How Darrell Wallace Jr. and Jeff Gordon are shaking up NASCAR

Looking back at the weekend’s motor racing, including NASCAR’s races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and NHRA drag racing at Las Vegas, five things come to mind:

Darrell Wallace Jr. will probably win another race soon. Wallace, 20, became only the second African American driver to win a NASCAR national series event with his victory Saturday in the truck race at Martinsville. Wallace already was highly touted before Martinsville, and the expectations weighed heavily on him. Now that he’s armed with the confidence of knowing he can reach Victory Lane, watch for Wallace to be gunning for a second win either in the three remaining truck races this year -- at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami -- or early next season.

It’s a good Chase, and Jeff Gordon is poised to make it better. Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are tied for the lead in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup but Gordon is third, 27 points back, after his win Sunday at Martinsville. Up next is the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval. Gordon made the Chase as a 13th driver by order of NASCAR Chairman Brian France after the race-manipulation shenanigans at Richmond. With a big day in Texas, the four-time champ could make the Chase a three-way nail-biter over the final two races at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.

Give Danica Patrick credit for a good run. Driving a backup car because she crashed her primary car in practice, Patrick drove a solid race in her No. 10 Chevrolet at Martinsville. After starting 41st, she climbed as high as 10th -- on a short track where it’s tough to pass -- before finishing 17th. That was 14 positions higher than another rookie in the field, Patrick’s boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 31st.


Give Kevin Harvick credit for apologizing. After a wreck with Ty Dillon at the Martinsville truck race, an emotional Harvick lashed out with personal insults against Dillon and his brother Austin, the grandsons of Richard Childress, who owns Harvick’s Cup team. Sure, Harvick knows he’s still driving for Childress until Harvick leaves for Stewart-Haas Racing next year, and no doubt Harvick quickly realized that his outburst was no way to finish this season with his current boss. Regardless, the 37-year-old Harvick was right to apologize the next morning, especially because Harvick -- fourth in the Chase, 28 points behind Kenseth and Johnson -- still has an outside shot at winning the Cup title for Childress.

There’s no understating John Force’s achievement. It’s not just that the drag-racing legend clinched an unprecedented 16th funny car title at age 64, it’s how he did it. Force poured it on when it most counted as the season neared its climax: His victory at Las Vegas on Sunday was his third consecutive win (and fourth overall this season). And don’t forget, Force hit 310 mph to defeat his daughter Courtney for the Las Vegas win -- again, at age 64. Afterward, Force was loquacious as always. “I am going to stay out here until I drop,” he said. “That will get a lot of exposure.”


Jeff Gordon earns first win of season at Martinsville


Darrell Wallace Jr. becomes second African American to win in NASCAR

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