Going into this weekend's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway, Round 33 of 36 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo, is the current point-leader with a 380-point ...
Going into this weekend's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway, Round 33 of 36 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo, is the current point-leader with a 380-point advantage over Ricky Rudd. Thus far this year, Gordon has recorded 18 top-five finishes and six wins. If he finishes 24th or better in the remaining four races in the 2001 season, he will claim his fourth career NASCAR Winston Cup title.
Today's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference featured Kenny Wallace, relief driver for Steve Park in No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Steve Park, winner of the Dura-Lube 400 at Rockingham in February, was injured in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Darlington Raceway on September 1 and is recovering from a concussion.
Kenny Wallace finished 11th in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway last Sunday, Oct. 28.
Highlights of Q&A's with Kenny Wallace:
Are you happy with your finish at Phoenix? " I always get excited when we run good. I'd get more excited if I could get solid and know what car I'm going to drive for next year, that's for sure. But all in all, it's been a real eye-opener to drive the Pennzoil Chevrolet. It's just fast all the time."
Is the Pennzoil team taking the same car the Park won with in February? "That was a big race win for DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) to win right after Dale Earnhardt's death in Daytona. The only thing I have concerns about is that Steve Park won that race on bump stops. Everybody knows about the legendary bump stops. So I'm hoping we can go back and duplicate it. I'm sure Paul Andrews (crew chief) will figure it all out. I can't imagine the car not being fast."
Can you update us on your prospects are for 2002? "That seems to be the number one question. People do two things to me. They tell me how great I'm doing in the No. 1 car and then they say they hope that it leads to something. First and foremost, I have my Busch Grand National ride with George DeBidart to rely on totally. If a Winston Cup ride does not come along, I'm definitely going to drive the No. 48 Busch car all next year - with a handful of Winston Cup races. I have one Winston Cup team that I'm supposed to call here this evening and talk to them. And then I have another Winston Cup team that wants to run a limited schedule. As you can imagine, this is a hard decision for me to wait while waiting for Steve Park to recover. I want to be there for DEI, and the Wallace family is just kind of waiting and seeing - taking it down to the last minute on purpose."
How does the upcoming flat track race at Homestead suit your style? "The flat tracks are the type of tracks where you can slide the car very easily. What you're trying to do is to obtain a lot of grip in the car. You're trying to make the car stick. If other people are sliding and you're sticking, you're going forward. I don't know what it is. I've always been in cars that have done a good job there. The first race there in '96, we were leading on the last lap and Larry Pearson had run into Hermie Sadler and he hit me and caused a big old wreck. Dale Jarrett, who was running fourth, just went on to victory. But I enjoy Homestead. It's such a complete different atmosphere by the ocean and it's like a vacation atmosphere. I really enjoy it."
Will you be attending the NASCAR meeting at Joe Gibbs Racing on Thursday, and what do you expect to come out of that discussion? "I'm definitely going to go. It's very close to my house. I think times are changing a little bit. A lot of drivers have been very boisterous about NASCAR not paying attention to the drivers like they used to. And I think they always paid attention to Dale Earnhardt. He was basically the mayor of our garage area. When you go in there, we should all go in there with open minds. I think NASCAR is going out of their way to do something like this. It might not be the first time in history that they've done this, but it's the first time in a long time. Even if we come out of there with nothing, the process of getting all the owners, drivers, and crew chiefs together to see what they think says a lot right there. I hope we come out of there with ideals of what to test the cars with in December. Everybody has a lot of ideals and this is going to be their chance to speak. It'll just be a bit political forum, I know that."
Has your brother, Rusty, assumed that leadership role in the garage? "It looks to me like Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon have. I know that we all think that when we say something, that NASCAR will listen. And they do. They definitely hear us. I don't hear much from Rusty. I always see Jarrett and Gordon in the NASCAR trailer. I think one has to have a lot of experience and won a lot of championships to assume that role."
Have you helped George DeBidart with the Christian Fittipaldi driving a Busch car at Homestead? "Travis Carter's team, Newman-Haas, is trying to acquire a Busch Grand National car so we could help them out. I never thought much of it because our team isn't really fielding the car. We're helping him test, but when he goes down for the race the Newman-Haas team is going to take the car over. Since they didn't have any Busch cars, George's company called Source International is willing to help Christian out. I think it says a lot for our sport that a guy who can win in CART wants to run in what we call our 'secondary' series."
How difficult is it for a driver at a new track to find that groove? "I think that's one of the reasons why Christian chose Homestead because the CART Series has run there before. But our cars do not run that type of groove. Our cars don't have any downforce compared to CART racecars. I think they're going about it the very smart way. They're testing. Our car count is down in the Busch Series. I do think it's a difficult track for someone to make a big splash, but all in all I think they're going about it the right way."
Is the tire wear at Rockingham still a big problem, or have the new Goodyear tires addressed that somewhat? "It's always going to be a problem. Darlington and Rocking are basically the same type of track. Because those tracks are located on the east coast, the aggregate that they use in the asphalt is real adhesive and real abrasive. It's the racetrack that really wears those tires fast. The cars will always handle real good and handle good for about four or five laps and then they just go into a slide. Managing that has always been the key there. We do that with shocks and the springs. I definitely look for tire wear to be there again, but not as bad as it has been in the past because Goodyear has hardened the tires up."
What does it feel like when the tires give away? Is it really like riding on ice? "Our race pace will be about two seconds slower than what we qualify at. But the sensation is that when you're running on new tires, you've got a lot of grip. There are a lot of g-forces on the body. You're body will physically be pushing on the right side of the seat. And then in about 10 or 20 laps, you have to let off the gas early so you can make it around the corners. The g-forces are not there anymore. The car slides. It's in a four-wheel slide. It's all about angles. When the tires start wearing out like that, we have to start aiming the car where we want it to go. You could use the word 'ice' if you want, that's a little extreme, but it's definitely like being on dirt."
Can you update us on Steve Park's recovery? "That's a very sensitive subject with me. The problem with all of us - including me - is that we want a definite answer on all this. The truth of the matter is there isn't one. Steve has blurry vision. He's just continuing to get better, but this process is taking it's own time. That's why you haven't seen Steve at any of the racetracks. I think it speaks for itself. He's got blurry vision, he can't see right (correctly) yet. I wish he'd be back next week. But they've already announced that realistically, he probably won't be back until Daytona next year. We all want to know, but we're just not going to know."
If he isn't ready by Daytona, will you stand by for DEI? "I signed a contract that reads I'll be there until Steve gets back. I would rather stay in the No. 1 car until Steve gets back than to be in a car that's not competitive in the Winston Cup Series. I signed that contract on Sunday morning at Dover."
How tickled were you for your brother, Mike, and his 2nd place finish in the No. 12 car at Phoenix? "With me driving the No. 1 car and running in the top 10 and Mike having been pegged as a driver who can't drive, I think we've upset the apple cart. People always want to say it's the driver or it's the car. The fact of the matter is that Jeremy Mayfield got out of that car and my brother is doing five times as good as Jeremy. The stats are there and you can't question it. It's really neat for drivers like Mike and myself who have never gotten in good racecars. I can't stress how important it is to get in a good racecar right away because then people think you're a good driver. When you get in a bad racecar, people question your ability. It means the world to Mike. This has competed his life, his soul. We've talked. This means the world to him. It hurt his pride and his feelings for people to question his ability when he has won an incredible amount of races in the Midwest - some 200-300 races. He's won Busch races, he's won Truck races. So that was a good deal."
Have you kept your name out of silly season? "Here's the situation. This is a little bit different silly season this year. There are no cars that are going to race next year that are available right now. Robert Pressley has been rumored to be driving the No. 33 car next year. Well, the No. 33 car has no sponsor. It's not going to race. The No. 92 Kodiak car has no sponsor. It's not going to race. My name hasn't been out there because I'm not taking to those teams that don't have a sponsor. To me, silly season is over. Robby Gordon is definitely going to drive the No. 31 car because Cingular wants him really bad. If the No. 12 team stays open, my brother Mike is definitely going to be in that car. And then there are no other teams left. There are no sponsors and so there's no money."
Are you surprised that there are only a handful of Busch Series sponsors? "Not really. About five or six years ago Kyle Petty said something that I still remember. He said to watch the car count.....that it would follow the stock market. That's kind of a crazy scenario. But maybe he's right. The stock market goes down and corporate America tightens. It's scary times out there right now."
Will the Busch Series be hurting next year? "At Phoenix, our Winston Cup car count was only 43. There was one extra car, a West coast guy who showed up. You're going to have new teams coming over - the No. 02 and Jimmie Johnson. So you've got these two new teams coming in, but you've got cars going out if they don't find something (sponsor). The car count could be going down in both series. Maybe more so in Busch because it's not thought of by sponsors as being as elite as the Winston Cup series."
Would it help the economic situation right now for NASCAR to take some steps to reduce the costs of racing? "That's a great point and a good idea, but there's a political forum in auto racing. On one level you have Jack Roush who just announced that it doesn't matter because you're always going to have the same teams running up front. Well, that's a selfish statement because he has sponsors and he has money. So that's the right side. The left side says boy we need to cut costs because we can't get enough sponsorship dollars. They don't care about each other. Well, you definitely need to cut costs because you have to control the money spending. It would be just like the government spending more money than they've got. You cannot continue to get $10 and $15 million dollars for sponsorship money. There's going to be an end to it. What I see happening is the car count being reduced until the economy gets better. You've got car owners who don't care about cutting money because they have the money. They also say that's part of the sport. It's like Formula I. If you don't have the money, you don't get in. With the new motor rule, NASCAR is doing a great job. It's going to help a lot. It's going to enable teams to race better and get the quality of the sport better. Instead of 10 cars on the lead lap, there will be 20 cars on the lead lap. It's going to make racing better.
"Two years ago, you could go to Robert Yates and rent a motor program for $1.2 million. Two years later, it's over $2 million. Now, I don't know how many times you've been to K-Mart or Target, but I've never seen anything go up 100% in a year or two years. What's happening is the competition gets stiffer. There are better metals out there to put in the motors. That's an area we need to start on and NASCAR is doing a good job there."
Does NASCAR need million dollar motor homes? "Yes, we all have expensive motor homes that range from $400,000 on up. And that's people's personal spending money. The RV's came about because of the schedule of 36 races and 7 tests. There are only 52 weeks in the year. It's hard to stay in motels all that time. It's hard to get up at 4 or 5:00 a.m. to beat the traffic. Those motor homes are worth their weight in gold. It's kept my sanity. My motor home cost $329,000. It's a Heritage. It's a very nice motor home. I spend my own money on that and so does NASCAR. It enables me to bring my wife and kids to the racetrack. Otherwise, the kids couldn't come. They'd have to stay at the motel."