DARLINGTON, S.C. (Sept. 2, 1998) Wally Dallenbach, 35-year-old driver of the Budweiser Chevrolet, has a few tricks up his sleeve after 151 starts on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. But Dallenbach will be the first to admit that no form...
DARLINGTON, S.C. (Sept. 2, 1998) Wally Dallenbach, 35-year-old driver of the Budweiser Chevrolet, has a few tricks up his sleeve after 151 starts on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. But Dallenbach will be the first to admit that no form of hocus-pocus helps at tricky Darlington Raceway, a 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval that will host Sunday's 49th annual Pepsi Southern 500.
"I don't know what the trick is at Darlington," Dallenbach said. "I suppose you just need a good race car with a lot of horsepower and a lot of grip. That all helps, but shocks become a big part of the game at Darlington, too.
"You've got to get the car to stay on the ground, especially in turns one and two now because you've got to run way up on the track. It's real bumpy up there. You've got to get your car to turn, especially off turn two. It's a different track, but I like it."
Dallenbach's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, will be gunning for an unprecedented fourth straight Southern 500 victory. Gordon won his circuit- leading ninth race of the season last week at New Hampshire. He finished second earlier this season at Darlington to race winner Dale Jarrett.
"Obviously, Jeff and Ray (crew chief Evernham) have their act together at Darlington, but they're that way just about everywhere now,* Dallenbach said. "It's nice to have Jeff as a teammate. Maybe he'll share a little secret or two with us at Darlington.
"I like the track, but it took a little while to get used to the flip-flop. It probably hurt Earnhardt and some of those other guys more than it did me because they've been racing there longer.
"It seems like we're going to a stretch of race tracks where you don't really race. You really race the track. You can't get real aggressive at Darlington because there's not a lot of room to get aggressive. It's one of those places where you run your own pace and you run hard and run good, then you race the last 50 laps."
Dallenbach may find the real trick is staying around for the final 50 laps. Darlington, the oldest and one of the most treacherous tracks on the circuit, has a way of eliminating the competition.
"If your car is good and you get a good qualifying spot, you'll be all right," Dallenbach said. "I'm pretty aggressive, so for me personally, I want to get to the front and pass as many cars as I can if the car will let me. Darlington is one of those places where you try to find some guys to run with that you're comfortable with, guys who won't be rooting and gouging every lap. If you just run your pace, you'll start stretching away from other people.
"Some guys race that track smart, and some guys race the track like it's the last 10 laps every time they come around. That causes problems. The tire wear there is very important. If you're going to be very aggressive, those guys will start coming back to you eventually anyway.
"There's not too many lines around that place. It's pretty much one line, especially in one and two. You've got to run up there real high and then bring it down to the bottom. You've probably got two or three lines through three and four. If you can keep your car down low, that's one line. A lot of guys let the car drift up and run that high line."
Dallenbach drove three races for the Budweiser team earlier in the season and scored two top-10 finishes before being named permanent driver on Aug. 16 at Michigan. He finished seventh in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan and would like to improve a few notches in Sunday's Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington.
"I wish we could have tested there and Dover because a lot of these places I'll be seeing for the first time this season," Dallenbach said. "Although the team has been to 'em, they've been there with a different driver. It's not like going back to Michigan or a place like that where we had already been together. We go Darlington, Richmond, Dover and I haven't raced there this year, and they're dealing with a new guy. It'll be a little bit tougher."
But Dallenbach and the Budweiser team, led by veteran crew chief Tony Furr, are up to the challenge. After some problems last week at New Hampshire, it's full speed ahead for the Bud Brigade.
"This deal has been too good to be true for me," Dallenbach said. "These guys are great to work with. I'm not just saying that. I felt bad after I hung that car in the wall in qualifying at New Hampshire.
"That's not normally me. I haven't wrecked a car in 12 months, and I've torn up race cars the past two weeks. I take pride in myself that I don't tear up a lot of equipment. They all came back with smiles on their faces. They told me they knew I was going for it, and they didn't mind pulling out the backup car. That's the kind of attitude they had.
"Believe me, I've not had that kind of attitude around me. It makes my life a whole lot easier and makes this a whole lot more fun when you know you've got 14 or 15 cars back at the shop as good as the one you wrecked."
Source: NASCAR Online