CLICK: Full race results and Camping World Truck Series championship standings.
Darrell Wallace Jr. emerged victorious on Wednesday night in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Raceway, the only national-level NASCAR event held on a dirt track.
"Really? Eldora?" said a slightly shell-shocked Wallace in victory lane. "That's so cool. On the dirt at Eldora!"
It's certainly a very special victory for any driver, thanks to the unique one-of-a-kind nature of the event which made its début on the Truck Series schedule in 2013. Usually you'd expect the drivers who learned their trade on the dirt like Kyle Larson to blitz the field, but on Wednesday night under the floodlights it was the Kyle Busch Motorsports #54 that ended up emphatically schooling the field for most of the race.
Wallace's KBM team mate Erik Jones had earlier been credited with the official pole position (his first in ten Truck starts) after topping the single lap speed trials. However that did not decide the actual starting order but instead set the line-ups for the five heat races that followed, with four drivers from each ten-lap heat going through to the main race along with five more from a 'last chance' 15-lap race-off. Jones secured his race pole by winning the first heat over Wallace (who started sixth), while Jeb Burton claimed the remaining front row position by winning the second; Ron Hornaday Jr., Ryan Blaney and Johnny Sauter won the remaining straightforward heats to line up in the top five while John Wes Townley took victory in the lively last-chance race-off which saw numerous cautions for spins.
Jones led for the first 24 laps, but a blown right-rear tyre spun him out and triggered the first caution of the night. Jones would spin out again on lap 34 and lose another tyre on lap 87, all of which contributed to his dropping down to 29th place, six laps off the lead, by the end of the 150 laps which were split into three segments by scheduled competition cautions on lap 60 and lap 110.
After Jones hit problems the lead was briefly taken first by Burton and then by Hornaday, but the whole nature of the race was changed when Wallace passed Hornaday to go in front for the first time on lap 49. After that, Wallace would lead all but five laps of the remainder of the race - but he would be under intense pressure all the way from veteran dirt track racer Larson who never let up despite bouncing off the wall multiple times.
"Kyle had one of those gladiator runs. He didn't leave anything on the table. If he didn't win it, he was going to wear it," said race organiser Tony Stewart, who has owned and run Eldora since 2004.
"I lost count probably after the first five [hits] and that was in the first five laps," said Larson. "It's funny to watch me do that. But it's kind of stupid, too."
Larson finally managed to get in front on lap 128 just before a caution came out for the #80 Frank Ingram Racing Ford driven by Jody Knowles stopping on the track. At the restart, Wallace got the better start and jumped away to safety again, leaving Larson kicking himself for losing the opportunity.
"It sucks, but Darrell had to get me up in the seat to try to get back by, and he had a really good restart," he said.
Not that Larson gave up, and he continued pounding the wall in his efforts to get back into the lead, with Wallace noting: "I think I could actually hear him hit it every lap. He wanted to win and was going to do everything he could. But I was set up just a little better to keep him back there and make him fight for it."
"I watched Kyle every time he hit (the wall), and the thing is it doesn't scare him," said Stewart. "It shows what kind of driver he is, the kind of mental toughness he has. You aren't going to rattle that kid."
While Larson himself was up to the beating, the #32 Turner Scott Motorsports truck ultimately wasn't able to go the distance and with two laps to go a broken brake line led to a final hard hit that put him into the wall in turn 1 and out of the running for the win. Wallace was able to cross the line 5.489s ahead of Hornaday, who himself was nearly three seconds clear of Blaney and Ken Schrader.
Wallace's win is KBM's eight visit to victory lane in the ten races of the 2014, and extends a 12-race winning streak in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for engine manufacturers Toyota - a mantle that Wallace had found weighed heavily on him during the race.
"I was worried about the Toyota streak, not to lie," he admitted. "The coolest things about it is I came into this hoping we'd finish in the top-five.
"I wish my mom was here," Wallace added. "But this is a good luck streak. She wasn't at Martinsville and she wasn't at Gateway [where he also won]. She ain't coming no more!" he laughed.
"This was a night everyone played a hand in writing the story," summed up Stewart. "But the two guys toe-to-toe at the end put on great performances to finish the chapter. I don't know how you write a better ending."
The win is Wallace's second win of the year and his third victory in 32 series starts. It puts him up two spots to sixth place in the championship standings, which are now led by Ryan Blaney by four points over Matt Crafton who finished Wednesday night's race in ninth place.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Camping World Truck Series championship standings.