Daytona Duel: Kenny Wallace post race press conference

KENNY WALLACE, NO. 87 FURNITURE ROW RACING IMPALA SS finished 8th in the Gatorade Duel Qualifying Race ...

KENNY WALLACE, NO. 87 FURNITURE ROW RACING IMPALA SS finished 8th in the Gatorade Duel Qualifying Race #1 to secure a starting spot in the Daytona 500.

KERRY THARP: We'll roll into our post Gatorade Duel press conferences. Kenny, your thoughts about racing your way into the Daytona 500 this afternoon.

KENNY WALLACE: First of all, I want to thank my brother, Mike Wallace. I want to thank Mike. He inspired me. He finished fourth in the Daytona 500 last year, Mike did, ran in the top 10. Couple days ago, he said, Will you let me spot for you? I looked at him kind of stunned and said, Hell, yeah. Mike is one of the best drafters there are in all of NASCAR.

My story, the way I feel, just incredible. Last year Furniture Row, they didn't know where to turn, what to do to make their team better. I don't know what it was. I don't know if they fired me or what, because they kept paying me and kept all my stuff.

And then they called me up in the wintertime and says, We realize it wasn't you. We want you to run the 500. I'm like, What the hell? We realize how bad our motors were. This is our chance to pay you back.

So this is more. If you just let me have this, all of you, this is a moral victory for me. This is all about me right now. For them to say, Hey, here is a car with a Hendrick motor in it. We want you to go ahead and prove it. Holy crap, I proved it. I'm just shocked right now.

I told Brian (Vickers), I was so focused in the car, come across that start/finish line, my brother, Mike, is talking to me every lap and the crew is going nuts. I'm like, Oh, my Lord, I made it. I made the Daytona 500.

It's like Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s story but on a real small level. He wanted to change teams to prove how good he was. It's a Cinderella story. Looks like he's going to sweep Speedweeks if he don't break. My team gives me one chance, one opportunity to prove my ability. So Furniture Row did that. It makes it really extra special.

It's a very, very big moral victory for me. Now I can go on and run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and feel real good about myself.

Q: Kenny, what's the situation with Furniture Row and you regarding any potential further Cup ride beyond the 500?

KENNY WALLACE: This is a one-time opportunity. Furniture Row is like every other team: they've made it clear; they put a press release out, that they would like a second team. They would like for me to drive the car.

Joe Nemechek is a hell of a driver. He's in there. It's his ride. But unless Furniture Row gets a sponsor, then, you know, I'm not going to run any Cup races. It takes a lot of effort to put just one race together.

But I'm at peace with myself because I got a full NASCAR Nationwide Series ride with the No. 2 energy drink in the world, Shark. It's big in Europe and Asia. Just made its debut here in the United States. Iâ^a^Ùve got Shark Energy helping me run for the NASCAR Nationwide championship, so that's my story (smiling).

@#Q: You faced decisions there on that last caution: To pit or not pit. With all that's hanging in the balance, that must have been agonizing. Can you talk about your decisions.

KENNY WALLACE: Our decision was pretty easy. With two laps to go and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leading, you know the tires cooled down a little bit, it's going to be real easy to run wide open.

That was what made our decision for us. We knew there would be two to go when the caution came out. Hell, I was running fifth. There's no way I could pit.

Q: Kenny, did you say they fired you but kept paying you?

KENNY WALLACE: Yeah, that's why I said I don't think I was fired. What they did is the phone call went like this: Hey, we want to try other drivers, but, look, we're going to keep paying you. Seriously now, Brian knows this, this is what happens with all start-up teams in Cup.

They'll put a team together, and then when stuff don't go right they'll fire some people. You know, the driver is usually the first one to go. When (Michael) Kranefuss Racing started, all teams that kind of stand-alone and start on their own, I mean, look at Brian's team.

If Brian would not have proved his ability and been so young, and when he made races last year he hauled ass; he was in the top 10. So all start-up teams usually go through transitions that are brutal to everybody involved. So they called me up, said, We just got to really see what's wrong with our team.

So when they said, We don't want you to drive for a little bit, it made me look good because everybody that got in the car missed races. Sterling missed it at Bristol; Scott Wimmer missed it at Michigan, and then my good friend Joe Nemechek missed three more races.

When it was all said and done they said, Okay.  We made a
mistake.  We apologize.  I said, Really?  Just like on Saturday Night
Live, when the girl goes, Really?  I said, Really?

It's the first time in my racing career that somebody apologized and offered me the ride back. Of course, I don't have the full-time ride, but it was good for the ego to know that. So, yeah, that's the way the story went.

They continued to pay me.  It's an incredible story.  It
really is.  It wouldn't have played out if they wouldn't have given me
this opportunity.  It was pretty wild.

Q: Kenny, Mike had only spotted a little bit for his daughter. Did he tell you some things today that kind of surprised you that really helped?

KENNY WALLACE: I knew all the moves that I needed to make. What Mike was really good at was two things: letting me know what lane was working and what was going on. Because there were a couple times I went to the bottom early with new tires and couldn't get the job done. That was number one. He was real good at letting me know what lane was working.

The other thing he did was just emotional, you know, hey, this is the fifth Daytona 500, you know, Man, get in there. Stay in it.

I think it was just more having somebody on the radio that you really know who has done it and has felt what you felt. You know, I mean, I didn't make the race because Mike was spotting, but I think it inspired me to you know, search around.

A couple times in the race he said, Try the bottom.  I said,
Hell, okay.  I tried it.
The way I got into fifth was that everybody's car went away.  My car was
handling good.  I seen a little bit of a gap between fourth and fifth.

When I seen that gap, I looked up there and I seen that gap between fourth and fifth, and he was running fifth. I thought, I bet I can get up there and slide in behind. So Mike inspired me to try that bottom early on and test it out. When he helped me test it out it kind of logged it in my brain.

Q: Kenny, had you guys, as a team, sat down and discussed what would have happened if you made the show and Joe didn't?

KENNY WALLACE: Absolutely. When they called me up, when Joe Garone, the team manager, called me up a month ago, he offered me the ride. I was in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for an Indoor Midget Race signing autographs. My phone rang. I saw Joe Garone. I wonder what he wants? So I picked it up.

He said, Do you want to drive in the 500? Got a Hendrick motor and brand new car. I said, Hell, yeah, man. He said at the very end of the phone call, he says, "There's one stipulation. I said, What's that? He said, If you make the race and Joe doesn't, you got to give the ride up.

I said, Okay. I was sitting there without a ride, so it was all cool. Because I felt at that point right away, I thought in my mind, if I make the 500 I will personally get all the credit for it anyway, and that's the reason me and Brian race, is to compete.

So if that's the choice they're going to give you, you know, sometimes; if I was running for the championship it would have sucked. I wouldn't have took the deal. But because I was on the outside looking in, it was a great deal.

And now they pulled off a Cinderella story by qualifying third. They built five cars and that car just hauled ass with Jeff Fuller in it down here. They said, Give us that car. Here he qualified third and then I raced my way into it.

It's a feel-good deal.

Q: Kenny, you mentioned the Hendrick motor. Did you have any problems that the other Hendrick motors did?

KENNY WALLACE: You know what, I was very concerned. We had a really weird deal happen. I think my team thinks I was. I was practicing yesterday. I come through the front straightaway wide open in a big draft, and all of a sudden I started smelling wires burning. I looked over and there was black smoke rolling off the ignition boxes.

I built race cars all my life. I helped them get out the ignition boxes out. I'm looking. I could smell a little bit, and so we put all new ignition in it. So today we start the race. I about spin out on the second lap. I could smell it again. The first ignition box went bad.

They said, Flip the B. Flip the B. I said, We're out of the race. We're lost the motor. I flipped the B and it took off. It was pretty drama filled.

I haven't had any motor issues. I can't elaborate on what kind of motor they gave me, but me and Joe Nemechek have a motor. Our motors are different. You know, now the decision will lay with Hendrick. What are they going to do with me and my motor? Am I going to run 500 miles or are they going to get us a new one down here? My biggest issue was my ignition.

He asked me, he said I haven't been in the Daytona 500 since '05. I'll tell you real quick. Besides my wife and my children, this moment right now is the greatest time in my life. It beats any Nationwide championship, any three-time most popular driver. I got all them stats. This right here, this is the 50th annual Daytona 500, the biggest sporting event in the United States right now, and I raced my way into it. Besides my wife and children, this is the number one thing. It's unbelievable.

KERRY THARP: Thank you and congratulations. We'll see you Sunday.

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Mike Wallace , Scott Wimmer