STEVE WALLACE AND RWR STRIKE FOR TOP-FIVE FINISH IN INDIANAPOLIS --Teammate Brendan Gaughan Named Rookie of the Race, Strikes Back in ROY Title Fight-- INDIANAPOLIS, IN (July 26, 2009)--In front of a near-capacity crowd, on one of auto...
STEVE WALLACE AND RWR STRIKE FOR TOP-FIVE FINISH IN INDIANAPOLIS
--Teammate Brendan Gaughan Named Rookie of the Race, Strikes Back in ROY Title Fight--
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (July 26, 2009)--In front of a near-capacity crowd, on one of auto racing's biggest weekends, Rusty Wallace Racing's Steve Wallace (No. 66 Chevrolet Impala SS) put in one of the biggest performances of his young career Saturday evening, in the Kroger 200 at O'Reilly Raceway Park. The third-generation wheelman battled through a controversial pace car miscue and a rare blunder by his No. 66 pit crew to capture a fifth-place finish at the historic Indiana short track.
After a season-best third-place qualifying effort, Wallace's evening started with high hopes. The young driver did not disappoint, quickly dismissing of second-place Brad Coleman and launching an assault on then-leader Trevor Bayne throughout the race's first 35 laps.
Wallace's first test of the day occurred on lap 36 when NASCAR officials threw the yellow flag as the battle for the lead entered turn one. While Wallace and Bayne were attempting to slow for the caution, the NASCAR pace car abruptly entered the track directly in front of the leaders. Bayne was forced to slow dramatically, in an effort to avoid potentially disastrous contact with the pace car; he was subsequently tagged from behind and spun by Wallace's No. 66.
Despite what appeared to most observers to be NASCAR's error in sending the pace car onto the racetrack much too early, race officials effectively penalized both drivers, placing them deep in the field for the subsequent restart.
As the race progressed, a determined Wallace proved to have one of the race's fastest cars, consistently out-pacing the leaders and moving back into the top-five by the race's one-quarter mark.
After having already fought back from one bout of adversity, Wallace would ultimately see his biggest test come following a round of yellow-flag pit stops around lap 93. After Wallace entered pit road among the top-five, his normally lightning-fast No. 66 team experienced a hung lug nut on the right-rear corner of the car. The resulting 20+ second pit stop forced Wallace all the way to the 16th position for the coming restart.
An extremely frustrated Steve Wallace soon turned his frustration into determination, again slicing his way through the field and into the top-five by lap 155. As the race progressed into its final stages, Wallace's Chevrolet proved seemingly to be the class of the field, consistently turning out lap times faster than the race leaders and moving ever closer to the front.
After a late-race caution and a hard-fought battle with Matt Kenseth in the race's waning laps, Wallace would bring home a fifth-place finish, his first top-five and sixth top-ten of 2009. This result tied Wallace's career best finish of fifth, previously accomplished at both Richmond and Darlington in 2008.
With his result, Steve Wallace strengthened his foothold on the eighth position in the Nationwide Series standings, increasing his margin over ninth-place to 34 points. He now also sits a mere 84 points from the fifth position overall.
Said Wallace, "I'm really happy with the car that my No. 66 guys put underneath me tonight. It was great to get our first top-five of the year, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't just a little bit disappointed with where we ended up tonight.
"Our car was extremely fast tonight, especially on the long run. I really think that we had the car to beat. If it weren't for all of the problems we had to fight during the race, I feel like we had a good shot at finally putting our No. 66 team in Victory Lane. Tonight was the best chance we've had in a long time and it's just really frustrating when you beat yourself like we did on pit road tonight.
"That deal with the 99 car was unfortunate too; I hate it for Trevor (Bayne) and his guys. In my eyes, NASCAR just made a mistake by sending the pace car out so early. Then, Trevor and I both got sent back because NASCAR said we didn't maintain our speed. It was either slow down as fast as he did or ram the pace car and no one wants for that to happen.
"With all of that said, hopefully our performance tonight is a sign that we're starting to get closer to winning one of these things."
Meanwhile, Wallace's RWR teammate, Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 Chevrolet Impala SS) started Saturday night's event from the 10th position and would be in the hunt for a top-ten finish throughout most of the evening.
Like his teammate, Gaughan also suffered a poor pit stop during the lap 93 round of stops, entering the pits from the 8th position and exiting in 15th. The Las Vegas native made the best of the situation, however, charging forward and into the 11th spot by lap 155. His 33 quality passes during the night tied his teammate, Wallace, for the race's best total.
Gaughan's 12th-place finish Saturday evening moved him up one spot--to ninth--in the 2009 driver standings. He is now a scant 34 points behind his teammate for the eighth position. His effort in tonight's race also earned him Rookie of the Race honors and helped to move him considerably closer to the lead in the 2009 Rookie of the Year standings.
Noted Gaughan, "We had a really good car tonight, especially on the long runs. We just weren't on our game on pit road tonight and that killed us. I really think that we had a about a fifth-place car, but it was just too hard to recover from our problems on pit road. We're going to work hard to get our pit stops back where they need to be and we'll be ready to go get them next week at Iowa."