By claiming the victory, Wallace Jr., who turned 20 on October 8 became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR national touring series event since Wendell Scott won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) on December 1, 1963 in Jacksonville, Fla., a span of five decades.
After winning back-to-back poles on Friday afternoon pole sitter Denny Hamlin led the field to green in the 15th annual Kroger 200, but ThorSport Racing’s Johnny Sauter picked up right where he left off by taking the lead on lap one, until the NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate Wallace Jr. took the top spot for the first time of the afternoon Lap nine.
The Mobile, Ala. native led for 31 Laps before Hamlin assumed control of the top spot on Lap 41 and led until the caution flag waived on Lap 70 when Ryan Blaney spun in Turn 4. Under the yellow, much of the field elected to pit with Hamlin driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports winning the race off pit road.
Racing resumed with Hamlin at the point until Lap 106 when Wallace Jr. fought his way back to the lead only to be punted 15 laps later by Ross Chastain.
When championship pursuer James Buescher spun in Turn 2, a majority of the field pitted with the exception of Brad Keselowski Racing’s duo of Chastain and Ryan Blaney. On older tires, Chastain became the sitting duck on the restart and quickly was swallowed by Ty Dillon on Lap 135.
Wallace took the lead for the third and final time of the day on Lap 151 and never relinquished, taking the checkered flag in his 19th career start holding off Brendan Gaughan and Jeb Burton to collect Toyota’s 11th NCWTS win of the season and fifth of the year for KBM.
“This (win) means everything,” said a jubilant Wallace Jr. “This is an emotional win for me, especially doing it in Wendell Scott’s backyard. I love coming here to Martinsville, it’s always good to me. It finally paid off. I think it’s my third trip here. I love coming here, the fans are great here and we always put on great races here. I had to do some muscling there at the end and get around Ty (Dillon) and keep away from (Kevin) Harvick, so we dodged a few bullets in the race and this is awesome. This is good for not only myself and the team, (but for) Kyle, Samantha, Jerry (Baxter, crew chief), Toyota, everyone involved this is big.
“I had so much confidence coming into this race, and I told my guys that I did, and I told everybody that asked if I was going to win I said, ‘Hell yeah’ every time. So, it was, ‘No, maybe we’re going to try,’ this one was, ‘For sure,’ and we capitalized. This means a lot.”
Gaughan, who recorded his second runner-up finish of the year offered, “I always give Clay Campbell (Martinsville Speedway president) a hard time by saying I hate Martinsville, but the truth is I’m gonna miss Martinsville.”
“Going to Nationwide next year, Martinsville isn’t on the schedule. The South Point Chevy was good enough to be fifth … sixth … seventh maybe tonight. We were solid, we got to seventh and we were good enough to be pass one or two more. When that wreck happened Stevie Reeves, my spotter did a great job. I saw just enough of it to hook dead left and got by it and it put me third on the restart. Darrell Wallace had a fantastic restart, I tried to play a little bit of game (with him), cause I was coming. The old guy (got) sandwiched in the middle, I’ll take it.”
While the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver was celebrating his triumph, tempers were still flaring in the garage following a Lap 189 tangle between second and third place runners Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon. A bump from Dillon in Turn 2 sent Harvick, making a rare start for NTS Motorsports around and subsequently collecting point’s leader Matt Crafton and Chase Elliott. Harvick and Dillon entered pit road before Harvick stopped in Dillon’s pit stall to voice his displeasure.
From there, chaos ensued as crew members for the Richard Childress Racing stables fired back with words of frustration and also what seemed as a sledge hammer was thrown at the No. 14 Anderson’s Maple Syrup Chevrolet Silverado. Harvick would pull his machine behind the wall and be done for the day, while Dillon continued on to finish 22nd.
Harvick immediately sounded off on the incident by saying, “The 3 just dumped me. Exactly the reason why I’m leaving RCR because you’ve got those kids coming up and they’ve got no respect for what they do in this sport and they’ve had everything fed to them with a spoon. So, I cut him slack all day and, you know, he just dive-bombs me in there, dumps me. I’ve got to thank all these Anderson Syrup guys for everything that they do. It’s a shame you’ve got to get taken out by some rich kid like that.”
Harvick placed 30th.
Following the race, Dillon reacted. “He got sideways and then he hit the brakes and tried to brake-check me … just finished him off. So, I can’t believe that happened. That stunk – the wreck part – but to tear up a truck after the race and totally take us out of the race and not to stick around after the race and walk off and not even want to say anything to me. I’m sure he’s tweeting something now about it. So, can’t even face me after. I’m pretty disappointed in the things that just went down. I used to look up to that guy but I guess he doesn’t understand the circumstances of what’s going on. I understand it’s tough racing down there in (turns) one and two at Martinsville. I know we wrecked, but to tear up a truck after the race and act like a punk on the track and on pit road and stop on pit road on my pit stall when my guys were coming out, that was pretty ridiculous. I’m not happy with him. And for him not to stick around, that’s pretty sad, too.”
Ben Kennedy in just his fourth NCWTS race for Turner Scott Motorsports finished fourth with Ryan Blaney recovering from an early race spin to finish fifth.
Denny Hamlin, the pole sitter recovered from a spin to bounce back to sixth, German Quiroga Jr. was seventh, Talladega winner Johnny Sauter eighth, Scott Riggs ninth and James Buescher comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Wallace, who remains a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing is just the fourth African-American to drive full time in one of NASCAR’s top three national series, joining Scott, Bill Lester and Willy T. Ribbs.
Matt Crafton holds a firm 51-point lead on James Buescher entering the final stretch. Dillon is third (-61), Burton fourth (-68) and Sauter in fifth (-82).
Just three races remain on the 2013 NCWTS calendar. Next up is a return trip to the Lone Star State for some Friday night racing. The WinStar World Casino 350K is set for November 1, 2013 with live coverage on FOXSports 1, the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (Channel 90).