Rusty Set for Daytona

With recent success, Wallace set for Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 30, 1998) Although the jury may still be out as for knowing the true competitiveness of the new Ford Taurus, there's a clear verdict as to the growing strength of Rusty ...

With recent success, Wallace set for Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 30, 1998) Although the jury may still be out as for knowing the true competitiveness of the new Ford Taurus, there's a clear verdict as to the growing strength of Rusty Wallace and his Miller Lite team in restrictor-plate racing.

"Our program for the big tracks at Daytona and Talladega has gotten so much stronger over the last two seasons that it's really incredible," Wallace said. "I think that we're now to the point that we can go out there and win one of these things (restrictor-plate races). Yes, we really don't know how the new Taurus is going to perform under race conditions. We won't know that until the green flag drops at Daytona. But, if it's at least close to what we had with the Thunderbird, we'll be in the hunt, I guarantee you that."

Wallace has sound reason for his unparalleled confidence entering Speedweeks '98 at Daytona International Speedway. After all, it was his team's restrictor-plate racing program that was the brightest aspect of the 1997 season, a year that saw Wallace endure 11 DNFs (did not finishes). Historically the weakest link in Wallace's overall annual performance, he qualified among the top-10 fastest competitors in all four of the races (two at Daytona and two at Talladega) and recorded two top-10 finishes. It marked the first season since 1988 that he accomplished that feat.

Furthermore, his sixth-place finish in last July's Pepsi 400 at Daytona rates as his best career finish in 29 races on the 2.5-mile high-banked race track.

"I said all along that if we had equal equipment ... similar horsepower and all, that we could run with anybody out there and be a serious threat to win," Wallace said. "Well, during the last couple of seasons, our engine department has burned the midnight oil and found us the power that we need. We've always had some sleek and aerodynamic race cars, but it's only been recently that we've had the horses necessary to move 'em to the front and stay there."

Inasmuch as Wallace is brimming with confidence entering Daytona, crew chief Robin Pemberton is also teeming with optimism.

"Even though there's questions to be answered as far as the potency of the new Taurus goes, I'm without a doubt the most hopeful I've ever been entering Daytona Speedweeks with Rusty and this team," Pemberton said. "The whole deal has just turned around so much when it comes to the Daytona and Talladega races. The attitude used to be that we dreaded those races. Now it's a situation where we can't wait to get back and see how much stronger we are than we were in the last race. "Rusty said something last year as to the effect that because he now had the horsepower he needed to get the job done, he no longer felt like he was coming to a gunfight armed with no more than a pocketknife. That's a good and simple statement mirroring a pretty complex situation that has evolved.

It's really given the team a lot of faith and Rusty, too, has shown so much more spunk in restrictor-plate races. They always talk about (Dale) Earnhardt being able to feel the draft and actually see the air. Well, I'd say that our driver is definitely catching on in a hurry.

"What I remember most about Daytona last year was seeing Rusty make his move during the 'Clash' like he did, coming all the way from the back of the pack to finish second," said Pemberton. "To me, that was the single most competitive move I saw all year long down there. The fact that he was able to make it clean through three different big crashes and finish sixth there in Daytona was impressive enough to cause me to make the comparison to Earnhardt."

When told of Pemberton's comments, Wallace chuckled and said, "I'm glad that I have a crew chief that would say that. What it all amounts to, though, is having what it takes to get the job done, having some outstanding spotting help and most importantly, having the good luck ride with you for a change. We've had all of that going for us lately and that's really made the big difference."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Rusty Wallace