RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger) HOW DOES YOUR NEW CHARGER COMPARE TO THE OTHER CARS AT THE LAS VEGAS TEST? "I haven't seen anybody outrun me yet. My car is flying. I really like that Charger. We've got a totally ...
RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger)
HOW DOES YOUR NEW CHARGER COMPARE TO THE OTHER CARS AT THE LAS VEGAS TEST? "I haven't seen anybody outrun me yet. My car is flying. I really like that Charger. We've got a totally radically different setup than we normally run here and I ran two cars and looked at the wind tunnel data between the two cars. The one that shows the most downforce is the faster car. We know which direction we've got to work in, but both cars are real close. We've got a trend of what the Charger is wanting, and we'll go to California and see if that trend continues. We'll have a lot of good ideas going into the rest of the races."
WILL THE CHARGER BE A CONTENDER AT DAYTONA? "My car ran great at Daytona. I guess if I only had one concern it would be about the grille possibly trapping debris. We worked on that at Daytona. I don't know if you ever work it all out, but the car is cooling better. The water temperature is running lower, and we're able to put more tape on the grille, which creates more downforce and makes the car go faster in the straightaways. If you can keep the debris off the grille, that's a bonus. I think the nose is a better design. It definitely looks cooler. I think it's neat when Dodge and those guys create something like they did. I think it's going to be a great looking car on the track. A fellow came up to me a little while ago and said, 'man, that thing looks mean.' I like the way my car feels on the soft tires."
DOES THE NAME CHARGER GIVE YOU A BOOST? "It does a little bit. I like hearing about the old cars. I always like the GTO, the T-Bird and now I like hearing the Charger. I'm an old retro guy, and I like hearing those old names."
ANY SURPRISES SO FAR? "I didn't know what the setups were going to be like here because of the softer tires and shorter spoilers. We unloaded with a totally different setup than we've ever run here, just trying to anticipate what we needed, and I've got to tell you right off the truck we ran really good. We made some changes and looked at both cars and they're both fast. I left about half an hour early yesterday. The car was flying. I went out there and felt very confident. I didn't see anybody run any quicker than us. I went out there this morning and made a couple of changes, and it really flew this morning. I hope it's this good during race weekend because this feels wonderful. Now I'm putting the car in qualifying mode. We're going to make qualifying runs the rest of the day. NASCAR rules are totally different now. Everybody is calling this the standard race weekend. It is standard when it comes to schedule, but it's different when it comes to rules. When we go to California, they're going to make us race basically what we qualify, but here we can change the car around from qualifying to race. One thing I didn't know until a couple of hours ago is we have to qualify full fuel. We used to run partial fuel runs for qualifying. We used to put only five gallons of gas in the back. Now we've got to qualify a full 22 gallons of fuel at every track. We can move led and change swaybars and all that stuff. On a track like this, but when we get to California they're only going to give you a handful of things you can change. As far as Rusty's Last Call Tour, I'm real excited about that. I think we'll be super competitive. We ran great at Daytona. I'm going to be on the gas real, real hard. I've got a lot of appearances this year, a lot of touring around. I feel like I'm up for the game."
DO YOU WISH THE NEW QUALIFYING RULES HAD BEEN SET EARLIER? "It really doesn't bother me at all. It's the same for everybody. I asked them about the full fuel tank because I only heard about it a couple of hours ago. They said they were going to do it next year for sure, so they thought they'd just do it now. I'm fine with the rules. It makes things less complicated basically qualifying what you're going to race. It seems like you're at the racetrack just as much. You're still there three days. That really hasn't done anything, but at least you're not doing all those crazy setups like we'd been doing from qualifying to racing."
IS THERE ANY ROOM IN YOUR RETIREMENT PLANS TO CHANGE YOUR MIND? "I've got to tell you. I'd be lying to you if I told you I hadn't been thinking about that a thousand times. I've been lying in bed wondering if I made the right decision or if I pulled the trigger too quick. Looking back right now, maybe I would have gone another year before I did it. I did it because I'm on top of my game. I want to go out on top of my game. I had no idea that Mark Martin and Terry Labonte were going to do what they did also. Terry is only running a limited schedule this year, 10 races, and Mark is still going to run the whole truck series. I did it because I wanted to be the only guy doing it and I wanted to do a really good tour, and that's what I'm going to do. I'm sticking with my decision right now. I did tell people I'm not going to race anything. I'm not going to do anything after the 2005 season. I kinda opened the door back up where if I wanted to run a couple of races I could. I don't plan on it, but I do plan on running the 2006 24 Hours of Daytona. I've never done that before, and I want to do that before I'm all said and done and be able to say I've done that one. I know I'm doing that one. Anything after that, I don't know. Whether I'll be testing for Team Penske, my son Stephen is coming up and I could see him driving the car, getting in the car saying, 'man, I can't figure it out Dad.' Then me going through that frustration level trying to speed him up. I'm an impatient guy, and I can see me jerking him out of the car and me jumping in to tell him what it's doing and try to speed up his learning procedures a little bit. My plan is not to do any of that. I'm trying to leave the door open in case I want to do some of that."
COMMENT ON THE BUSCH BROTHERS "They're doing well. They've got a lot of natural talent, no doubt about that. They both drive the car real strong. They're both aggressive. They haven't lucked into anything. Kyle was real fast last year in that Busch car. He's struggled in the Cup car, but I think he's going to be a good one. I think they're both naturally talented kids and they're going to get it done."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO FINAL DAYTONA 500? "I'm possessed on winning that race. I know I've got one shot left. My test at Daytona went real, real well. It started out slow and then it got better and better as the week went on. By the third day it got real good. I feel like I've got a great car going down there. I'm going down there with a lot of optimism. I was laying in bed last night running that last lap through my mind. I come off four and he makes this high move and he makes this low move. What am I going to do? Am I going to go low? Am I going to go high? Am I going to throttle back and get a run? I was going through that. I did that for four or five years when I had a real good car on winning the 500. That's the one I led all day long and Gordon ended up getting me on that apron shot. You try to learn from those events and not let that happen. I'm going in with a lot of confidence. My car drafted great at Daytona, handled really good. My car is handling really good here, so things are looking up right now."
HOW WOULD NOT WINNING DAYTONA 500 AFFECT YOUR CAREER? "There would be a small void in there, but I've won a lot of poles and races. I did a lot of cool things. One void is Daytona. I think that's one of the biggest tracks we go to that I'd like to get the job done at. The Brickyard hasn't been on the circuit that long to miss not getting one there, although I should have won that thing many times. I've had three second-place finishes at it only to get passed with 10 laps to go. In my eyes I kinda won it, but Daytona is the one I want."
LESS SPOILER, SOFTER TIRES, ARE YOU SAYING 'I TOLD YOU SO'? "Oh no, not yet. All I can tell you is my car feels great. I'm happy with the car right now. My speeds are good. We've got to get in the race and see what happens. I remember last year in the first five races everyone was screaming about how hard the tires were and the competition wasn't good. The whole goal right now is when you put four tires on the tires start to wear and the cars start sliding around and the only way you can do that is to soften up these tires a little bit. These guys are rim riding along the bottom all day long and not changing tires. Lately at Bristol everyone just runs around the bottom of the race track. We used to run in the middle and top of that track all the time, but these tires are so hard you can't get up there eight now. I think since these tires are soft the tracks are going to blacken up and the second and third grooves are going to start coming in. I believe it's going to be for the better. I really do."
ARE YOU GETTING MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THE HAN getting more comfortable with it. I had it the whole time at Daytona and I've got it right now. It's just kinda second nature. I haven't had it bother me. It bothers you more when you get in the cars and just sit there, but when you get on the racetrack it gets a little more comfortable for some reason."
COMMENT ON ROOKIE PRESSURE "It's tougher because when these guys come in nowadays, they've got all the equipment. They've got all the engineers. Here's the money. Here's the cars. Here's everything, now let's get it done. They do have some pressure on 'em, no doubt about that. I think Brendan (Gaughan) is a great driver. I think he's got a ton of talent. I've seen him run up front. I've got some races I've got to get filled in yet and I plan on calling Brendan and ask him to do it. I've got that much confidence in him. They do have a lot of pressure. It was a lot different when I started. I wrecked a lot. I ran into the back a lot, but nowadays if you don't get it done they want you to get it done because they're paying for it. Would I want to be a rookie now? I'd like to be their age now. I don't know if I'd like to be a rookie now. I'd like to have another five years of making the money everybody is making now."
COULD ANYTHING HAPPEN THAT WOULD MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIIND ABOUT RETIREMENT? "No, not yet, not in my mind at all except I've got this extreme passion for the sport, and I ask myself all the time 'why did you do it?' It's because I don't like running 36 races. I hate running 36 races. I don't like being away from home that much. I don't like just constantly doing that, and I've got a lot of cools things going on right now. My car dealerships in East Tennessee, my son Stephen coming up racing. I've got involvement in Team Penske. Right now, I feel like I've got my life in order. There are times I'm sitting there and I told Patti (wife) that I really like it. She said, 'why do you keep pushing it? We've got what we want.' I tell her it's because I enjoy it. Well, that went on for years. I finally had to pull the trigger. I didn't get any pressure from the Miller Brewing Company but I kept getting all these vibes from the distributors. "We want a guy that wants to hang out with us until 2 o'clock in the morning and drink some beer.' I'm not that guy. At 11 o'clock I'm dead asleep right now, but I'm not going to close the door. I can't think of a scenario right now."
WHAT KIND OF CHAMP WILL KURT BUSCH MAKE? "I really don't know. I've had a chance to do some things with him off the track. He and I have a contract with Visa credit cards. We've played golf together. We've hung out and got along real well. He's a real articulate guy. He's a real smart fellow. I lot of race fans don't realize that. Kurt is a pretty cool guy if you get to know him. A lot of people don't know him. I went up and down through that, but I remember in '89 when I won the championship the very next year I went all over the country trying to build this sport. I went crazy. I believe I'm the only driver in this sport when it was all said and done at the last race in 1990 in Atlanta, Ga., all my peers stood up and R.J.Reynolds stood up and I've still got it on display at my house. It was a big Pandora's box and open it up and it says 'congratulations to one of the greatest champions ever and thanks for helping build this sport. That meant a lot to me."
ARE YOU SECOND GUESSING YOUR DECISION? "Everybody told me I'd do that. I told myself, 'self, get halfway through the year and see where you're at and see if you're still comfortable with your decision.'"
CASEY MEARS (No. 41 Target Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Mears and Dodge driver Ryan Newman made the six-player cut for the finals of a Fox celebrity Texas Hold 'em tournament tonight at The Palms.
"We played some games back home just for fun, and I learned a little bit about it. I had an opportunity to go do this, and I had a good time. It's benefiting a couple of good charities -- The Target House and Victory Junction Gang. I'm just having some fun. I'm no card shark at all. I just got some good guards and was able to do the right things with 'em. I went all in a couple of times and won. One time was against Vickers. It's cool. It's not really your money, but you want to play well for your charity."