RICHMOND, Va. – First, you have to rewind to the 2010 season finale at Dover International Speedway in October.
Darrell Wallace Jr. had seen his championship hopes crumble in a disastrous stretch of races to close out the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season. Sergio Pena had done so little that there were whispers in the Dover garage that day that he might not have a ride for this season. Michael Cherry had been promoted from the Late Model ranks to fill a vastly under-performing seat. Ryan Gifford's results never seemed to match his Richard Childress Racing bloodlines.
Yet 2011 has dawned, and Revolution Racing is positioned as one of the series' powerhouse teams – right there alongside Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
With Wallace's emphatic victory in the Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway on Thursday night, he handed Revolution its second win through the first three races of the year. Wallace took over the points lead, just in front of Pena, who collected his first career win two weeks ago at South Boston.
As the series has made the quarter-pole, three of the team's four drivers finished inside the Top-9 at Richmond – the lone exception being Gifford, who was challenging for a Top-5 spot when he spun late in the event.
"I think that we have an awesome organization," said team owner Max Siegel. "Everybody that works on these cars works really hard. There's a lot of chemistry. The drivers are working together. I'm just really excited with where we are. We've got great equipment, and I see the growth of the drivers every week."
Wallace is the lone Revolution Racing driver with multiple career wins, having won twice on short tracks last season. He was fast, too, at the Toyota All-Star Showdown in January, and Thursday night might simply have served notice that Wallace is more than a Drive For Diversity participant whose career will be defined by short-track racing.
Where Drive For Diversity was roundly criticized in its infancy – in the pre-Revolution Racing days – as just a clever way for NASCAR to appear as if it cared about encouraging the participation of minorities and women in the sport, the 17-year-old Wallace has been heralded as the D4D's best shot at finally cracking NASCAR's national series.
As a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver, Wallace has the natural ability, a cockiness that's just as unquestioned and charisma that fans will soak up as the stage grows bigger and the lights shine brighter.
"I think we've got a few drivers like that," Siegel points out. "I think they all are committed to racing excellence. I'm excited about all four of our K&N Pro Series drivers."
Wallace believes that this year has been about both experience and a slightly different approach in getting Revolution Racing the results it was lacking in its freshman season.
"I'd say it's kind of both," Wallace said. "It's definitely a lot better than last year. Last year, we tore up a bunch of race cars in the process. Now we're bringing them home in one piece – definitely not on the tow truck or anything. We've got a good set of drivers.
"We're trying to make a name for ourselves, and I think we're doing that so far. We've just got to stay with it and be there at the end of the season... and hopefully go 1-2-3-4 in the points."
Even after finishing ninth at Richmond and watching Wallace slip by him atop the standings, Pena could hardly contain his excitement about the differences in 2011. After a debut that had him finish second to Joey Logano in the 2010 Toyota All-Star Showdown, Pena struggled virtually all season in the East.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat things, it was bad," Pena said. "I spent a lot of time during the (offseason) break trying to figure out what I did wrong and seeing where I messed things up. But I'm just trying to transition all of the good things over from last year, and hopefully it will go good."
One of the changes for Pena, aside from his confidence level, is a new crew chief. Vermont native Matt Goslant is now calling the shots after leading Eric Holmes to his third career K&N Pro Series West total in 2010.
"I think any of us have a good shot at (the series championship)," Pena said. "It just proves after two races I was leading the championship. I couldn't believe it – I still can't believe I was leading the championship. Still, we're sitting in a good spot and we have a good chance to pounce back if somebody were to mess up... Not just me, but Darrell, Ryan and Michael, all four of us have a good shot at it."