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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Darrell Wallace Jr.

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Darrell Wallace Jr. caught a break at the right time.

Starting in go-karts around 2002, Wallace had a fast racing progression. From karts to Bandoleros and Legend cars, Wallace was competing in Late Models by 2009. And up until that point, Wallace was doing so with the financial backing of his parents, Darrell Wallace Sr. and Desiree.

“We had a small business that was able to get us to 2009,” Wallace told NBC Sports, “and we were able to get that far. They spent a quarter of a million dollars in 2008, so that was a lot for them.”

Wallace ended up signing a development deal with Joe Gibbs Racing. He made his way into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with the Drive for Diversity program. Wallace won six races between 2010-12 and earned 2010 Rookie of the Year honors.

In 2012, Wallace went full-time in the Camping World Truck Series under the tutelage of Gibbs driver, Kyle Busch. After two full seasons and five wins, Wallace again made a move. This time, it was to the Xfinity Series, where he now competes for Roush Fenway Racing. Although he has yet to break into victory lane, Wallace is championship eligible after advancing into the second round of the inaugural Xfinity Chase.

As for the journey, Wallace admits, “Kind of the right spot at the right time.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: On your website, it says your interest in racing was by chance, what does that mean?

Wallace: I started racing when I was nine, but my dad bought a Harley Davidson and he wanted to trick it out and make it look good and the guy who did that, Chris Rogers, he had a bike shop. He raced out of the back of his shop, so we became good friends, and he invited us out to one of his races. We were sitting in the stands, and my dad was like, ‘Hey, you want to try it?’ So it was just one of those going out to watch and ended up buying a go-kart.

NBC Sports: How important was signing with Joe Gibbs Racing, in addition to participating in the Drive for Diversity program?

Wallace: The way it worked out was 2008 had a really good year; 2009 is when we signed on with JGR, and they gave us a little financial backing with the Late Model stuff, but that ended up being our worst year in Late Models. I don’t know why. We ran about half a season there and called it quits so then we were trying to figure out what’s the next step. JGR had their (K&N Pro Series) East program going on at the time, but they had Max Gresham and Brett Moffitt driving. So they didn’t really have anything, but they looked into the Drive for Diversity deal for us. We did some research and saw that Andy Santerre was running the whole deal, and we’re like, ‘Well, hell yeah, we’ll go over there and run that.’ It was kind of a blessing that we did because those two great years with the Drive for Diversity program really helped my career launch.

NBC Sports: Do you have a racing story you like to tell or one that stands out?

Wallace: Got a lot of good stories; got a lot of bad ones, too. I ran over my dad when we were go-kart racing. We were at Concord Speedway, and Chris (Rogers) and my dad were out there, and I leveled my dad at like 45 miles per hour. I thought I killed him and he comes hobbling up and says, ‘All right, let’s keep going.’ So that one’s probably the scariest one I’ve had. The best one is probably Dover. The first Dover (September 2010) I was scared. Driving into the corners like, ‘Heck no.’ Had motor problems, and we were in a Rookie of the Year battle with Cole Whitt. He blew a right front tire Lap 27; I blew a right front tire Lap 37. So we locked up the Rookie of the Year title.

Going back (in September 2011) I’m like, ‘Here we go with this place again’ and that’s when my mom lost her uncle. We took my name off the door, and I just put a piece of tape down and wrote his name on there. It was pretty special because we went out and won both practices, sat on the pole (by) two-tenths and won the race. So I think that was a pretty special weekend. That’s one of my favorite stories.

NBC Sports: Take me back to the Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega when you had that really bad accident in 2013, is that the most scared you’ve been behind the wheel?

Wallace: Yeah, I think so. When I hit for some reason there was a flash of like an actual car going down the highway, which I don’t know why that crossed (my mind), but it was like, ‘Holy crap.’ I had no brakes and was sliding towards I think it was Jeb Burton’s pit stall. Kyle (Busch) come down into me; hit the wall head-on, and I went back down heading straight for their pit box and closed my eyes and come to stop. Didn’t hit the wall. Then my spotter was like, ‘Put it in reverse, we still gotta finish,’ so I threw it in reverse not having brakes, so I’m gassing on it and John Wes (Townley) beats me by inches and then I don’t know how I stopped. I don’t know if I hit the wall or if it just kind of come to a stop. But that one was pretty scary.

NBC Sports: How did your love of instruments start and did you teach yourself how to play the drums?

Wallace: Mom says I was banging on pots and pans since I was two, so I had an itch for it. In middle school, you could try out for band when you got to seventh grade and you had to write down three things you wanted to play. Drums were my top one and think I put like saxophone and trumpet. Well, I didn’t get chosen for the drums but it ended up working out. The first year it was more of both Snare (Drum) and then when you have a Bass Drum, the one that sits on a stand and put your arm on it and just hit it with a mallet.

I took over that role in eighth grade, and everybody knew that was MY spot. But growing up, I got into the heavy metal stuff in about seventh grade and it took me listening to stuff and shutting out the words. Yeah, you don’t know what they’re saying unless you pull up the lyrics and read along, but it’s easy for me to listen to the drums and be like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of cool how he’s doing footwork.’ Now I’ve got my own little kit just trying to get better, and it’s fun to do.

NBC Sports: Have you always been very outgoing and open to sharing things on social media?

Wallace: Yeah, but (Ryan Blaney) is not. That’s more of me pushing him, ‘Hey, this is going out Twitter.’ Like that video of Chase (Elliott) I posted after the Georgia – Tennessee football game I said, ‘Hey bud, just so you know this is going on Twitter.’ That stuff, I’ve always been post it and get it in trouble later instead of worry about the consequences right away. But I’ve always been like that and the crazy stuff we’ve done, I think all you guys have seen it.

NBC Sports: Is there anything in particular you like to shoot when doing photography? 

Wallace: Really anything; a lot of time-lapse stuff. It’s always fun looking at the clouds and see what they’re doing because every three to four seconds it changes shapes. I haven’t picked up my camera in a while but I’m always looking at buying new equipment, and I don’t even use it. It’s weird and not smart decisions but it’s still fun to look at how to be better and how to take better pictures. We did a photo shoot recently for the Coca-Cola racing team, and people will think, ‘Oh, you just like to look at yourself’ and I’m like, no it’s really cool how you get these kind of shots. So I can sit there at a photo shoot and be there for hours trying to figure out what in the hell they are doing. I got to do stuff with NASCAR at the racetrack, like shoot the All-Star Race a couple of years ago. Shot the Xfinity race (at Charlotte) a few years ago as well.

NBC Sports: How is Darrell Wallace afraid of the dark?

Wallace: When you grow up and watch scary movies non-stop. I’ve had a love for scary movies but they scare the hell out of me …

NBC Sports: So do you keep the lights on all the time?

Wallace: No, I have a process that I need to film to share with you guys. So in my house, the living room has big high ceilings and it has a ceiling fan, but it doesn’t have a light. You have to use two lamps and then my stairs are right beside me; so I’ll get up and turn on my stairway light then go turn off my lamps. Walk up the steps, turn on my hall light, turn off my stair light; walk to my bedroom, look behind me, turn off my hallway light, close my door and go to bed. It’s a process. I don’t trust looking in the dark because your eyes start fixing to the dark and you start seeing stuff.

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

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Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

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Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”