Rockingham: Kenny Wallace interview

Kenny Wallace, driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo is the guest at the Saturday morning Winston Breakfast Club. Wallace continues to be the relief driver for Steve Park who is on the mend from injuries suffered in a crash at ...

Kenny Wallace, driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo is the guest at the Saturday morning Winston Breakfast Club. Wallace continues to be the relief driver for Steve Park who is on the mend from injuries suffered in a crash at Darlington in the fall of '01. Park is the defending champion of this race.

Chevrolet is the dominant manufacturer at North Carolina Speedway with 19 wins.

In 16 career starts to date at Rockingham, Wallace's best performance was last November when he won the Bud Pole and finished 2nd in the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400. Wallace will start ninth in Sunday's Subway 400. Wallace drives the No. 48 Stacker 2 Chevrolet in the Busch Series.

Highlights of the Q&A session with the media follow:

How do you feel about the weekend so far?

"I think we've been spoiled a little bit at this race track with Steve Park's win and my pole here so obviously when we come back we expect something in the top five. But we were caught off-guard a little bit yesterday. We unloaded the Busch car and the Cup car and neither of them was acting like they did last year. Paul Andrews (crew chief) reminded me that it's another year on this racetrack and tracks deteriorate. But time goes by and the track gets different. We qualified ninth in the Pennzoil Chevy. The car was a little loose all day. I feel real good about everything. The Busch car is running good. It's Rockingham and hopefully I can be consistent and have a good run."

Do you think Sunday is your best chance to score your first Winston Cup victory?

"It has to be. That's the way I look at it. I'm not going to do anything nutty. If I finish 10th, that's where I finish. Obviously I want to win very badly because I haven't won a Winston Cup race yet. I've gotten three second-place finishes. It's time for me to win. Those chances are far and few between for me. Getting to drive a car like this is a dream come true for me. Steve should be back real soon; within the next two or three weeks, I presume. It's still up to him. I really want to win Sunday, that's for sure."

How are you going to feel about leaving that ride when Steve Park returns?

"It's very simple. I know what I signed up for. What has made this process a little easier for me is that I have a full time Busch Grand National ride, which I cherish very much. I signed a one-year contract with DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.).

"I am under contract, so I cannot go off and drive another car. So when Steve comes back, he gets in the car and he just races it. I'm not out, but I'm out of the Pennzoil car and I'll continue to drive my Busch car. I'll put all my effort in that to win the championship.

"On the other hand, Ty Norris (DEI Exec. VP) has said they can't justify just paying me. So I'm sure they're going to try to find some sponsors and we'll try to run some limited races - maybe the Brickyard or the Coca-Cola 600 - but I wouldn't look for a fourth-car team I can promise you that. Nowadays with all these teams shutting down, it's kind of hard to grab five to eight million bucks for me. They're not prepared to do that. This was an opportunity. I've done everything but win.

"I've gotten closer with Steve and have felt some of his heartache at times. I saw his mom crying the other day at the racetrack (practice session) when she knew he was back and could do it. It is his car. I understand the situation a lot more than anybody else would. I can't wait for him to get back in the car. I know it's hard for everybody to understand that I'm not tore up about it, but I knew what the deal was."

What was your impression of Steve Park and how he ran in traffic during that practice session?

"All of us - Dale Jr., Michael Waltrip, Ty Norris, Dr. Petty, and NASCAR - were there to observe this so we won't have another Ernie Irvan deal where if Steve comes back too soon. We were in total shock. As a matter of fact, it was dead silence. Steve jumped in that car and it was amazing. He was flying. There were times where all three of us couldn't catch him. We had two Pennzoil cars there and NASCAR approved a three to four hour test for Steve. We weren't allowed to adjust on the car because it was not an official test. When Steve would get out of the car he said that he was still squinting just to see a little bit further down the straightaway but it keeps getting better the more I drive the car. I told him he should just drive this weekend at Rockingham. I don't know if it's his stamina or what, but he elected not to run. He wants to be right when he comes back."

Has not knowing when Steve Park will return been tough on the team?

"Yeah, it's getting to be a little much on the team. I'm just one person and I can just drive the racecar. We have all these new safety devices in the car and we're trying to make everything fit for Steve and me at the same time. We're trying to worry about where we need to test. So, it's great that Steve is almost ready to come back."

Because of the quality of the ride and Steve Park's impending return, do you feel pressure to win this weekend?

"I wouldn't call it pressure. I don't know if I'll ever get an opportunity to drive a racecar this great again. But one thing that I'm happy with now is that everybody across the board knows what will happen now if Kenny Wallace gets in a good racecar. I'm thrilled to death with that because it makes me feel good about my ability. Yes, I want to win badly on Sunday because I so think my time is running out. That's true. But I don't change from week to week because it's might be my last chance.

"But then I look back and I look at Steve and he's won one race a year. It's not fair for me to tell myself that I only have three chances to win or something like that. I'm more or less scared that no team will ever measure up to what I've been through. I've been driving for DEI. Can you imagine me going to a 30th place team? Have you ever been to their shops?"

Would you be satisfied with not having Winston Cup victories but being successful in the Busch Series?

"I think all the drivers prepare ourselves for anything. I try to stay upbeat, but I always prepare myself for the worst. Racing is an up and down deal. Last week (Daytona 500) we built Tony Stewart up and thought he might win and then he blew a motor up on lap three. So human nature says to me that I need to be prepared not to get in a great ride again because there's only seven big teams out there. And they've all got good drivers."

Are there any more tests scheduled for Steve Park and how much does it hurt him not to be here this week when he's the defending champion of this race?

"I asked the same thing. There is a process in place for his return. Number one just got completed. Number two is that we're testing in Atlanta Monday and Tuesday. That's a full-blown test for me and it's been approved that he can get in the car a couple of times. Then he's got to go to a two-day test at Darlington. So this isn't a deal where he says, 'Hey, I think I'm ready to go.' Nobody wants him to come back too early.

"He said he knew that I could win here at Rockingham and that he didn't know if his stamina is ready for this track because it's a slippery track. He'll be here today for the Busch race. He's not going to go to Las Vegas. He said it's just too far to go and hang out."

-tmc-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ernie Irvan , Michael Waltrip , Steve Park , Kenny Wallace