Rumors Push Wallace Out

Kenny Wallace knows how the rumor mill works in NASCAR and in some media outlets, and he doesn’t like it one bit. He says he found out firsthand how irresponsible chatter and unfounded reports can affect someone’s livelihood.

Wallace says such rumors and reports were a big reason he left the Andy Petree Racing team to take a ride at Eel River Racing with crew chief Barry Dodson for the 2001 Winston Cup campaign.

Wallace says he had absolutely no intention of leaving the Petree fold, but that all he kept hearing was that he might be saying farewell to the team.

Worse, Wallace notes, is his team kept hearing the rumors and didn’t think they were working with a driver that was going to stick around.

"What prompted the move was damage that was not repairable," Wallace explains of the rumors. "Things started about the time of the first Pocono race and I approached Andy about some things that I’d heard. And he had promised me that everything was fine. But every week I kept getting asked by the guys on my team, 'Are you leaving? Are you leaving?' And I went up to the shop and had a team meeting and told them everything that had been going on. I made a special trip to the shop and took the guys out to lunch to finally put the fire out.

"Then a couple of weeks later, it’s the same thing again. Plus we were running badly on top of that. I just felt like it was a no-win situation. And I predicted once I announced I was leaving, things would get better, and my prediction was right.

"It all comes down to chemistry. If people would just say, 'This is our team, now let’s go racing.' There’s just always these damn deals going on, it was a constant cloud of controversy with them thinking I was leaving. That’s all I heard. Like I said, I went to the shop, but it would just not end."

But it did end when Wallace finally got tired of answering the same questions every week. Finally, he says, it just reached the point to where he thought the rumors were taking away from the team’s on-track focus.

"The rumor came out of the clear blue that I was leaving the team, and I was not leaving," Wallace says. "Then it just got out of hand. It got to be pretty much where it couldn’t be repaired. I just feel bad for my crew guys that it didn’t work out because we like each other a lot, and it’s kind of strange to be leaving the team because we all do get along so well. But I had to make a decision."

After careful thought, Wallace decided his best move would be to go with the Eel River team and the chance to work with Dodson, a long-time friend of the family. Dodson was the crew chief for Rusty Wallace at Blue Max Racing when the team won the Winston Cup championship in 1989.

On top of all the rumors, and perhaps making the situation with Petree even worse, was the fact the team was having a miserable year.

"When you get outside the Top 10 or Top 15 in the points, man, it’s just constant chaos," explains Wallace, who finished 26th in the points standings with only one Top 10. "People are always trying to find that chemistry. The best in the business are always trying to find that right deal. I wish this deal here would have worked out, but I’m real excited about next year with the chance to work with Barry Dodson at Eel River. All you can do is to keep trying to put the right things together, and things weren’t going good with me.

"My big brother Rusty played a big part in me going to the 27 car because he thought it would be a good deal for me. Rusty likes and cares a lot about Barry just like I do. I want this to be my last Winston Cup ride, I can tell you that."

Wallace is quick to say that while those that spread gossip are usually way off base, it’s something that will probably never cease. He realizes some people just aren’t responsible or professional, and he can’t stand having to deal with it.

"It pisses me off... and I’m tired of it," Wallace says. “In one sense, I love racing - driving the cars and the competition, just trying to do well. But like the 'National Enquirer' part of NASCAR where crap just gets distorted and stirred up - it’s all just, 'He said, she said, I heard.'"

Wallace's only top-10 finish all year long was a second-place effort to Dale Earnhardt in October at Talladega. He expected much more.

"It’s been one of those seasons that we didn’t see coming," Wallace says. "Last year when we were a new team, from the second half of the season on, we were really, really competitive - always in the Top 15. But then we started off this year a little slow in the first four or five races. We ended up with a good finish in the spring at Martinsville, and then had a good finish at Talladega, so we were rolling and we thought it would keep on going. We started the year off with high hopes, but I just don’t know what we were missing, we couldn’t get things going.

"Somebody said it best after we finished second at Talladega, 'This doesn’t seem like this team’s first Top 10 of the year because we have been so much better than that.' We were one of those good teams where it’s just wasn't our year. And it’s nothing real devastating that happened, it’s just we didn't fulfill our goals. We took one step forward and then three steps back. Every time we had a good run going we had motor problems or something like that."

With things not going well, Wallace says, having crew members reading and hearing rumors every day made it difficult for them to totally believe him. It made it difficult for them to pull together and produce the runs needed.

"It was real frustrating," Wallace says. "The frustrating part about it is - in this sport - it’s all about putting numbers on the board. That’s just the bottom line. When you have 43 cars, there are just going to be some frustrated drivers because there are 33 of them that don’t finish in the Top 10. I don’t mind having bad runs as long as we’re running, but when you have the problems we have had..."

Wallace is a likeable, easy-going and hard-working guy who has one goal he devotes his life to: Winning a Winston Cup race.

Just once, that’s all he asks.

"Man, let me tell you something. And this is the honest-to-God truth," Wallace says, going from a kicked-back position inside his motor-home to straight upright. "I don’t need to win a championship, even though I would love to win one. What I do need to fulfill my heart is a Winston Cup win - just one. I’ll start with one.

"The reason I need a Winston Cup win is because I’ve won at everything that I’ve ever done, from BMX bicycles to go-karts to the Busch Series. The only thing left for me is to get a win in the Winston Cup Series.

"That’s all I want - a win. The rest will come."

Eel River will be the third Winston Cup team Wallace has driven for as he nears his sixth year at NASCAR’s top level, and he obviously couldn’t be more excited about it. But the one thing Eel River doesn’t have for Wallace and the team, just yet, is a sponsor.

"We’re going about our business preparing for 2001 as if we have signed an agreement with a primary sponsor," says team owner Jack Birmingham. "The pressure is on, but we're not abandoning our efforts. I have no doubt that Eel River Racing is the best team available for primary sponsorship for 2001, and I'm confident that we'll have a corporate partner when we head to Daytona in February."

Dodson agrees that sponsorship is a must.

"Without a doubt, the offseason is the hardest working time of the year," Dodson says. "I guess the most important thing at this stage is determining how to paint the cars. A lot of people assume that with Kenny coming over we must have a sponsor, but that we just haven't announced the agreement. That's not the case - we’re aggressively searching for sponsorship. That's our main priority right now."

Once the sponsorship is secured and the team begins to jell, maybe then Wallace will get the chance to accomplish his dream of winning a Winston Cup race.

And if that happens, perhaps for at least one day, those in the business of spreading rumors will stay clear of him.

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