Kenny Wallace hoping to impress hometown crowd

Kenny Wallace can't wait to get to Gateway International Raceway, just outside of St. Louis. Not only will Wallace be at home, but he'll be starting the type of racing weekend he hasn't enjoyed all season.

The Nextel Cup schedule has been a grind, as he's struggled to make races with Furniture Row Racing, a relatively new team still working to find its footing. Outside the top 35 in owners' points, Wallace needs to make each race on speed, and that's been a hit-or-miss proposition.

It wears on you, because I want to race so bad. But I believe in the Furniture Row team. We've got a lot of good things coming down the pipeline.

Kenny Wallace

As part of his commitment to that program, Wallace agreed to focus strictly on Cup unless he received permission to run in the Busch Series. He jumped into a Team Rensi Ford at California Speedway in February, but only because scheduled driver David Gilliland wasn't feeling well.

Other than that, he's been just in his Cup car and on many occasions that meant his weekend was over after Cup qualifying on Friday. That wouldn't have been fun under any circumstance, but especially when TV commitments kept him at the track until after the race on Sunday.

Sitting around and talking about watching others racing isn't exactly a lot of fun for the high-strung Wallace. So with no Cup race this weekend, Wallace is free to drive at Gateway without any other responsibilities.

Not only that, but he'll be in Richard Childress Racing's No. 2 car, working with a team that's won twice with Clint Bowyer behind the wheel. Wallace got the ride after telling Childress that he wanted to drive one of his cars at Gateway.

Lo and behold, sponsorship came together and a deal got done. And Wallace can't stop smiling while talking about the opportunity.

"I'm so excited to go there, my full expectations are to contend to win because the car's got such a great track record," Wallace said. "I've told my friends if I don't win, I'll be disappointed. But I guess, in reality, a really strong top-three finish would make me happy."

After making just two of the first six Cup races, Wallace made six consecutive starts before failing to qualify for five straight races. He made the show for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, but wasn't close to making the field last week at Chicago.

"It wears on you, because I want to race so bad," Wallace said. "But I believe in the Furniture Row team. We've got a lot of good things coming down the pipeline. I just hope we get it all together during my time. I'll be 44 in August and I tease the team, 'For the kid that drives the Furniture Row car, four years down the road, that guy better appreciate everything I went through helping build this team.

"It hurts a lot not being able to run the Busch car, especially when you don't make the Cup race."

Wallace ran his dirt car around St. Louis earlier in the week, but his focus will be strictly on the Busch car once practice gets under way on Friday.

"I have to show up as if I'm racing at Charlotte, or I'm racing at Pocono," Wallace said. "If I try to build it up as something bigger, then you know it is and it changes the way you approach the race.

"I'm going to go to Gateway like I'm going to have a really fast race car and I'm going to have a chance to sit on the pole and win the race. When I get there, it's going to be all business. My family will be there, but I won't let it [be my focus[ until it's all over."

It'll be a Wallace family reunion of sorts as brother Mike and nephew Stephen will be in the field and older brother Rusty will be in the broadcast booth.

"If I said that this race was just another race, I'd be lying," Stephen Wallace said. "There's definitely something special about racing in St. Louis, where my dad and uncles really cut their teeth and learned how to race."

If a Wallace is going to win, he'll likely have to deal with points leader Carl Edwards, a Missouri native himself.

"Gateway International Raceway is a very unique and fun track. There is no other track like it," Edwards said. "It has a long straightaway and Turn 4 is a blast. I consider it my home track and I will have a lot of friends and family there and I want to give them a great show.

"We had a great win there last year and this year is going to be awesome. The Nextel Cup Series is off this weekend so I can focus all my efforts on the Busch Series."

So can Kenny Wallace, and he couldn't be happier.

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.