Preseason Test: Rusty Wallace - Dodge interview, part 1

RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger) "We unloaded on day 1 with two cars and one car ran a 49.70 and the other car came off the truck at a 49.50. We started working on both cars and made a decision that the faster car was faster....

RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger)

"We unloaded on day 1 with two cars and one car ran a 49.70 and the other car came off the truck at a 49.50. We started working on both cars and made a decision that the faster car was faster. We've made many, many changes, a lot of aerodynamic changes, a lot of chassis setting, a lot of different things. Probably about 45 separate changes on the main car, and I'm happy to report we worked it from a 49.50 and just a little while ago we made a banzai qualifying lap and ran a 48.56. That puts us pretty strong. If you look at the qualifying attempts out there that would easily put us in the top six or seven right now with qualifying speeds. Right now we're taking that car and it's being changed completely right now to get fitted for drafting. When I go back out I'll be just doing all drafting. It took me some nervous times in not getting going to many changes and we've got it worked down to a .56. That was a clean run. There was nobody on the track in front of me and we made sure of that. That was everything we had in the truck to put in it for qualifying, all the legal things. I was real happy with that run. The guys assure me we've got some extra horsepower at home which should work the car down to about a .35. That's what I know I've got in hand. Let's see if we've got more when we get back."

WHY DO YOU WANT TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 SO BAD?

"I haven't won the Daytona 500. I got close many, many times. I love to go into my final year knowing I've got a 500 under my belt. That would be a special feeling. What would be my ultimate thing this year would be to win the 500 and win the final race at Homestead. That would be pretty hot if I could pull it off. I can't think of anything we left unturned in two and a half days now. We've worked harder these last two and a half days, just really getting down and trying to hunt for things. There have many things in the past, and I've said there's no speed there. We've turned over everything. We did some things where the guys said, 'man, we've got to go back. We've got a lot of cars to build at Team Penske. I don't know if we can get all that done.' I said, 'look man, I want to win the Daytona 500. You'd better work 24-7 to get it done.' It's not my problem we've got three teams right now. My goal is to get the 2 car in victory lane. We just had a little conversation with the fabricators and crew chiefs. They assured me we'd get it back and get the work done. We saw the car is faster this way and they want me in victory lane as much as I want to be in victory lane."

IS THERE ANY CHANCE YOU'LL RACE IN THE TRUCK SERIES?

"No, not right now. I've learned one thing. I lay awake at night thinking about racing. I'm thinking, 'man, did I pull the trigger a year too early?' People like Roger Penske and some of my good friends say just stick with what you're doing. You're going out on top. You're very competitive. I want to go out on top. I'm not going to close the door saying that I won't do some testing for the team and try to help them. I won't close the door and say I might help my own Grand National team out a couple of times. Although that's not in the plans right now, I don't want to close the door so I can't do it. One thing I'm very interested in that I do want to do, I do want to run the 2006 24 Hours of Daytona. I've never done that before, and it's something I do want to do. I'd like to do it in a Dodge. Right now they've got an engine that's a little too big for that series, and they're working at trying to get the rules figured out for that right now. That's something I know I will do that in 2006."

COMMENT ON WHAT YOU'LL LOOK FOR IN THE CHARGER IN DRAFTING PRACTICE

"I'll look for basically two things. Does the car have the proper amount of downforce? Where do I need to set the front fenders? I'll be marrying the springs and shocks together to compliment that package. I'll be looking really hard at the upper grilles to make sure it doesn't trap too much debris and overheat the engine. I am concerned about that a little bit, about how far the screens are set back into the grille. I think it's an opportunity to have a problem, so we're going to work on that area and make sure the hot dog wrappers and tire debris doesn't pack up in there and make the engine overheat. It's got that look that could happen."

COMMENT ON A PENSION PROGRAM FOR CUP DRIVERS

"This got brought up about five years ago before Dale Earnhardt died. Myself and Jeff Gordon and Dale had a nice meeting with NASCAR. They were good enough to listen to our thoughts. I think we had 10 people in that room that day and things were rolling along pretty good. Then when Dale lost his life there was so much attention and rightfully so, but the whole thing died. It was very busy year after his death, looking at safety stuff and looking at.... It just kinda took a back burner. This will be my last full time year, and it's been brought up to me three or four times. They told me about football, and those guys have a pension plan. I don't watch other sports except NASCAR. I really haven't. I haven't had time and NASCAR's comment would be you guys are independent contractors. I understand that, too, but I wish there was some type of pension plan. Over 21 years, I think I've been a personality and I think I've helped build this sport. I'd like to have something for it instead of all of it on me, so yeah, I'd be politicking real hard for those guys to get involved and you guys could help, too. I think we're deserving of it. Every other sport has got it. We're the only ones who don't."

HOW HAS NASCAR CHANGED?

"NASCAR has changed for the better. It's rock 'n' rolling so good you've better sign up to the fact that it's the hot thing to do. It's real easy for me, a guy that's 48 years old right now, I've seen everything in the world happen like a lot of these guys have. The points system drew all kind of excitement toward the end of the year. That was good. The only bad thing was I wasn't in it. I wish I had been in it. With me not being in it I found the focus was on those top 10 drivers. I've got to figure out how to get in the top 10. On the other hand, because some of the top teams that weren't in it didn't get the recognition, I think something's got to be adjusted so the Dale Jarretts, the Rusty Wallaces, all of Richard Childress' teams, the Evernham teams, those are big sponsors and those sponsors need the coverage. We've got to figure out some way to marry all that into everything instead of just the top 10, but I've seen a lot younger kids get in right now. I've seen guys that have a lot of talent with really good racecars and engineers to help speed up that learning curve. That's new. That wasn't how it was when I started, but that's the way it is nowadays. I understand it. I wish I had had that. I maybe could have learned it quicker yet, but I like the promotional things that are going on. We can go anywhere right now and the normal race fan will recognize Rusty Wallace, whether it's in a restroom or restaurant. It's been a good ride for me, and I really enjoy it. I can't say anything negative about it. I really can't. I question a lot of decisions, just like the pension thing. Those are things outside of growing the sport. Those are just maintenance problems to take care of the people."

HOW ARE YOU ADJUSTING TO THE HANS DEVICE?

"I am adjusting well to it. I really am. I knew all along I needed to do it, but every time I put it on I'm so uncomfortable wearing the thing. I woke up this morning getting ready to come to the track and I had a bruise on my shoulder right around my collarbone where it's just laying on it. It's sore to touch right now, but I'm going to have to get some padding on there and get this thing adjusted where I can wear it. That's it. I want to be able to drive my guts out this year and feel safe doing it. If there's some other safety things that make sense for me, that's cool. I'm real happy that NASCAR yesterday let me, I've got a bar behind my head. It's called the rear loopbar. It comes all the way across. The bar comes diagonal behind me. In order for me to wear the HANS, I had to slide the seat forward an inch and a half so the relief area can be left there for the HANS to clear. That's put me an inch and a half forward and the window opening for me to get in and out was closed up an inch and a half. I found myself really having a tough time getting in and out of the car. I asked Mr. Darby if he'd like me take the bar out and relocate it farther back. He said he'd never done it before but said go ahead and do it. All those little things I'm having to do to make myself feel better in that car. You can get yourself safe, have all the wraparounds, but man, if that thing is upside down on fire you've got to be able to get out of that thing, too. I'm not going to say they did the right thing by doing that (outlawing the Hutchens device). I've been down this back straightaway end over end 23 times. I've wrecked at Talladega. I think that was a 28-time end-over-ender that put me in the hospital and the motor flew out and the body flew off. I walked out of that. I hit the wall head-on at over 200 mph at Pocono, Pa. I had a right front failure going in after running over a piece of debris. I've had some of the most horrifying wrecks in the history of NASCAR. When they tell me I'm doing it wrong I question them after surviving that many wrecks. There's been so many people that have had hard wrecks and it's been good for. I've got a lot of my peers coming up to me telling me it's OK to run this thing (HANS). So, with all the test data and soft walls, when a guy hits the wall at 200 mph and you see it bend in a foot, you've got to know that's better. I finally just signed up for it. I'm not saying the Hutchens is bad. I think it was good, too. It's just probably not as good at taking a front impact as the new HANS is. I've got more mobility inside the car with my Hutchens. I still felt like it was a safe piece also."

ANY THOUGHTS ON THIS BEING YOUR FINAL DAYTONA 500?

"I think about that when I'm quiet, but when I'm on the racetrack it's the same thing -- change a shock, change a spring, go fast, do this, do that. I'm always wide open thinking about the car. I've got to tell you, when I wasn't racing here and wasn't testing, it was like 'do I have this in order? What do I want to do? Do I want to do television? Do I want to be more involved with the team?' The neat thing is I've got the option to do all those things, probably. When I got to the track I didn't even think that. I wasn't thinking that at all. I was just thinking get that old hot rod running fast because I don't' want to come down here and look stupid in the Daytona 500. I want to win the damn thing. That's my goal."

COMMENT ON CHANGES IN DIS INFIELD

"I think all the extra eyes (fans) are great. There's two ways to look at that. If you're a driver, you think, 'man, this is good. As soon as I get out of the car....' But if you're not a driver, you're thinking 'man, this is the greatest thing in the world.' I will promise you when I'm not a driver I will promise you this is the greatest thing in the world. I'd want to get as many people surrounded around the cars and teams as I possibly can to let 'em get a feel of it, to let them really get turned on about racing, support Miller Lite and support all these sponsors I've got up and down me. If you don't connect with the fans they're just not going to do that, and I realize that. I want to do it. I got out of the car yesterday and I thought, 'self, I never thought I'd be at Daytona and have a big picture window in front of my car and a flip down door where they could stick stuff through. That was going on and I found myself getting out of the car walking up to everybody and waving at 'em. I didn't have a problem with it. If you're in a real ill mood and your car is handling like crap and you're running like crap and you're having a rough day, that might not be a fun thing to do. I've got enough of a personality that I appreciate it when somebody stands out there and wants my autograph. It's OK with me."

WILL YOU FEEL NOSTALGIC GOING TO SOME TRACKS FOR THE LAST TIME?

"I was telling someone the other day I'm going to have a problem not going to Bristol because I really look forward to going to that track. I've won there so much I really get excited about it. I'm going to have a tough time leaving there, and from what I hear there's going to be a lot of things the tracks are going to do for me, especially the second half of the year. That's probably going to be an emotional time then, and I'll probably want to get in the car and win that race and really close it out on a high note. I don't know how I'm going to react to all that yet, but we'll see what happens. That last race will probably be tough, but I feel like I've really got my life in order in the car and out of the car. I think I'm pretty organized or I wouldn't have pulled the trigger and made the decision to do this."

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR-CUP