FORT WORTH, Texas – Despite a tough start to the year for the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, the Bowtie Brigade had several reasons to smile after Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Jamie McMurray led the way for the manufacturer with a third-place finish for Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet, but it was a pair of rookies in Darrell Wallace Jr. and William Byron who survived the chaos of the day to impress and notch top-10s in their Texas Cup Series debuts.
Wallace qualified 15th and ran in the middle of the pack for much of the day, but stayed out longer than most of the leaders during the final green-flag pit cycle and was running third when Ryan Newman lost a right-front tire with 31 laps to go and slammed the outside wall entering turn one.
Having caught the caution he needed, Wallace was able to line up fourth on fresher tires for the final restart of the day with 23 laps left. Despite a bit of a stumble when the green flag waved, Wallace was able to gather up his No. 43 Click ‘n Close Chevrolet and hold on to the eighth position at the finish.
Wallace said after the race, amid a rush of excitement, that he was fighting the handling of his car during the closing stint but was motivated to hang on to the finish.
“Hell yeah, we needed that (finish)!” Wallace exclaimed. “Last week was a good week off for us to regroup and we came out strong today. The guys did a hell of a job all weekend long. I thought we had pretty decent speed, and a lot of guys in the garage told us, ‘Yeah, your car’s pretty good.’ That always feels good and my job was not to mess it up today.
“I had a couple opportunities to screw things up, especially coming down there for our first stop early in the race, but our Click ‘n Close Chevrolet was pretty decent. Drew did a great job with the pit strategy, and making that last call to get us some track position and out there into fourth really helped. I don’t know if we were out there on the splitter on that last run, but the car just wouldn’t turn and we gave up a few spots. I’m beating myself up over that one, but still, walking away with my first top-10 finish on a non-plate track feels really good.”
A highlight for Wallace was his battle during the middle stages of the race with eventual runner-up Kevin Harvick, where the two battled for the free pass to get back onto the lead lap.
“We’ll see if I get a text from him later, but I think he knew the circumstances there. He knew I wanted that lucky dog more than him and I think we ended up both getting it – I don’t know how!” noted Wallace. “That was fun, though. That battle shows how much speed we had in our car, but it also shows how the racing is here at Texas because it’s so hard to pass.”