Kenny Wallace proud of ‘B driver’ career entering final NASCAR race

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Kenny Wallace is the first to admit it.

He was a punchline.

“There was an old joke one time, ‘He’s back,'” Wallace said Friday at Iowa Speedway, the day before his 904th and final NASCAR start.

That was when he was a “B driver,” called upon when an “A” driver was out of commission.

He replaced Steve Park for 12 races in 2001, which included a pole and second-place run at Rockingham. There were the seven races as Ernie Irvan’s substitute in 1994, when he qualified second at Atlanta and finished fourth at Martinsville.

The latter came during Wallace’s “sweet spot” from 1991 and 2000, the 10 seasons when the youngest of the Wallace brothers could be found competing full time in either the Sprint Cup or Xfinity Series.

Except when he wasn’t.

“I’m probably a driver that if other drivers wouldn’t have got hurt, I’d probably have been done,” Wallace says. “Every time I got in a good car, I performed. I’ve always been that ‘B’ driver and I’m proud of that.”

There were a “couple of hard spots” during his 903 starts across NASCAR’s three national touring series and his record 546 Xfinity Series starts.

But there was that sweet spot.

“That’s when I won my nine Xfinity races,” Wallace said. “That was the time I earned (the right) to keep coming back.”

The 52-year-old driver and analyst for Fox Sports will be back one final time, in today’s Xfinity Series U.S. Cellular 250, driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Seven years after his last Sprint Cup start and four after his last full season on the Xfinity circuit, Wallace will make his final start in a NASCAR-sanctioned race.

Why now?

“That’s not all in one minute I can tell you that,” Wallace says, but then he does.

Hurting his back in a wreck while substituting for his brother Mike Wallace at JGL Racing in the Xfinity race at Talladega this year kicked the tires on the thought.

“I told my daughter driving home from Talladega, ‘Holy hell, what’s going on here?’”

Then came the year’s first race at Iowa, a stuck clutch and a head-on impact with the wall on the first lap.

When JGL Racing asked him to return for the July Daytona race, he surprised himself.

“I said no. It came out so fast. I was like, ‘wow,’” Wallace recalled.

But Wallace, who made his first NASCAR start in a 1988 Busch Grand National race at Martinsville Speedway for Dale Earnhardt Sr., recognizes he is one of the last “active” drivers from his generation.

“I’m looking around me and there’s nobody in this sport from my days. Jeff Gordon, that’s it,” Wallace says. Both Gordon and Wallace were Sprint Cup rookies in 1993. “There’s nobody else. They’re all gone. Mark Martin’s gone, Jeff Burton’s gone.

“All these guys are quitting in their 40s now. If you look at it, Burton just peeled out, never announced a retirement. He’s in his 40s and I’m like ‘are you going to say anything?’ I guess he’s not.

“Same thing with Bobby Labonte. Everybody’s just afraid to say they’re done. Hell, I’m just done. You know what I mean? I’m just done. It’s liking taking an orange and just squeezing it and there’s no more to come out.”

Wallace says he’s exhausted from trying to find the money to race. But his last squeeze comes with one of the winningest teams in Xfinity Series history and a national sponsor in U.S. Cellular.

“Pretty cool to run your last race with a national sponsor,” Wallace says. “It ain’t like I got Bubba’s Chicken on it.”

NASCAR America: Bubba Wallace on qualifying: ‘It’s our job to cheat the system’

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Much of the talk in NASCAR this week has been around the controversial final round of Cup qualifying at Auto Club Speedway, which saw no drivers make a qualifying run after they left pit road too late to make a lap.

Bubba Wallace didn’t advance to the final round, but he’s been in a similar situation. In 2014 at Michigan, Wallace was in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at ACS’ sister track. Qualifying for that event ended with only one truck, driven by Ryan Blaney, reaching the start-finish line in time to make a lap.

“It’s our job to cheat the system,” Wallace said on NASCAR America presents Motormouths. “In today’s world, with the package and how it works out, if you’re the front car, you’re the tow. You’re the tow truck. You’re towing everybody else behind you. You’re at a disadvantage. No one wants to be at a disadvantage.

“So we’re going to cheat the system until they do something about it. Then we’re going to find a new way to cheat the new system.”

Watch the above video to see Wallace discuss more about how he fared during the West Coast Swing.

Updated entry lists for Cup, Truck at Martinsville

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Here are the entry lists for this weekend’s races.

Cup – STP 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-six cars are entered for the sixth Cup race of the year. D.J. Kennington is listed in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports entry.

Jeb Burton is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 Ford.

Click here for the entry list.

Gander Outdoors Truck – Martinsville 250 (2 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered. Those also entered in the Cup race are Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Ross Chastain. Bubba Wallace is entered in AM Racing’s No. 22 truck.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR America Motormouths at 5 p.m. ET with Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents Motormouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Rutledge Wood hosts with Kyle Petty and they’ll be joined by special guest Bubba Wallace.

Fans will have the chance to call into the show to ask questions.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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