Last season, Darrell Wallace Jr. found speed and a victory.
This season, his goal is loftier – a championship.
Even though it will be just Wallace Jr.’s second full-time season in the NASCAR Truck Series, Wallace and his team owner, Kyle Busch, believe a title is well within reach.
The 2014 season gets underway with Friday night’s NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
“I hope Darrell’s well prepared for it. I think that getting the experience of being a rookie in the sport lends yourself to a lot of learning,” said Busch, whose Kyle Busch Motorsports organization will field Wallace’s No. 54 Toyota.
“It gives you the opportunity to make a few mistakes here or there and try to learn from those mistakes. I think later in the year we saw that Darrell was a lot better racer and he started finishing races a bit more consistently.”
That consistency turned into a victory last fall at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Wallace’s first in the series. It was also the first time an African-American driver had won a race in a NASCAR national series race since Wendell Scott’s win in the Cup series in 1963.
Wallace, 20, ended his first season in Trucks eighth in the series standings, with one win, five top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 22 races.
“I definitely have to get more than one win here and have to perform better and finish races,” Wallace said. “The first part of the season last year we didn’t do too good of a job at doing that – at finishing races.
“We had the speed right out of the gate – finished fifth at Martinsville and then we go to Charlotte and that was our big one where we wrecked out right there at the end and then go to Kentucky and wrecked out early.”
With Busch entered in many of the Truck races running in companion to Cup races, Wallace’s mistakes were in plain view of his team owner.
At times, Wallace said the mistakes were painful and embarrassing. They were also a learning experience.
“I hated having a wrecked-up race truck around him because I’m much better than that and I wanted to show him that I had it in me to finish races and compete with him,” Wallace said.
“There were plenty of times that we were faster than him. A lot of times people say that if you’re beating Kyle, then you’re winning the race. Now, I know we can beat him and I know we can finish the race.”
A strong run in Friday night’s season opener – a race which has featured its share of big wrecks – would get Wallace’s season started off in the right direction.
“Darrell needs to be competitive every week and try to figure out what it is to be up front,” Busch said. “We watched it last year with (Matt) Crafton – Crafton won one race, but he finished top-10 every single week until like the last four races of the season.
“If you can do that and have a couple wins in there and what not then there’s no reason as to why Darrell can’t be a champion in the Truck Series this year.”