Felix Sabates vs. Kenny Wallace In NASCAR Radio War
Sometimes the most entertaining thing in the world is to simply sit back and watch two other people go at it. It's the reason why many of us would stand around and watch a fight back in high school. It's the same voyeuristic tendency that made reality TV a staple of modern network programming. In NASCAR, it's the genesis behind the, “Boys, have at it,” strategy of having the drivers police their own on the racetrack. But what do you do when one or both parties involved in the dispute are on the track?
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Such is the dilemma between Kenny Wallace and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates. On Friday afternoon, Wallace joined SiriusXM's NASCAR radio channel to offer a few thoughts on EGR's move to put a young, inexperienced driver in Kyle Larson in the #42 Sprint Cup car for next year. Wallace, who drove for Sabates at the Cup level briefly in 1991 and again for most of the 1993 season, was less than complimentary of Larson's chances.
- “I think that it will be a successful season for Kyle Larson if he finishes 20th in the points. I definitely expect Kyle Larson to finish 20-25th in the points and here's why...you know the way I do things. I do run my mouth but i always tell you why... he hasn't even won a damn Nationwide race yet. He's good ok, but I think he's way better than the Nationwide cars he's driving. Now, when you go back in history and you look at Jimmie Johnson he barely squeaked one Nationwide win out... barely and it was over Ryan Newman at Chicagoland or Kansas. So I truly believe that Kyle Larson is good. But in my opinion there is no driver in the sport that can take a junky car and do good with it.”
Wallace also had a few harsh words for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing operation as a whole. With NASCAR's silly season fully underway, a number of talented veteran drivers had their names mentioned in connection with the opening in EGR's #42. Yet Wallace does not believe that the ride was that much of a prize for whomever EGR picked for 2014.
- “Let's talk about this. It's hardly a top 15 car, I mean let's be honest I'm not being mean here; let's look at Juan Pablo, let's look at Jaime McMurray, let's give them all the benefit of the doubt. They are hardly top 15 cars as it is. So to say hey, can you contend for a win? ...hell, they hardly contend for wins. There's a theory that this is a top notch cup team, well it's not. Yes it contends every once in a while but I wouldn't put Ganassi in the same batch as you know Hendrick and Penske and Roush they're just not. They don't even build their own motors. So that's just my opinion, sorry.”
That didn't sit too well with Felix Sabates, who was listening to the Sirius program at the time and couldn't wait to fire back. He called into Claire B. Lang's program on the network and let Wallace have it with both barrels, wasting no time reminding the audience that he'd fired Wallace years ago and going after Kenny's expertise.
- “He (Kenny Wallace) starts running his mouth. A person that is in the media has no right to do things like that because of vendetta, because I fired him. He has held a grudge against me for 20 years. Every time he gets a chance to take a shot at us, he takes a shot. First he showed how ignorant he is because very few people build their own engines... to try to make us look bad. He said that we were not going to be a competitive team, lucky to be 20th place. This idiot forgets we won Daytona, Brickyard, four times in Charlotte. Yeah we struggled, people struggled. but he wants to take a cheap shot like that and keep doing it.”
But Sabates was just getting warmed up. He accused Kenny of holding a grudge (although by his comments it's clear that if so, Wallace isn't the only one doing so) and being ungrateful for Felix's generosity when he ended their contract in 1993. To be fair, most people are not “grateful” when their contracts are terminated, no matter what the financial details associated with are. And it seems doubtful that Sabates paid Wallace out of the goodness of his heart. But no reason to let that get in the way of a good quote or to. To whit:
- “I had Kenny drive for me for 3 years, he had the best crew chief that ever was. Jeff Hammond, he had Steve Berr (?) was his crew chief. The kid that was the crew chief for Harvick was his crew chief, nobody could make him go fast. I had to fire him. It was a business decision, it wasn't personal. When I fired him I paid him one year salary up front... I wrote a check for a lot of money. You would have thought he'd have been thankful but he never said thanks. From the time he left us he drove Robert Yates car, he drove a bunch of cars and he can't do anything. He's been in the Nationwide for how many years? And what has he won in the last six years? Nothing; he still blames me for firing him. Yeah I fired him because he wasn't a very good race car driver and he's not.”
Looking at Wallace's time with Felix, the results were not very good. He ran 32 races overall for the team and had no wins and only three top ten finishes during that timeframe. In fact, he led a grand total of two laps out of the over 9,600 laps during those 32 races. Meanwhile Kyle Petty ran 77 races between 1991 and 1993 for the team; he won four, had 20 top five finishes (against zero for Wallace) and led over 8% of the nearly 25,000 laps he ran in the car. To be fair, Sabates' second team didn't fare any better after Wallace left (neither Bobby Hamilton nor Robby Gordon had any success in the car) and the average finish of the ride dropped to 25.1 in 1994 where Wallace averaged 22.3 in 1993. It may well have been 20 years ago but the moral is NASCAR drivers and owners never forget.
Felix explained just why the comments bothered him so much:
- “People like that who run their mouth to try to hurt other people... there's 175 people on that race team that listen to these shows every day. And for Kenny Wallace to say what he said is just despicable. Forget about me- I don't care what he says about me, I don't like him he don't like me... think about if you're an employee at this race team and you hear this guy say stuff like that. These guys work as hard as anybody else trying to build race cars. That is not right.”
After host Lang slipped in a question regarding new signee Larson, Sabates quickly returned to why he was upset with Kenny.
- “I was so upset if I'd have been at the racetrack I would have gone over to kick his ass. Because that was no reason for a professional who is supposed to be unbiased person in the media to take shots at somebody that puts as much time as much money as much effort as we put into this race team. I mean, we put our guts in this race team every day. We have struggled the last couple of years but so has everybody else. Five years ago Hendrick won everything, I mean he won five championships. It happens in this sport people have up years and down years.
- “But for him to go out of his way, he's done this more than one time. You know he is just a complete moron and an idiot. That kid Larson is in the same Nationwide series that Kenny drives for today. Kyle Larson is 8th or 9th in the points; I don't think Kenny has had two top ten finishes in that series. And with the experience he has had, he should be winning every race and he hasn't won anything in 15-20 years. So you know if Jimmie Johnson would have said that or if Jeff Gordon would have said that I'd have kept my mouth shut. Because, you know what, those guys are experts. If one of them said that I wouldn't say a word. But for a no good driving piece of junk like Kenny Wallace to say something like that, yeah, it ticked me off and I'm not through with him yet”
Lang then asked just how Sabates intended to handle his complaints with Wallace. After all, in NASCAR the normal thing to do is to call someone up (or text) when these types of problems arise. It's often the first question those drivers hear at the following race; did you call (insert driver name here) after last week's wreck? Which is followed immediately thereafter by a question regarding the wrecked driver's response. Sabates didn't quite think that would be the appropriate solution here.
- “No, no no, I'm gonna handle this in a different way/ I'm not gonna get upset because there's no need for me to get upset. I was upset earlier. I am going to go to the people he works for Fox, Speed Channel, whatever it is. And I'm gonna play them these tapes because I'm gonna get em from you guys, and see how long they're gonna keep him in that job. Because they don't need people like that in the sport.”
And boom goes the dynamite. I guess they won't be exchanging Christmas cars this year after all... although I'm sure Sabates would welcome that, “Thank you for firing me card” he's been looking for since 1993. After reading Wallace's twitter feed this evening, something tells me he hasn't quite found the right card yet.
From Kenny's twitter feed:
- “My response to Ricky Ricardo, I mean Felix Sabates; "I am surprised Felix thinks enough of ME to respond to ME”