Kentucky Speedway

Sparta still proving ground

Steve Wallace is nothing if not his father's son.

Like his dad, former Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace, Steve Wallace isn't afraid to attempt moves on the racetrack that might put him on a fellow driver's not-so-friendly list.

And just like his legendary kin, Steve Wallace doesn't hesitate to speak his mind, even if the target of his criticism might hit close to home.

“I was over-driving my racecars a lot last year but when your cars are that terrible, you have to drive the hell out of them,” Steve Wallace said in reference to the vehicles provided by his father's racing team.

Part of what made Rusty Wallace great, however, was his ability to identify a weakness and eliminate it.

It's an attribute the elder Wallace still carries with him in his career as a team owner. And it's a virtue Steve Wallace is working diligently to hone.

Steve Wallace has always known his name came with expectations, and while he hasn't shied away from them, living up to them has, at times, been a frustrating process.

But heading into Saturday's Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway, the 20-year-old Nationwide Series driver is in a good mind-set thanks to a season that has seen him post two top-five finishes.

That Wallace, who drives for his father's Rusty Wallace Racing team, has quietly climbed to 12th in the points standings after starting the year with a 37th-place finish at Daytona is a testament to his squad's improved maturity.

Instead of wrecking out of races — which he did nine times last year — Steve Wallace is turning what used to be 30th-place runs into solid top-15 efforts.

“Thinking about last season ... I learned a lot about patience and driving the car within its limits,” Steve Wallace said. “Combining those things with the changes we've made at our organization has made this a totally different race team than the one you saw last year.

“We've gone from running like junk and wrecking cars to running up front and contending for wins.”

His own learning curve might be part of the turnaround, but the younger Wallace isn't shy about proclaiming how much better a product he has to work with.

After his son struggled to a 19th-place finish in the overall standings last season, Rusty Wallace made wholesale changes within his operation.

Among other things, the team switched from Dodge to Chevrolet, bought a new shop, expanded to two teams and hired new crew chiefs.

“He realized that the cars weren't good,” Steve Wallace said of his dad's team. “He made a lot of changes. He hired the right people; he built better cars.

“I never doubted my ability, but at times, I doubted my team. But he was committed to changing the program around, and I think it's pretty apparent he has.”

The addition of former Cup Series driver David Stremme as a teammate this year has also played a role in Wallace's development.

Stremme and Wallace have combined for 12 top-10 finishes through 15 races.

“He definitely has helped me because I feel like when I'm struggling and when he's struggling we have both cars to compare info with, and that's something we didn't have last year,” Steve Wallace said.

Last year's outing in the Meijer 300 was a microcosm of Steve Wallace's season. While racing second behind Carl Edwards, Wallace tried an unsuccessful three-wide pass that wrecked both drivers and left his father fuming.

Wallace has no doubt the potential is there to find himself near the front again this weekend. Like his father before him, he wants to show he can make a habit of staying there.

“Ever since we left (Kentucky) last year, I've had this race circled as one of our best shots to win,” Steve Wallace said. “I feel like it's one of our stronger tracks, and I'm expecting pretty big things this weekend.”