The Nationwide Series races at Iowa Speedway for the first time Saturday in the U.S. Cellular 250, but it's like a homecoming for Steve Wallace.
"I've got a lot of laps around Iowa," Wallace said. "It's a really cool, awesome track, so clean and new."
Wallace won an ARCA RE/MAX race in 2006 at the .875-mile track in Newton. He's competed in three other races and done lots of testing on it, including in a Nationwide car before NASCAR instituted its testing ban this season. There were never any problems scheduling track time at Iowa, which was co-designed and is partially owned by father Rusty Wallace.
There are a handful of other drivers entered in this race who have competed at Iowa, including Nationwide points leader Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, and any advantage Wallace has from his experience at Iowa will be minimal after two days of practice.
Wallace has other sources of confidence that he'll run strongly. He finished a season-best fifth last week at O'Reilly Raceway Park, his sixth top-ten of the season. Wallace is eighth in points.
"It's going really good," Wallace said. "I'm really excited about our season. We've had a lot of strong runs. We've been running real consistent. We've got those top tens and (seven) more top 15s. I understand these cars, how to drive them and how they're supposed to handle to go fast. I've raced these things enough to know how to get them handling. If your car isn't handling, you're going to be slow."
Wallace has shown tremendous improvement in his third full season in the series. He was 14th in the points with two top-fives and seven top-tens running an entire 35-race schedule in 2008 and didn't have a top-ten in 34 races in 2007. Wallace crashed often in the previous two seasons and was parked by NASCAR for rough driving in one race. He's been a more mature driver this season, almost eliminating what had been termed his "stupid" driving.
"I sort of feel like I was thrown to the wolves the first year," Wallace said. "My dad had a Nationwide car and he wanted me to drive the car. I had won in ARCA, won in Late Models, and it's a tough step for anybody."
Steve Wallace says Rusty Wallace Racing has made big steps, too, in the past three years.
"The team started in 2004 and from 2005 to 2007, it was somewhat a decent Nationwide team," Wallace said. "We had decent money, but we didn't hire the right people. Now, we've got really strong people, good sponsorship dollars and we're strong."
Wallace says adding Trip Bruce, who was crew chief for Johnny Benson's championship team in the Camping World Truck Series in 2008, to be his crew chief on the USfidelis Chevrolet in June has made a big difference.
"Trip has helped me a ton," Wallace said. "He brings a lot to the table. Trip wanted to test a lot and we've been testing a lot. We went to Pikes Peak (International Raceway) right after Milwaukee. It drove just like my dad's track, the banking and shape of the track is similar to Iowa, but the asphalt is worn out. It was a great test to prepare for Iowa."
by Tim Tuttle and Robert Kuznia