The Richard Petty Motorsports driver led Monday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on the high bank half mile in Tennessee for 6 laps; the first laps he has led in his Cup career. That lead didn’t come due to pit strategy or staying out while others pitted; it came when he fought his way through the field and rocketed to the lead on lap 374 from Brad Keselowski.
He would bring eventual race winner Kyle Busch with him and would go on to lead those 6 laps before Busch retook the lead.
It was soon falling apart however. The popular driver who finished second in the season opening Daytona 500, began to fall through the field; he was reporting a vibration on lap 387, and was 10th by lap 413. He had gone down a lap by lap 445 and was 14th.
He finished 16th. When it was over, he sat in his car on pit road with his head down before climbing out to face the waiting media.
“Hell of a day,” Wallace said. “Didn’t know what to expect firing off and we fired off like a freaking badass and got our way up to 10th in that second stage there. That was good, get some stage points and got up to the lead. I was as surprised as anybody. Going through the emotions we were really good and that last caution came out and we were struggling with left front problems there late in runs, locking up easily, but still was able to make decent ground. Then all of a sudden it went away there and man, just blindsided there by that.”
Despite the finish, Wallace tried hard to see the positives.
“Great car all day, nothing to be pissed off about, that is racing,” he said. “You could be good for a second and then the next second you are not, but awesome takeaways. The momentum is still here. I’m just dejected because I’m scratching my head on where in the hell we went wrong or what we wrong. I don’t think we did anything wrong, I guess that is big-time auto racing, but it was a good day.”
He admitted that he sat in his car after the race not out of exhaustion, but out of frustration.
“No, I’m all good,” Wallace said. “I could go run another 500 miles here. That was easy, especially when you have a good car like my guys gave me. Our STP Chevrolet was on rails and then all of a sudden it was like a kick in the teeth. That was just the look of dejection, devastated, everything that relates to that.”
“Just a bummer when you don’t have nothing to show for it there at the end,” he added. “Definitely was a top five car, top seven car, I will give us that and we walk away 16th. So, it’s disappointing.”