By Lee Montgomery
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
Yes, that is Kenny Wallace sitting eighth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Yes, that is the normally comedic Wallace being serious with his RAB Racing team.
And, yes, that is a lighter Wallace walking around the garage.
"Not to sound cliche, but I do feel totally reborn, like there's a new me," Wallace said. "I'm the same Kenny, but I would say I'm much more focused this year."
The new Wallace has scored two top 10 finishes in the season's first five races, matching his total from the two previous seasons.
"We feel like we're a top 15 car in the race every week," Wallace said. "And there are races we can prove that we're a top 10 car, where handling and my driving comes in. Realistically, that's our goal every week. But even when we do run top 15-like when we finished 15th at California-we still felt empty inside, like we should've done better."
The last few years have been difficult for Wallace the driver, even as his career as an analyst for Speed has taken off. Driving for the underfunded Jay Robinson Racing team, Wallace often simply rode around until the checkered flag.
Wallace finished on the lead lap only six times last year, and after some soul-searching with wife Kim, Wallace took a "leap of faith" and left JRR.
There aren't many rides available for 47-year-old drivers these days, but RAB co-owner Robby Benton hired him to drive the team's No. 09 Toyotas for 2011. RAB became a Toyota-supported team and landed some used Red Bull Racing Sprint Cup cars for the season.
One of the team's slogans is "All In," a poker reference to betting everything you have. Wallace, too, knew he needed to change, so he talked to noted physical fitness buffs Mark Martin and Carl Edwards in the offseason about getting in better physical condition.
"Look, I'm going to have a good car this year," Wallace told them. "I want to be the best I can be. Teach me how to eat properly."
Wallace said he's lost 20 pounds and has had many people comment on how much weight he's lost.
His wallet also lost some weight, too - Wallace said he's driving for free this season.
"I'm not even being paid," Wallace said. "It costs so much money to run that good."
But Wallace isn't in it for the paycheck.
"I'm in it to get my dignity back," he said.
What: O'Reilly Auto Parts 300
Where: Texas Motor Speedway
When: Friday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern
TV: ESPN2, 8 p.m. Eastern
Radio: PRN/Sirius XM Satellite Ch. 128
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval
Race distance: 200 laps/300 miles
Qualifying: Friday, 5:05 p.m. Eastern
2010 winner: Kyle Busch
2010 polesitter: Joey Logano