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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Driver Preview: Kenny Wallace

Kenny Wallace
Age: 43
#78 Furniture Row Chevrolet
Crew Chief: Joe Garone
Nextel Cup Stats
Starts Wins Top 5's Top 10's Top 15's
17 0
Poles Avg Start Avg Finish Points Rank Driver Rating
0 34.8
RAF Lead Lap Finish Laps Led DNF Earnings
14 1 1 3 $1,336,150

2006 was a busy year for Kenny Wallace. Aside from his full-time Busch series schedule, he also drove in 17 Cup races for upstart Furniture Row Racing. He also has his broadcasting duties for the Speed Channel to keep him at the track. Returning to Cup racing, even in a sub par ride, was a plus for Wallace, who hadn’t made more than five Cup starts since 2003. The downside was his Busch year. It was the first time in Wallace’s career that he finished outside the top ten in points when running a full Busch schedule.

Although it was a down year by Wallace’s standards, he did have four top tens and 12 top fifteens. True to form, his best finishes came at tough short tracks like Bristol, Gateway and Milwaukee. He was also strong again at Nashville. An eleventh place finish in the Busch series doesn’t appear great on first glance. The Series was tougher than ever, and Wallace’s finish was third among Busch regulars.

The highlight of Wallace’s Cup year was making the field for the Brickyard 400. Not only did he qualify 28th, he finished on the lead lap in 32nd. Over 17 races, Wallace earned $1,336,150 in winnings to go along with $906,764 for his Busch efforts. Wallace’s money breakdown shows the huge disparity in purses between the two series.

Last year Wallace’s first priority was his full-time Busch ride with PPC racing. After losing sponsorship, Wallace signed a two-year deal to drive exclusively for Furniture Row in Cup. That means he will turn his focus to making races on Sundays, with occasional starts in the Furniture Row Busch car at companion events.

Pick one word to describe Wallace and reliable comes to mind. He only had five total DNF’s in 52 combined starts. He only missed 70 laps all year in Busch, second best in the series. He may not get to drive top tier equipment, but he does stay on the track and finish races. He goes about his job without incident. Rarely is he involved in disputes or problems with other drivers. Most people know Wallace for his goofy personality on TV, but Wallace is very serious about his driving career. Look at last fall when Roush Racing dismissed Kurt Busch before the Phoenix race. Wallace jumped into the car prepared specifically for Busch yet still finished 17th. It wasn’t flashy just very solid. When in decent to good cars, Wallace is able to show his skill.

Wallace and Furniture Row have a daunting task next year in the Cup series. To begin with, the headquarters is in Denver, two time zones away from the heart of NASCAR. This severely limits their talent pool. Running Chevrolets allows them to buy engines from Richard Childress Racing. This definitely helps with reliability and horsepower, especially concerning qualifying. The downside is this relegates the team to the bottom of the Chevy food chain. This equals very little technical help from the manufacturer.

This is the obstacle course an upstart team like Furniture Row must negotiate. To pile on, the team is not in the top 35 in owners’ points. Just like last year Wallace will have to Qualifying on speed. The team only made 19 races last year because of qualifying shortcomings. This year there are at least nine new teams that are better funded, all fighting for the final eight starting spots in each race. Most races will have 50 or more cars on the entry list, and 90% will have more resources than Furniture Row.

One of the best chances to qualify is actually at Daytona. The Twin 150’s give him the chance to drive his way to a starting spot, and Wallace has a decent record on plate tracks in his career. He has 8 top tens at Daytona in his Busch career and 10 top tens at Talladega combined in Busch and Cup. Wallace is also traditionally strong on the short tracks and flat one milers, this will have to be a point of emphasis for the team.

While the odds are against Furniture Row, there are a few positives to cling to. The team and crew will have more experience in their second season in Cup. Wallace will also focus his full attention to the team instead of splitting time between the two series. Wallace will need all of his skill and experience to improve on 2006. While it’s hard not to pull for Wallace to succeed, realistically it will be tough to make more than ten races in 2007. Once in the race, Wallace will see that the car is running at the finish.

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