NASCAR Winston Cup Series ONE OF THE BIGGEST STORIES AT SPEEDWEEKS LAST SEASON WAS THE TEAMING OF RUSTY WALLACE AND JEREMY MAYFIELD. THE PENSKE-KRANEFUSS DUO WAS ARGUABLY THE TOP STORY OF SPEEDWEEKS. WALLACE WON THE INAUGURAL BUD SHOOTOUT ...
NASCAR Winston Cup Series
ONE OF THE BIGGEST STORIES AT SPEEDWEEKS LAST SEASON WAS THE TEAMING OF RUSTY WALLACE AND JEREMY MAYFIELD. THE PENSKE-KRANEFUSS DUO WAS ARGUABLY THE TOP STORY OF SPEEDWEEKS. WALLACE WON THE INAUGURAL BUD SHOOTOUT AND BOTH FINISHED IN THE TOP FIVE IN THE DAYTONA 500 WITH MAYFIELD PLACING THIRD AND WALLACE FIFTH. THE TWO TEAMS SPOKE ABOUT LAST SEASON AND WHAT THEIR GOALS ARE FOR 1999 AT THE RECENTLY CONCLUDED CHARLOTTE MEDIA TOUR.
RUSTY WALLACE -2- Miller Lite Taurus -- ARE YOU FURTHER AHEAD GOING INTO 1999 THAN 1998 WITH THE TAURUS DEVELOPMENT? "I think there's a lot more knowledge out there right now. Robin has a lot more knowledge on the Ford Taurus and that was the big thing, getting that car designed and built, although we went to Daytona last year with a great Taurus. I thought we qualified well and we ran our best race ever at Daytona, but Robin's been able to take that information learned last year and improve on it and make it better. I would say right now that everything is smoother right now at our shop than it was last year. We've got cars built on the floor. We'll never stop building new cars and that's what he's doing now, building new cars. We had a great test at Daytona, it went really, really good for us, so we came out of there feeling really prepared and everything feels better. It's much more relaxed this year and I feel it's much more focused than we were last year. Last year everything was right to the last minute trying to get everything done. Robin was in the windtunnel 24 hours a day. I'm not saying he still isn't doing that. He's still in the tunnel a lot with his team of people trying to make that car better, but we feel like we're in better shape right now than we were last year at this point that's for sure."
AFTER ONE YEAR HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HAVING A TEAMMATE. HAS IT HELPED BOTH OF YOU? "There's no doubt about that. I think it was one of the neatest things that's ever happened. When we started running the year we did some pre-season testing and we got to know each other better. We started talking and looking at the high points that each individual had. There were a lot of things that Paul (Andrews) brought to the game, a lot of things Jeremy brought to the game. Jeremy and I were able to drive each others cars and go back and forth. That's when I started making the comments that it's the first time I've ever worked together with someone that our driving styles tended to almost be identical. I could get in his car if he said it was right and it was perfect, and then he'd get in my car and it basically felt the same way to him. We agreed with what was right and what was wrong. There are a lot of teams that don't agree like that. We had a helluva year. It was a good year. We both had a lot of poles. We both had won races. We both led a lot of laps. We both finished in the top 10 in points. I guess stuff that a lot of people talked to me about was how the teams seemed to lag halfway through the year. I think one thing that screwed that up was that we had a lot of meetings, a lot of debriefs. We were always meeting after practices all the time and about halfway through the year, I ran real good and Jeremy ran real good and I personally think we both thought we could stand on our own and we didn't need to have these meetings. Maybe we got ourselves too busy with other things, sponsor requests, things like that. The meetings quit happening and I think the performance fell off. Then, about three-quarters of the way through the year, the meetings started taking place again and I think the performance level came up. That's something I personally won't let happen again. I won't let a sponsor request or just being too busy take away from those meetings because I think we both got real confident in what we were doing and the confidence level was OK, but we really need to be stuck together like we were early in the year to keep that performance up and that's what we're gonna do again this year and not let that happen again."
AT DAYTONA IT'S EASY IF YOU'RE BOTH UP FRONT WITH YOUR TEAMMATE, BUT HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO FIND YOUR TEAMMATE IF YOU'RE SPREAD APART? "One great example of how far off you can get was at the Firecracker 400 last year. We were doing pretty good and the 12 car was struggling. Right there at the end I knew their car was fast, I knew it was handling good, but they didn't have the track position. Well, the field came in for a four-tire stop. Paul asked Jeremy how his car was running and Jeremy commented that it was running good, so Paul put two tires on the car and wouldn't you know it, we came out of there side by side. I told Paul that was a great move because it put us bumper to bumper. I was running second all day long and that put him second and me third, but it worked out fine. It was really cool that we found each other again."
JEFF BURTON COMMENTED THAT HE FEELS THE BEST WAY TO HAVE A TWO-CAR TEAM IS TO HAVE IT UNDER ONE ROOF. YOUR SITUATION IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT BEING ACROSS THE STREET FROM EACH OTHER. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "I don't know if we have a different philosophy on that, it's just that the teams were made up already. We already had our existing building and Michael had his team put together already. If we wanted to do that we couldn't have anyway because it would have been financially crazy to shut one team down. I don't know if I totally agree with that. I agree with it in a sense, but there's so much work that goes on with these teams that I think it's good to have each team focused on their car instead of looking back and forth from car to car. Now they can take any car they want. We have an open book. I mean the car I just ran at Daytona, my fastest car, is sitting in Michael's shop right now measuring it up to try to improve on their stuff, so it's that open right now. I think it works fine the way it is right now."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ENGINE PROGRAM NOW WITH LARRY WALLACE? "Back in 1997 you talk about bad, nine engine failures and I still finished ninth in the points. Last year, two engine failures and I've got the second-best record in qualifying. I was never out of the top 10, I had four poles, so this whole engine thing took me and Jeremy to a complete new level. I don't know if Jeremy had any engine failures. I blew up at California running second with eight laps to go -- a Larry Wallace motor -- and I blew a Penske motor up at Bristol, Tennessee when I was leading the race. But then I blew another one of Larry's motors up at Pocono. I broke a crankshaft, something that's never happened, but since then I haven't had any problem. I'm really excited about this year and knowing that the engine company has been formed. It's Penske Engines. Michael owns half of the engine company and Penske owns half, so we're ready to rock n' roll." WHERE WILL THE ENGINE WORK BE DONE AT? "All of the engines are being built in Concord, North Carolina, at Larry's facility over there. A lot of research and development, durability testing and stuff like that and restrictor plate work is being done at Penske Racing over here under the direction of Larry Wallace."
DO YOU FEEL THE ONLY WAY TO CHALLENGE JEFF GORDON IS FOR YOU TO RAISE YOUR LEVEL? "There's no doubt about it. Paul and Robin have a tough job because we're both relying on these guys to lead their people. I mean, just about the time they're getting tired or lazy, those guys aren't. They're wide open, they know what the goal is and they know the only thing they can do now is go down. That's just like when I won the championship and they said, 'Well, now the only thing you can do is win another one or go down.' Well, I went down. Nobody wants to go down, so that's the reason they're building me better cars. We're practicing pit stops every single day. Larry's working on the durability and all you can do is take all your mechanical things and all your people and get them to the highest level you can. That's what we're trying to do."
CAN YOU GIVE AN EARLY PREDICTION ABOUT DAYTONA? "We went to Daytona and somebody is always gonna run a little better than the other when you have a two-car team. Jeremy's car runs a lot better than mine sometimes and sometimes mine runs better. This time at Daytona we had a good car. We hope to go to Daytona with two cars that are identical, that should come off the truck and run the same speed. Right now our speeds are better than they were, so we feel like we're just better. Again, I am not gonna make any predictions. I've learned not to do that and I'm just gonna say I feel real prepared. I'm real proud of Robin and his entire team."
JEREMY MAYFIELD -12- Mobil 1 Taurus -- WHAT CONTRIBUTED TO SUCH A BIG TURNAROUND LAST YEAR WITH THE NEW ORGANIZATION? "I think there were several things and one of them was obviously teaming up with Rusty and the whole Penske South team. Paul Andrews and myself had a year under our belt, but just a lot of things worked out good for us. I think just being teammates with Rusty and everybody working together and really trying hard to shoot for the same goal was our biggest asset and, of course, having Mobil 1 involved with the technical end of their side. It was just a lot of things that contributed to it. It's hard to say it's just one thing, but probably just the way both teams worked together."
AT DAYTONA IT'S EASY IF YOU'RE BOTH UP FRONT WITH YOUR TEAMMATE, BUT HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO FIND YOUR TEAMMATE IF YOU'RE SPREAD APART? "There are times where it's pretty tough to do that. For some reason, Rusty and I always found each other. It didn't matter if we had a bad stop or got shuffled to the back. There were times where he'd see me back there, I'd pull down and he'd pull down to help me and I'd do the same for him. We always ended up together somehow someway in the race and I think everyone noticed that. It didn't matter if it was the last few laps at Daytona or Talladega, wherever we were at, you'd always see us two together. It's difficult to get that, but you also have to have the other person on your end willing to help you and I think that's why the two of us have always ended up together somewhere down the line during restrictor plate races. If I knew he was in trouble or if he knew I was in trouble, the other guy was always there to help. Last year at the Daytona 500 there were several times I was shuffled all the way to the back. Once I would get in sight of him, he'd look up in his mirror and see me he was always there to help me. The guy in front can't just back up and help the guy behind, but somehow there's always a way that we helped each other."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE SEASON? "Rusty and I have talked about this before, but with any luck at all, or if both of us had been a little bit better last year, we would have won 10 or 12 races between the two of us easy. That's something we haven't forgotten and we know that we were that close last year and feel we're gonna be much better this year. That's something we're focused on."
CAN YOU GIVE AN EARLY PREDICTION ABOUT DAYTONA? "I think the way the test results were as far as Daytona goes and the way our record was last year at the speedway races, that I feel we're way ahead of where we were last year and definitely way ahead of where we finished at Atlanta."
WALT CZARNECKI, Chairman Penske Motorsports -- "About a year ago at this time we had the good fortune of formalizing a relationship with our longtime friend and associate, Michael Kranefuss, to invest in what became Penske-Kranefuss Racing and, along with that, the association with Mobil. It's been a tremendous partnership to this point, but what made it even better was the ability to take advantage of the eight years experience that had been generated with Rusty and Don (Miller) and Robin (Pemberton) and the team at Penske Racing South to be able to transfer some of that information over to the 12 car team and help enhance their performance, and I think we saw the result of that in our 1998 season. Ours is a unique organization in that in many respects we operate as a two-car team. Structurally it is not. It's two separate companies, but between those two companies with their individual management, there is a free-flow of information both from a technical operating and personal standpoint, but we believed it was important that each team maintain its own unique characteristics, those things that make Rusty Wallace and the Miller Lite Taurus team unique and those characteristics which make Michael Kranefuss, Jeremy Mayfield and the Penske-Kranefuss team unique. We think it works well. I was talking earlier about the relationship that exists between the management of both teams and clearly my role and the role that Roger Penske has is to enhance and encourage that kind of free-flow of communication in all aspects of the business. It's paid off on the race track. We believe, and we hope to enhance that in 1999. We've done one other thing. About a month ago we purchased the assets of Power Tech Engine Company and formed a new company called Penske Engines, Larry Wallace's operation in Concord. That company is owned 50-50 by the two companies. Penske Racing South owns 50 percent, Penske-Kranefuss owns 50 percent and that's just another element in the package we're trying to put together. Clearly, the 24 car and the Hendrick team set a new standard and our goal this season is to not only meet that standard, but to exceed it."
HOW DO YOU FEEL HAVING THE TEAMS UNDER DIFFERENT ROOFS? "For all intent and purposes we are under one roof with the fact that we're only 150 yards apart. Again, that encourages a free-flow of information, but I think it's important that each team maintain it's own unique personality and then we can draw from the best of both and come up with this product at the end. The results seem to demonstrate that."
HOW DOES THE PURCHASE OF LARRY WALLACE'S OPERATION CHANGE THE ENGINE PROGRAM FOR EITHER TEAM? "I think it really improves it. Just to give you the generousness of the transaction. When we partnered with Michael we knew that he had a relationship with Power Tech and Larry Wallace. Historically, the Penske Racing South team had done some engines with Larry Wallace and we knew the capability that Larry possessed in his shop and it became pretty clear that if we could take the best of what Don (Miller) and his team have done in development and merge them with results Larry had done. Larry is the master of his trade and he wants to focus on development. He doesn't want to particularly be a business person, so we saw the elements of the transaction and what we've done is take the best elements of both and put them together. Rusty can tell you about what engine reliability did to us in 1997 and that was something we had to address. When we partnered with Michael and saw the reliability that the 12 car had experienced in 1997 and got a chance to know what Larry Wallace could provide, in addition to what Don had done, we thought why not put the two together if Larry was amenable to it and that was the result. Maybe more important than horsepower is reliability and I think if you look at the engine performance of both teams last year with one or two exceptions, we were in pretty good shape."
MICHAEL KRANEFUSS, Car Owner -12- Mobil 1 Taurus -- WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST BENEFICIAL PART OF THIS PARTNERSHIP FOR YOU AFTER ONE YEAR? "It's a great relationship. We have known each other for many, many years. I met Roger (Penske) in 1974 in Europe when he was running Formula One with Mark Donahue. I met Walt (Czarnecki) when I came to Detroit in 1980. He's the ultimate racer. He's a man I have tremendous respect for and he's become an even closer friend. We do have our moments. Roger is not known for having the ultimate degree of diplomacy and neither am I, but it happens in a great way. It's the same way, the relationship, with the 2 car. Rusty and I and Jeremy and Paul, we all at times do disagree, but it's easier and more beneficial for us to work together, so it's a great relationship. It's like in a family. It's not always perfect, but it's as good as it gets."
HOW DO YOU FEEL HAVING THE TEAMS UNDER DIFFERENT ROOFS? "I don't think there are set rules that says a two-car or three-car team can only work a certain way. It's a question of the degree that everybody wants to work with the rest of the team. If Rusty's shop was 20 miles a way, we'd still find ways to find out what we need to find out and so would he. You've got to keep the individual competitive spirit in each team alive. We were thinking about doing pit stop practices together. I don't think that would be right because at the end of the day Jeremy is trying to beat Rusty and Rusty is trying to beat Jeremy the last five laps. That's never gonna change, so there are certain things you should not mess with, therefore I don't think you can say there is only one way it can work. A lot of people keep saying the only advantage for a multi-car team is the amount of testing you can do. I don't think that's necessarily true. The important tests, both teams are going. We have an open book and you have to do these things. Where you learn is at the races. If one team is a little off, the other one can help and that happens many times. There are many other elements than just testing where you can help each other."
ROBIN PEMBERTON, Crew Chief -2- Miller Lite Taurus -- THE TAURUS WAS NEW LAST YEAR AND NOW CHEVROLET IS GOING TO BE COMING OUT WITH A NEW CAR. DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THAT OR JUST WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU'VE GOT TO DO? "I don't think you can worry about the competition and what they come out with. NASCAR does a great job at trying to keep the playing field level and everybody, if you run a Chevy or a Ford or a Pontiac sometimes you think you're at a little bit of a deficit, but we have to stay focused on what we've done and improve on what we did last year. We do have new rule changes for spoilers and stuff like that in which we'll start the year out, but I don't think we can worry about what they're doing at all."
YOU DESIGNED THE TAURUS. DOES THAT STILL GIVE YOU AN ADVANTAGE? "I think so for one reason. When we were doing the development work we had to go through so many changes and iterations with the car. We had a lot of trends. Even when the car was bad or it had a lot of drag or not enough downforce or too much of the other. We saw trends when we were building those cars. Now that there are new rules and regulations, so when we see a trend popping up we've already got answers to it because we've been through all of that 18 months ago with the car. I think right now doing that, it's probably helping us a little bit early on this year, but the gap is closing up. All the other teams are going through the same exercise now going into the second year, but it's helped us early on this season. Two years ago when we were doing the development work I think it hurt our effort for that year. I think it's an advantage to us."