Thursday, April 10, 2008
Chrissy Wallace shines in NASCAR debut at Martinsville
By John Schwarb Special to ESPN.com
Chrissy Wallace (03) wanted a top-20 finish and a race truck in one piece. Mission accomplished.
The minutiae of NASCAR racing filled Mike Wallace's mind as the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway began with his 19-year-old daughter Chrissy behind the wheel.
Chrissy Wallace shined every step of the way up the ladder to this, her NASCAR debut, but the rules of the road were about to change from the likes of late-model stocks.
"There were quite a few things early in the race that we had not even discussed thinking about," Mike Wallace said. "As simple as when the caution comes out, late models can pull up to the pace car and pit, [but] in the truck series you can't do that. When the green flag comes out [in late models] you can pass left and right; in trucks you can only pass on the right.
"She had a great opportunity. I just didn't want anything to go wrong. That's where the father stepped forward, hoping inside that everything would go fine."
As the race began, the nervous dad had his role down pat.
As it turned out, he had nothing to be nervous about.
Tony Stewart has taken Chrissy Wallace -- and her crew chief Mike Abner -- under his wing.
Chrissy Wallace not only avoided first-timer mistakes, she made hardly any mistakes at all in a lead-lap 18th-place finish for Germain Racing. She ran well in traffic, which on that day was to say she ran well for all 253 laps. She went down one lap early while on pit road when a caution ended, but was able to get the free pass.
Most of all, she didn't act the part of the wide-eyed newcomer.
"Martinsville is known for wrecks," she said. "I said I wanted to finish on the lead lap, in the top 20 and bring the truck home in one piece.
"It got easier, the more laps I was making, the better I felt in the truck. There was no part really intimidating to me at all."
If she wasn't intimidated by a two-time Cup champion giving her advice, it would make sense that race day came easy. Joe Gibbs Racing and fellow Toyota driver Tony Stewart, a longtime friend of Mike Wallace, has taken an interest in Chrissy's career for four years, helping with sponsorship. At Martinsville he was in a more prominent role, offering advice in practice, prerace and sitting atop her pit box during the race.
"He's really enthusiastic. There were times that I'd get down and Tony would be the one saying 'Chrissy, it's your first race, you can't get down on yourself,'" Wallace said. "He was pretty much motivating me, keeping me up the whole time."
Stewart left the track more convinced than anyone of Chrissy's mettle, so much that he thinks Mansfield may not be the best place for her next Craftsman Truck start, as was first announced.
"Tony and I flew home from Texas [last weekend], [and] he said 'Chrissy's proven to everybody that she can drive -- I'd like to be involved in her future, where she's going to race,'" Mike Wallace said. "He asked if he could give his input on where she goes next and how she goes about doing it, and that [if] Mansfield [is] absolutely the best, or is it just another racetrack? It has a pretty strong history of people coming back with tore-up trucks. Does she need to do that?"
Mike said Chrissy will run seven to eight more races this year between the truck and ARCA series for Germain, with the next truck start possibly in June at the Milwaukee Mile. The rest of the time she'll run late models all over, continuing to hone the skills that led to five wins at famed Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, a track that had never seen a female winner in over a half-century of existence.
The ultimate goal is a full-time truck ride next year, which Mike Wallace said the Germain family is committed to providing if Chrissy's development and the dollars are ready. If she is, her father will be atop the spotter's stand as much as possible, just like two weeks ago.
"C'mon, stay with them Chris, you've gotta stay with them, you're the lucky dog if the caution comes out."
"Dad, I'm trying. He about spun and checked up."
"Just letting you know, honey. Just keep digging."
"That was one thing that I love. If I could have my dad at every race spotting for me, I really would," Chrissy said. "But I had him spot for me in late model, he was never like that. He was more nervous than anybody, way more nervous."
She'll understand how her dad felt someday if it's her young phenom kid behind the wheel.
John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.