It was one year ago that Darrell Wallace Jr. left his mark on NASCAR history.
Much has changed as he returns this weekend to the site of his first Truck series victory, even the number on his truck.
Wallace’s win last fall at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway was the first by an African-American driver in the series and the first in any of NASCAR’s three national series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Trucks – since Wendell Scott’s Cup victory in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963.
For Saturday’s Kroger 200, Kyle Busch Motorsports has changed the number of Wallace’s Toyota truck from No. 54 to 34 to honor Scott, who will be inducted posthumously in January into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
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Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan will also be running a tribute paint scheme to Scott on his No. 34 Ford in Sunday’s Cup series race at the track.
“I’m excited – the colors look good with the blue and white Toyota Tundra and the No. 34 will be different for sure,” said Wallace, 21. “I’m excited to carry on the Wendell Scott banner and represent their family and his legacy for that weekend.
“It’s going to be an exciting weekend – we know we’re fast. If we unload with what we’ve had in the past few races then we’ll be okay.”
Wallace’s win helped him to an eighth place finish in the Truck series standings last season. He has added two more victories this year – at Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois and Eldora Speedway in Ohio – and finished second in the spring race at Martinsville.
With four races left in the season, Wallace is third in the series standings, 28 behind leader Matt Crafton and certainly not an insurmountable margin.
“I don't like to think about points,” Wallace said. “We just go out here and have fun – that’s the biggest thing we do. We’ve been playing catch up for the past two seasons now and our talent and what our team has hasn’t really shown.
“It's been because of incidents happening early on this season, and we should be higher up in the standings than where we are now. I can say that for sure.”
Wallace came away from last weekend’s race at Talladega, Ala., with a ninth-place finish. That, plus a 14th-place finish by Crafton, helped Wallace close the gap on him. Wallace is 12 points behind second-place Ryan Blaney.
Wallace’s approach to these last four races comes in large part from what he has learned from his first win one year ago, he said.
“The maturity level has gone up, I would say, inside the race car,” he said. “I think just learning everything and learning the tracks and understanding how things work, letting little stuff go and focusing on the end of the race instead of getting flustered at the beginning.
“Now we just go out and have fun, have a smooth race, and I’m still not happy if we don't win, but it’s still a good points day finishing sixth versus 26th.
“I think that has changed a lot and I’ve relaxed and learned to take in more and listen more and go out there and utilize what I’ve learned in those races and it’s definitely shown.”