OXFORD —  Before his first qualifying heat, with plenty of distance to make up, Steven Wallace was already making his father nervous.

The 21-year old son of former Nextel Cup champion Rusty Wallace had the 11th spot in the fourth heat race and had his work ahead of him to qualify Sunday for the TD Banknorth 250.

“I’m going to keep my eyes closed,” said Rusty Wallace, sitting in the announcers booth for the heat race. “He drives pretty hard.”

Steven is the younger of the three Wallaces appearing at Oxford Plans Speedway, but he might have the brightest future. He’s already earned multiple poles and top-five finishes on the NASCAR Nationwide Series and may be just a year away from making a name for himself.

His father says that Steven is in the midst of his “investment years” and success in the ARCA competition and a victory in the first-ever Late Model stock-car race at Bristol Motor Speedway are helping set the table.

“He’s progressing,” said Rusty Wallace. “I tell people that, in my mind, it takes three years for a driver to get his feet on the ground and really understand what he’s getting himself into.”

Steven Wallace rushed to Maine early Sunday after a late night in St. Louis. He was knocked out of the Nationwide Series race and got himself into a little trouble along the way. He was penalized a lap for an obscene hand gesture he flashed to Scot Legasse Jr. on lap 84. Legasse slid up into Wallace.

“We got wrecked and that was it,” said Steven Wallace, who made no headway Sunday in any of his heat races and had to settle for a provisional and the 43rd spot in the starting field. He finished 21st, three laps down. “It was a rough night.”

It can be those kind of experiences that may help the younger Wallace prepare himself for the future.

“It was a disappointing night last night,” Rusty Wallace said. “He ran so good. We were watching his times. He was easily top five in the speeds. He was rocking it through the field.”

Steven arrived early Sunday morning and was on the track soon after 9 a.m. He was still weary and still disappointed from his outing the night before.

“It wasn’t easy last night,” he said. “We flew 2,000 miles. We got out of the race car in St. Louis at 12:30 and got here at 5:30 in the morning. We slept an hour-and-a-half last night. I’m pretty damn tired. I’d like to get this thing here done and get out of here and go home.”

His outing Sunday was hampered by car problems. During his morning practice sessions, he discovered his car was running a bit loose and he was struggling to adjust the setup of his ride. His ride was supplied by Kendall Roberts, who owns the
No. 26 ride driven by ACT veteran John Donahue of Graniteville,

“My car hasn’t been handling very well,” he said. “We’re going to put my teammate’s set up in it. He seems to be really happy with his. My car has been real loose and real tight in the center. It wasn’t handling that good.”

If Steven was hoping for some advice from his father or uncle, he wasn’t getting much help. Both told him they couldn’t recall all that much from their racing experiences at the track to truly be helpful.

“It’s a circle,” said Steven. “It’s definitely not like any track that I’ve ever been racing besides something like Bristol.”

Steven won the Snowball Derby, a short track race in Florida in 2004 when he was 17, but Wallace said that was a very different experience than racing at OPS.

“The cars are very different,” he said. “These cars, they run on these small little tires and they hardly have any motors.”

Steven is in the middle of his third year racing at this level, but may remain where he is for now and hope for a bright future at higher levels.

“He’ll run Nationwide next year,” Rusty Wallace said. “Even though I said three years is the deal, we don’t have the finances together for him to run in the Cup. I think one more year will really assure him of setting himself up.”

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