race; we were running lap times just as fast as the top-five or top-ten by the end of it. I never thought that I'd be happy about an 18th place finish, but considering how we started out and how we've run in the past at Richmond, today was a good day. I really learned a ton about this racetrack today and I'm looking forward to being to apply it the next time we come here."