Sunday, September 16, 2012

Blaney, Wallace Making A Name
For Themselves At The National Level

By Travis Barrett, Special to NASCAR Home Tracks
September 14, 2012 - 5:00pm

Darrell Wallace Jr. has finished top-10 in each of his first three Nationwide Series starts
With sudden ascension of drivers like Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Blaney to national series success, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is living up to its billing as a top feeder ground for the upper reaches of NASCAR. Both Wallace and Blaney have turned success at the development series level into not only starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – but into impressive runs garnering attention beyond the touring ranks.

Both made trips to Iowa Speedway in early August that translated into Top-10 finishes in a Nationwide Series race.

“I only told a few people this, but when I'm racing against Ryan, to me finishing better than seventh means finishing better than Blaney,” Wallace said. “Winning at Dover last year was pretty big, and also making a step into a Nationwide car and finishing ninth (in my debut). That was a pretty big deal – but I was a little frustrated, because Blaney finished seventh.”

With the rising stars of the sport competing against one another regularly in the K&N Pro Series, they have already begun to measure themselves – and their future prospects – against one another.
Blaney, 18, has started just four K&N Pro Series races this season, posting a pair of runner-up finishes, though his career has taken off this summer. Where Wallace's track has taken a larger arc toward the national series, Blaney's has been a bit of a meteoric rise.

The son of noted World of Outlaws and Sprint Cup Series driver Dave Blaney had a partial Nationwide Series schedule with Tommy Baldwin Racing to start the season, and recently inked a deal with Penske Racing to run in the Nationwide cars for a handful of races. He’s also competing part time in the Camping World Truck Series.

“I think it's right on schedule. Maybe it's a little bit ahead of time for what we thought, but we were fortunate to get where we're at right now,” said Blaney, who has two Truck starts this season with a sixth-place finish at Bristol and an 11th-place run at Atlanta. “I think it's going right as planned right now... You have to try to get in there as young as you can and learn as much as you can early.”

Blaney's performance has earned him three-differernt rides at the national series level this year. Getty Images for NASCAR

Though Blaney hasn't had as much experience in the K&N Pro Series as Wallace or point leader Brett Moffitt has, he has noticed how much there is to be gained from competing there.

“It's a really good series,” he said. “It teaches you about heavier cars and gets you on some bigger race tracks. It's a really good feeder series to get into the Trucks or the Nationwide cars.

“It's a great series to get started in.”

Wallace burst onto the K&N Pro Series scene as a rookie in 2010 – as a 16-year-old out of the Drive For Diversity program – and finished second in the final series standings that season. He followed that by winning three of 12 races in 2011, plus three pole awards, and now competes this season under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner after originally signing there in 2009.

While the on-track results haven't set the world on fire in the JGR Toyotas after the team won the 2011 series championship with Max Gresham, the development process away from the track has been instrumental in getting Wallace's career to the next level.

“Missing everything in school you wanted to go to. When I was just starting out, there were parties and football games I wanted to go to, and my dad would say, 'No,'” said Wallace, who just signed a contract extension with JGR. “Now, I don't regret missing out on those things. That's what you've got to have. You've got to make a lot of sacrifices and miss out on a lot of things, but you've got to look down the long road. It all pays out.”

Wallace has made three NASCAR Nationwide starts in his career, all of them this year, and has yet to finish outside the Top-10. He finished a career-best seventh at Iowa Speedway in August.

Those who haven't yet made their national series debuts – like 15-year-old Chase Elliott, who is prohibited by a minimum age requirement – has taken notice of what his competition is doing.

“When I look up on Saturday nights and see guys like Darrell and Ryan Blaney, buddies of mine that I race against in the (K&N) Series, being extremely competitive in the Nationwide Series, that's definitely a confidence booster in itself,” Elliott said. “To know that we go out and race on Friday and Saturday nights, short-track racing, and have a good time with it and do the best we can – then to see those guys have success in the Nationwide Series, that's pretty cool to watch.”

For both Blaney and Wallace, the pressure is not eased by simply having made inroads into NASCAR's national series.

Blaney, in particular, carries scrutiny simply because of his surname.

“I think that's an added bonus,” Blaney said. “My dad and the Blaney name is known, obviously, and it's opened some bridges up. It's definitely helped out. The name is just a bonus.

“Even though I have to carry it around, at the same time, I've still got to prove that Ryan Blaney can do it. I've got to prove that I can do this – when it gets to that point, a name can only mean so much.”
Like the “Next 9,” which could soon be replaced by the “9 Now.”

“They picked these nine guys for a reason, because they're the most promising in K&N Series now,” Blaney said. “There's definitely a good possibility that we'll all be up there (in the national series). For sure, there's a good possibility that at least half of us will be.

“Hopefully it's all nine of us and everybody knows our name in the bigger series someday. These guys are good – they're really good racers, and they're smart, too. It's a really good group of racers.”

Blaney and Wallace know what it takes to win at national series tracks, having K&N Pro Series victories at Phoenix and Dover to their credit. Getty Images for NASCAR

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