Busy weekend ahead for Gateway's hometown hero Mike Wallace

Updated: July 15, 2008

AP Photo/Tom Gannam

Mike Wallace plays with brothers Kenny, left, and Rusty during a Gateway grandstand dedication in '05.

With a pair of wins at Daytona on his résumé, Mike Wallace knows what it's like to conquer NASCAR's highest peaks. Still, winning Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., would be every bit as meaningful.

Just outside St. Louis, the 1.25-mile oval is Wallace's hometown track, and finally reaching Victory Lane there this year would be a huge highlight for the driver of the Germain Racing Toyota. Getting there in time for practice will be half the fun.

Wallace will be throwing out the first pitch before the St. Louis Cardinals' game Thursday, and on Friday, he'll be racing at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill.

Brother Kenny and nephew Steve Wallace will be among the NASCAR drivers in action at the dirt track where Mike won a number of times early in his career.

A brewery tour and a visit to the Gateway Arch are also on his schedule, but Saturday's Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 is still his focus.

"I ran second there [in 2005] driving for Evernham [Motorsports] and it was really rewarding," Wallace said. "The biggest thing is wanting to win that race. The track was nice enough to our family to run a race in our families' name and put our name on the grandstands there in Turns 1 and 2, the Wallace Family Grandstands.

"I think anybody that is from a hometown where there's a racetrack, to win a race there is huge because we have a lot of people we used to go to school with many, many years ago and followed our careers and it would be a special place to win. No one in our family has been able to win there; I've come the closest, finishing second."

Eighth in driver points and 11th in owners points, Wallace hasn't had a bad season in his first year with Germain Racing. He'd give the team a B to a B-minus if he were to assess a grade, saying a team has to win to merit an A in his eyes.

"We just need to finish better," Wallace said. "We've got our performance to where our cars are driving the way I like them to drive, and we're working to get our pit stop stuff squared away.

"You hear a lot of people always say this, but I don't know if it will happen, but we're going to [try to use] the second half of the season to excel."

And a strong finish at his hometown track would be the perfect place to start as far as Wallace is concerned.

New Crew Chief for KHI

Rick Ren served as Kevin Harvick's crew chief on the Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 33 entry at Chicagoland, but Ren's commitment is in trying to defend his Craftsman Truck Series title with KHI driver Ron Hornaday Jr.

Ren was replacing Wally Rogers, whom Harvick let go in his search of more consistency within the team.

With Ren and Hornaday at Kentucky Speedway this weekend, Jason Meeks will make the decisions for driver Cale Gale.

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN. He can be reached at mark.ashenfelter@espn.com.

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The best way to keep a sponsor is by delivering on and off the track, and there's no question that after several lean years, the U.S. Navy was getting the results it hoped for by sponsoring the No. 88 Chevrolet owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sometimes, though, sponsorships go away for reasons not related to performance.

The Navy has decided to focus its recruiting efforts elsewhere starting next year, meaning Brad Keselowski's team needs a sponsor for 2009.

"It is part of the business," Earnhardt said. "We are having a good year. We will focus on the rest of the season, trying to do as good as we can. We have a great shot at the championship; it would be great to win the championship with them.

"I can't do the Nationwide team without them giving me the money that they gave me for the last several years. Without them, I am not where I am today at JR Motorsports. Everything changes; all good things come to an end. We are at the end of the road with this deal." 

Earnhardt said the fact his Sprint Cup Series effort is backed, in part, by the National Guard played no role in the Navy's decision. All sponsorship deals by branches of the military have to be renewed yearly, and this is when Navy chose a new direction.

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"… They are a huge part of the company's history regardless of where it goes from here. We will entertain discussing our options with new sponsors and potential sponsors as soon as we can, but also want to show a lot of respect for the Navy and what they have done for us."

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