Tuesday, March 18, 2003.
NASCAR Winston Cup Press Conference
RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Intrepid)
"I'm real excited about going back to Bristol. Believe it or not the way the record looks this year, it looks real crappy with the finishes and where I'm at in the points right now. I tell you what, I think we've got a faster car this year. We had a great run at Atlanta before I got in the wall and a great run this weekend before we pitted and the caution came out and cost us laps in the pits. The car has been super strong. I wish sometimes I could rerun those races and get the finishes we really deserve.
"We're going to Bristol, and we've built a brand new car. Everybody looks at me like we're crazy every time we build a new car going into Bristol, but it's a strong track for us. We run well there. Everybody knows I've got a lot of business in that area. I've got five car dealerships up there. It's a fun track. We built a brand new car, the best we know how to build, and it's ready for that race. Right now I'm down here at Texas Motor Speedway trying to do a two-day test session. I arrived last night and it was clear skies with the stars shining, and I woke up this morning to severe thunderstorms, and it's pouring down rain right now.
"It's probably the biggest hole I've ever been in in my life going into there (Bristol). There are a lot of reasons for it. I brought a couple of mistakes on myself. I got way too aggressive. I guess the last couple of weeks I've been a little over aggressive driving the car. I was running fourth at Atlanta a couple of weeks ago and got into the wall all by myself. I just drove in there too deep, slid up, hit the dirt and got in the fence. It cost me an easy top five finish if not a win. Last week at Darlington, we pitted and as soon as we pitted a caution flag came out. There's nothing you can do about that, but it is a deep hole. The only thing I'm real proud of right now is the car is strong. It's got incredible horsepower. It's getting down the straightaways good. We're qualifying pretty good this year. It's just a matter of time before we get the rhythm back going. I am looking at the points already. I know we're only like 40 or something like that out of the top 10. Now I've got to get back up there and get myself up to the front.
"It's something I guess the world's not used to, but a lot of things change and those guys earned what they've got. I thought Dave Blaney drove an incredible race this past weekend. His car drove real good. We build engines for that car. I guess everybody knows Team Penske builds engines for the 77 car. His engines looked good, and his car handled good. I'm not surprised about that at all.
"I guess his (Jeff Gordon's) new found enemy right now is Dale Jarrett. He needs to stay away from Dale because Dale is plenty mad at him right now. He got into a pretty big fender-banging deal at Darlington that Dale didn't feel was called for. I'm going to go to Bristol and try to win my 10th race at Bristol and try to get myself back up in the points. I'm sure Jeff will be right in the middle of that hunt somewhere. He's always up front at Bristol, so hopefully we'll race hard and you never know, I might encounter him along the way.
"Yeah, I did (get tired of seeing Bristol replay with Gordon last year). It was amazing. I look at that right there, and that was a key race that we really tested hard for. We went to that race track and tested. In fact, we had a test scheduled for Bristol this time and we couldn't because the track has got so much construction outside the facility that they didn't allow anybody to go out there and test. I wanted to go. That's the reason we decided to come to Texas, but I did get tired of seeing it over and over. On the other hand it was kinda cool, but man if I had won that race it would have been 10 times at Bristol and 17 consecutive years of winning. I get along with the kid pretty good, but I tell you that boy has cost me a lot of money. He cost me a lot of problems, no doubt about that.
"I think it's a carryover of what has happened this year. I look at the overall performance of the car. I look at how things have gone. I started off at Daytona, and I'm sitting there running seventh. We started 38th and by lap eight I'm running 12th. We had a real hot rod at Daytona. I get a bunch of oil on the windshield, and I make a decision that we need to pit. Billy Wilburn (crew chief) is telling me to stay out because it's going to rain. Roger and I are on the radio talking and I said if it goes back to green we're in trouble. Roger says we've got about half an hour of clear skies, so we both make the decision to override Billy. We came down pit road and as soon as I came down pit road the rain comes. So I went from seventh to 25th all from a stupid call I made myself.
"Then we go to Rockingham and we have an incredible hot rod. It was a great race. We led 185 laps and finished sixth. We go to Vegas and we hit pit road and we only get six gallons of gas in the car and we go two laps down again. I make 'em up, just about made 'em up and the 4 car and I get involved in a crash. What a mess that was. I guess what I'm trying to tell you is I look at the performance of the car and the performance of the car has been really, really good. I've got myself behind now because of some dumb things, and I've been driving extra hard because I've got a really good car. The car has been exceptionally fast, and I'm driving it to its potential. I drove a little too hard a couple of times now.
"The race will always go on because I think NASCAR Winston Cup racing is one of the most entertaining forms of racing in the world. What absolutely sold me on that was when we canceled the race at Loudon, N.H., after the Sept. 11th disaster. They rescheduled the race the day after Thanksgiving. I said to myself that nobody in their right mind would come out to a race on Thanksgiving when they could be home with their families. The place was completely sold out and packed. I would never have believed that. I tell you what. NASCAR Winston Cup racing, whether it's TV or live at the race track it just brings so much enjoyment to the people it's incredible. The race will go on. I think aviation will be affected really hard, especially all the helicopter operations that bring all the teams and sponsors and guests in and out of the track and all that stuff. That will probably be affected pretty largely.
"What's going to have to happen, areas they call TFR's now, there's certain areas that are put on high alert and you can only operate in and out of in certain ways. As far as visual flight rules, VFR flying mostly all helicopter operators normally fly like that, they make you go IFR, instrument flight rules right now, but we'll have to call up and get a clearance in. They actually know who we are and what we're all about and what time we're coming. There are no operations one hour before and one hour after the event. There'll be stuff like that that will take place I'm sure, but we haven't had that happen yet. My chief pilot, Bill Brooks, my helicopter pilot, he's always getting those notices. All the drivers and owners that do own helicopters and the charter people all talk to each other during the week. It's amazing how much they talk, and they're aware of what's going on, but I'm sorry I can't give you more of an explicit answer, but things will be affected. Right now it's already into effect where one hour before and one hour after those things have to be on the ground. I need to win this week, so I'll have time for a lot of Miller's if I can do that.
"No, I'm not frustrated. I'm very determined. I'm driving hard, and I'm determined. I'm not in much of a Mr. Nice Guy mood. I just want to get the wins and the finishes knocked for my team, my sponsors and my partners and get it right. It's getting ridiculous right now. We've got a team that should be winning every damn race. We have the funding and everything to get it done. I know the sport is hard right now, but it gets right down to handling. The way the cars handle on the track is so important. And some of these pit calls that you have to make because of this tire situation we're in right now. The tires are so hard. It's incredible. You find yourself staying on the race track or not staying on the race track. It was amazing what happened last week at Darlington. On lap six of the race everybody hit pit road except for a couple, and then on lap 12, the rest of them hit pit road. It's because these tires wear so bad at these two race tracks, Rockingham and Darlington. Then you'll switch totally 180 degrees somewhere else like a Bristol or Michigan or California or Texas where the tires are so hard you run all day long and it gets to be where you have to make calls for no tires or two tires or just gas instead of just putting tires on and racing. It's a lot of tire controversy going on right now with some race track stuff. I still think we're racing on the greatest tires in the world. Those things are bullet proof. I'm not frustrated. I just want to get it done, and I get tired of waiting. I find myself this year with this Dodge, this Dodge is definitely running stronger than the car I had last year. I find it handling better. I find the engines running better, and don't get me wrong. I loved all the people from Ford. I'm appreciative for what I got there. For Pete's sake, I sell Fords in my dealerships. But this hot rod is better this year, and I find myself trying to drive it hard. For me to go to Atlanta and be running fourth and getting ready to pass Tony Stewart and I get in the wall, was something ridiculous. I did something I used to laugh at people for doing. It came from a little overdriving on my part. Thank God we were able to come back and the guys were able to fix the car. It ran pretty damn good, still.
"You've just got to love it. I cut my teeth on all the short tracks in the Midwest through the ASA circuit, and I learned a lot from that. We came to the short tracks, I got to where I really love this track. I'm determined to do good here. I know the line I want. I know the way I want the car to feel. I know what I've got to have. That's one of the reasons I've been successful there. The thing that has changed some of the consistency of my runs at Bristol, again, has been the hard tire. We've never raced on tires this hard before. NASCAR, I guess, is now going to start cutting off rear spoilers soon. They won't tell me the date, but they say they are going to do that now. They've made the decision to do that in steps. They'll cut a little spoiler and then cut a little more. Goodyear is finally prepared finally to soften the tire up, so it's coming. I'd say it's probably going to happen within the next six weeks. I wanted them to do it at Rockingham. I wanted to start off the year with the cut made and get it over with and do it right. That would have been the right way to go. One thing I don't understand, I don't understand how prepared Goodyear is to react to that. I don't know.
"It's more compacted. There's more action. It's more condensed, and when it's condensed with the amount of people and as fast as you go around that track, it just creates a tremendous amount of excitement. It's like having three or four people over to your house and having a few beers and watching TV. Is that a more fun atmosphere or do you want to be sitting in the middle of a 10,000-square warehouse by yourself? It's a little too open you know. It's a little more fun, a little more exciting when everything's a little tighter.
"There's some bumping that goes on. There's some spinning out that goes on. There's some all hell breaking loose, and anybody in any seat can see everything that goes on. They can't say that about a lot of other race tracks. A track just can't be great for the track. It's got to be great for other things. You have to have driving schools, functions, concerts, it's got to be able to generate income. Bristol is probably not the best place to do that because it's so confined. You can't get much going on. Now a place like California or Texas or Charlotte, there are a lot of things those facilities cater to and it generates income that keeps them going.
"Martinsville is a place I love to go to. I like Clay Campbell. He's a real cool guy. The track is always fun. There are rumors they're going to put some lights in there. To me, that would be incredible to watch a night race at Martinsville. Everybody's cars would look like they were on fire. The brake rotors and stuff like that, it would be exciting to watch that. As far as the improvements, it's been great what they've done to the facility, but as far as the track itself, I was the one up there asking them to smooth the track out a little bit so we can pass easier and get some things done like that. The way it turned out, it was absolutely not what I had in mind, but it worked out pretty good. They brought these concrete grinders in and they made the bottom lane so rough, as far as the cut. It's smooth down there. It's very smooth to drive on, but it's so pourous that there's no grip there. It made everybody move up to the second lane and when everybody moved up to the second lane, you have two lanes to race at Martinsville where as in the past you only had one. A lot of drivers said it looked terrible, but when we got to racing, I think they all said, 'hey, this is pretty cool.'
"Now, sooner or later, this was just a patch that Clay was able to do just to get through for a year or so. I think sooner or later the facility is getting to where it's going to have to be repaved. It's getting where it's going to have to have some work done for a permanent fix. That'd be pretty cool. I think once you've got a night race there and a permanent fix on the surface, you're going to have a hell of a race. You're already having a hell of a race.
"It's always exciting when you go there (Bristol) for the first race. It's a daytime race. It's just amazing. Why we don't run that race at night also? I don't understand that one. On the other hand, I've never asked that question, either. I don't know why we don't run the race we're getting ready to go to on a Saturday night just like the second race. Generally, daytime is just not as exciting as nighttime. It's exciting no doubt about it, but it's 10-15 percent more exciting at night when we get to run that race. The fans get to see the sparks, they get to see all the drama. The cars are all lit up. We put the dayglow numbers on our cars so the fans can see the cars better at night. They just pop off the cars at night. Everything is so much more dramatic during the night race. The day race is never going to hold a candle to the night race. It just won't, but it's still one of the most exciting races we go to.
"We're going to have a couple of cuts on the rear spoilers first, and then the third cut would come with tires. They're definitely going to do that. I don't agree with having to cut speeds significantly. Our tires at many, many, many race tracks are two and three and four steps too hard. I was pleasantly surprised to see when I was looking at the tire list yesterday that the tire we ran at Dover, which I thought was an incredible tire, has been chosen to run at some other race tracks, too. They're already softening up a little bit at some tracks, particularly the new tire I love so much we're going to run at Kansas City this year. I believe we're going to run the right side at Charlotte. Unless something has happened in the last four days that I don't know about, the plan is to cut these spoilers and get the softer tire."