Darrell Wallace Jr. takes historic NASCAR Trucks win at Martinsville

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This afternoon, Darrell Wallace Jr. became the first African-American driver since 1963 to claim a NASCAR national series victory, winning the Camping World Truck Series’ Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway.

Wallace, who led 96 of 200 laps, withstood multiple late restarts to score his first career win in the Trucks in his 19th series start. Prior to today, Wendell Scott had been the lone black driver to win in the upper tiers of NASCAR, claiming a Grand National Series (now Sprint Cup) win at Jacksonville, Florida all the way back on Dec. 1, 1963.

“Oh my God, this is – I don’t know, man, I’m speechless,” an overjoyed Wallace told Fox Sports. “I couldn’t even hold it together off Turn 4 coming to the checkers and I still can’t.

“I had so much confidence coming into this race and I told my guys that I did. I told everybody that asked me if I was gonna win, “Hell yeah” – every time. There was no ‘Maybe, we’re gonna try.’ This one was for sure and we capitalized on it.”

With less than 20 laps remaining, Wallace’s main rivals for the win cancelled each other out as Kevin Harvick, driving for NTS Motorsports in this Truck race, was turned around by Richard Childress Racing’sTy Dillon in a battle for second place.

Harvick and Dillon continued to bump each other under the subsequent yellow and when Harvick came to pit road, members of Dillon’s crew briefly confronted the Chase for the Sprint Cup contender while he was still in his truck.

After the incident, Harvick went on a verbal attack, claiming that “rich kids” like Dillon were the reason why he was leaving RCR’s Sprint Cup program at season’s end to join Stewart-Haas Racing.

“The 3 [Dillon] just dumped me, and that’s exactly the reason I’m leaving RCR because you have these kids coming up that have no respect for what they do in this sport,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “Everything’s fed to them with a spoon…It’s a shame you’ve got to get taken out by some rich kid like that.”

Dillon insisted that Harvick kept chopping down to the low line in the final laps.

“I gave him a tap and he got sideways, and then he hit the brakes and tried to brake-check me in the corner,” he said. “The 88 [Matt Crafton] hit me and just finished [Harvick] off.”

Additionally, he too had some harsh words as well for Harvick.

“I’m pretty disappointed in the things that just went down,” he said. “I used to look up to that guy, but I guess he doesn’t understand the circumstances of what’s going on. It’s tough racing out there in [Turns] 1 and 2.

“I know we wrecked, but to tear a truck up after the race and act like a punk on pit road – to stop on my pit stall while my guys were coming out – that was ridiculous and for him to not stick around, that’s pretty sad, too.”

When the race resumed with five laps left, Wallace quickly pulled away from the field and went on to his breakthrough win. Brendan Gaughan finished second, followed by Jeb Burton, Ben Kennedy and Ryan Blaney.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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