Kenny Wallace often can be found walking around the garage with a big smile on his face, cracking jokes and enjoying himself.
He genuinely likes his job as a race car driver.
But this year, the smile isn't quite as broad and the jokes don't come as easily. Wallace is in the midst of one of the worst slumps of his career.
Despite being 10th in the Busch Series standings, Wallace isn't at all happy with how his race weekends are playing out.
"I've got to admit that it's been a really confusing year for me," said the youngest of the three racing Wallace brothers. "It's been a very frustrating year. This time last year, we had three second-place finishes and probably seven top-10s. In my career, I've never run 25th and 30th in the Busch Series, and the last two weeks that's where we've run."
Sure, some of those poor finishes were the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But some also are due to Wallace just not being comfortable with his car.
Wallace, who grew up building his own race cars, has struggled in making the transition to the new coil-binding front-end suspension setup most teams have adopted. He's not alone; even four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon has struggled with the setup.
"The days of me just saying, 'Put this spring in the right front and this spring in the left front' are over, and it's hard for me to do that now because what I want to do doesn't work anymore," Wallace said. "It's all an engineering feat and I'm not really an engineer, although I do understand the concept of it, but it's hard for us to put in it and have it perfect."
That puts his team at a distinct disadvantage.
"When we unload, we're not as good as Gibbs Racing or Childress Racing," he said.
He and the ppc Racing team will have a shot at turning around their fortunes in Saturday's Goody's 250, which marks the Busch Series' return to Martinsville Speedway after a 12-year absence
Ironically, Wallace is the defending race champion, having won the last Busch race there back in 1994. David Green (finished second), brother Mike Wallace (third) and Ricky Craven (eighth) also are among those competing Saturday who raced in that event 12 years ago.
"I think it's a great track to go back to," Kenny Wallace said. "That's where racing started. That's where the Busch Series started. That's where the Cup Series started. Short-track racing. We should be doing more short-track racing."
Wallace's best finishes this season (eighth place, twice) have been on short tracks of a mile or less in length – Bristol and Milwaukee – and he believes a track like .526-mile Martinsville is just what the doctor ordered for a team that has seen more down weekends than up.
"I'm very dedicated and very confident in my team and myself," Wallace said. "I've got a good bunch of guys, but we've just got to figure out why we're so inconsistent."
The green flag flies on the Goody's 250 on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. ET. The television broadcast is on NBC.
NASCAR scheduled an open test session for Thursday to allow teams to set a performance baseline for the Martinsville track.
Saturday's weather forecast for the Martinsville area isn't very promising. There are several drivers (Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer among them) who are attempting to race at both Martinsville and Pocono this weekend, and any delay could pose a problem.
Points leader Harvick maintains a healthy 308-point lead over Edwards. Harvick has dominated the series this year with three wins, 12 top-fives and 17 top-10s.
Boris Said will be back behind the wheel of the No. 9 Dodge for Evernham Motorsports. His last outing in the Evernham Busch car was at Kentucky Speedway, where he finished 14th.
Craven will make his return to the Busch Series in the No. 14 Dodge for FitzBradshaw Racing. Craven has wins at Martinsville in both Nextel Cup and Craftsman Truck Series competition, and he won his first poles in the Busch Series and in Nextel Cup at the track. Craven's last Busch start was at Chicagoland Speedway in 2004.