Mike Wallace Super Sub

Mike Wallace has been in this position before. He might be wondering what it’s going to take to get him out of it.

Last year, Wallace took the place of the fired Jeremy Mayfield and gave the No. 12 Ford some its best runs of the season. This year, Wallace took the place of the fired Stacy Compton and has given the No. 14 Pontiac some of its best runs of the season.

There’s something to be said for being a good pinch-hitter, but you can be sure Wallace would rather be a starter, as it were. The No. 12 team was folded after last year, leaving Wallace without a full-time ride.

And what happens after the 2002 season? Will he stay in the No. 14? No one really knows yet.

Until then, Wallace will keep driving his guts out, trying to get A.J. Foyt Racing some more good finishes.

Lately, he’s done that.

In the first 21 races of the season, the No. 14 car didn’t get a sniff of the Top 10. Compton was let go after the July Pocono race, with Wallace getting the call the rest of the season – minus the road course at Watkins Glen, where P.J. Jones filled in.

Jones finished fourth in that race, and later Wallace was 10th at Bristol. Last Saturday at Richmond, Wallace snuck into the Top 10 but had to pit for fuel late in the race and finished a decent 12th.

Not gaudy numbers, for sure, but in the last five races, Jones and Foyt have scored the 19th-most points in Winston Cup. Keep in mind the team is now 38th in car owners points.

So while the team may struggle in bigger tracks, Wallace and crew chief Mike Hillman can at least keep up at short tracks. This weekend’s race is on the 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway, which technically makes it a superspeedway, but it behaves more like a short track.

That makes Wallace think he can carry the team’s momentum to NHIS.

“I think we can take it in there because of something Mike Hillman said to me when I first went to drive for A.J. Foyt Racing,” Wallace said. “Mike told me that they were a little bit behind on their speedway program because of some things they were lacking, but that anywhere they could race with shocks and springs – and where aero wasn’t as big of a factor – we would run good.

“He’s basically been right. We were able to run well at Bristol and we were able to run well at Richmond the other night.”

And they should run well at NHIS.

“I’ve run well there in the past – not so much in a Cup car – but I sat on the pole there for a truck race and finished second in a truck race a couple times there. As far as the race track goes, it’s just a big Martinsville to me the way I drive it. I’m looking forward to going there.

“I think our guys have gotten a vote of confidence the past few weeks. With P.J. running fourth at The Glen and myself running 10th at Bristol and 12th the other night – out of the last five races those really aren’t too bad of stats when you think about it. We’ve got a lot of momentum going right now.”

Not only has the car performed better, but the pit crew stepped up at Richmond, too.

“It was pretty cool last week and it may have gone somewhat unnoticed, but our guys stepped right up to the table,” Wallace said. “When we pitted at one point later on in the race with the leaders they had like a 14.6-second stop, which is really good and kept us right in the hunt. We hung with the leaders all night long, and I’m excited about that.

“I think we’ve kind of sparked interest in each other and desire in each other.”

Nothing like a good run to instill some confidence that may have been lagging in the team, is there?

“There is not enough that gets made of that and that is what makes a race team,” Wallace said. “This business is driven by desire and egos. That’s just a fact. Some have big egos, some have little ones and some just have moderate ones. When the guys that work on these race cars go hang out with their buddies from another team they want to be able to say, ‘Hey man, we ran good the other night. Did you see us?’

“It’s very important. For that reason, I think you’ll see this team continue to respond to a higher level. I think we’ll continue to be good at the short tracks and continue to try to improve at the bigger race tracks. After the way we’ve run at Bristol and Richmond, I’m going to Loudon thinking there is no reason we can’t run in the Top 5, and in the right situation, pull off a win.”

Wallace will drive the Richmond car at New Hampshire, with Hillman hoping to get better in qualifying with the car.

“I’ve talked to Mike about how we can improve our qualifying so we don’t have to give up so much in the first 100 miles of the race,” Hillman said. “It’s tough to come from the back the way he did, so we’re focusing even harder on that aspect of the weekend. We were able to get the car dialed in for him during the race – the Conseco Pontiac was at its best in the last 100 miles of that race. We were running the same lap times as the leader. The crew did a great job on pit stops too.

“It’s a matter of success building upon success. We’ve got some momentum going, so I’m looking forward to having our best weekend yet.”

So while many drivers may dread the prospect of returning to the difficult New Hampshire track with its asphalt problems, Wallace is looking forward to it. That’s the best way to deal with it, he said.

“Going in there with a positive attitude and not hating the place,” Wallace said. Don’t whine about it. Just learn how to run with it. The end result is this: it’s proven that no race track is going to get together with a group of drivers and ask them what they should build to build a nice race track. It never has happened, it’s not going to happen, for whatever reason. They hire engineers and let them build it, and we’ve got to race on it.

“We’ve been racing Loudon almost 10 years now. I remember when everybody first went there. Everybody was raving about the place – loved it. Well, the only thing that has changed in that period of years is the tires that we run.

“I think you’ve just got to go there with a positive attitude and know that you’re good enough to sit on the pole and win the race. If I have that day, then I’ll do that. If I don’t, I’ll finish wherever I finish. That’s how I’m going in there. I know I can run well there because I have run well there before, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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