Bristol: Rusty Wallace interview, Part I

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, has enjoyed tremendous success at Bristol Motor Speedway over the years. He is tied for second place with nine career victories at the track, and is tied for first with seven poles won....

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, has enjoyed tremendous success at Bristol Motor Speedway over the years. He is tied for second place with nine career victories at the track, and is tied for first with seven poles won. Bristol was also the site of his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory in 1986. On the eve of his 37th start at the .533-mile track, he was the Winston Breakfast Club guest and talked about, among other things, his success at Bristol and his season to date.

RUSTY WALLACE-2-Miller Lite Taurus

"Just good handling race cars, good pit stops and just a real love for the race track, I'd say. It's been one of my favorite tracks, won here a lot of times and cut my teeth on the short tracks back in the Midwest when I first started racing. Bristol just really suits my driving style. Plus all the car dealerships I've got in east Tennessee, all my friends and family come up here, it's a big deal, a lot of fun."

DOES WORKING ON YOUR CAR AND KNOWING YOUR CAR AS WELL AS YOU DO HELP HERE? "I think it really helps. I think everybody needs to know their car in order to be real, real successful, and I think it's very, very important to do that. A lot of guys just drive the car, but I tend to drive the car and pay a lot of attention to the chassis, the setup and stuff like that. I think it's been real gratifying for me to do that."

DID THE RAIN DURING THE TEST HERE HAVE ANY EFFECT ON WHAT YOU WERE ABLE TO PUT TOGETHER FOR THIS WEEKEND? "Yeah, it really did. I wanted to come up here and test real bad. This is a track that I wanted to test at and get a better handle on, because I've always run good but I wanted to come up here and make sure I run good. And the test got rained out and we weren't able to test. And right off the bat yesterday we had some real strange things happen. We were practicing and all of sudden I hear one of the guys holler and I look down and the right-front A-frame is all bent in half. It bent all by itself. So, we changed it and put another one on and it bent, too. So, we spent a lot of time working with these bent A-frames, and I started looking down pit road and six or eight guys started bending 'em. This new tire that we run last year is a little harder, you get into the corners different and it's a little harder in the right-front corner, the suspension. We won't notice any of that in the race because after you soften the springs up it's not as aggressive. If we would've tested we would've solved all those problems and figured everything out, but we didn't get to do it. And I told them, 'I think the guy that I'm gonna have to beat up there is probably Gordon,' and he was able to test and he got the pole, so that was just unfortunate we got stuck in the rain."

YOUR TEAMMATE HAS A VERY GOOD START. WHAT HAS THE 12 TEAM BEEN ABLE TO DO? "Honestly, really hardly nothing. Their setups are quite a bit different than what I run, and there's two races this year that I tried to run the different qualifying setups that I normally run in trying to learn some of the stuff that Ryan ran fast with and I just couldn't get comfortable with that. And because of that I took two provisional starting positions. That's because I went off my normal qualifying setup that I normally run at those race tracks, and both of those tracks that I qualified bad this year I was in the top 10 last year. So, I just really shot myself right in the foot, and I went right back to the normal stuff at last week Darlington and had a decent qualifying run. And yesterday, qualifying, I was just not tight enough. The new rules have got the cars with more air-dam in the front which gives you more front downforce, and the deck lid rules that they had got a little less downforce in the back, so the cars were looser this year and I had to run a little more sway bar, more spring, a lot of things different, and it had me a little nervous about doing some of those things yesterday when I was getting off the normal routine that I normally do here at Bristol. But, because of that, I paid a little bit in qualifying. Again, that's the reason I wanted to come up to this place and test because of the major changes that I saw in the body and the tire and things like that. But, all in all, the finishes, have been strong. I mean, I've come from the back to the front every doggone race, you know. Darlington was a real good run, got right up there and had a good finish. Probably the most dramatic one was Atlanta. We came from dead to the back to the front, at the very end got up to third, fell back to fourth and then fell back to sixth eventually. Vegas was another run. The Daytona 500, I really though we could've won that race. We were running third almost all day long there. So the cars have really, really been strong, and the neat thing is that Ryan's car and my car have finished almost bumper to bumper in all these races. So they've been very, very close, even with dramatically different chassis setups in them. But the neat thing about it is the engines are the same, the cars are the same. But you can still change the springs and the shocks and that's what we do."

ARE YOU MORE HESITANT TO MAKE CHANGES THAN YOU WERE IN THE PAST? "I'm open-minded but I'm more conservative than most, probably. I'd rather ease into it, and when I see some things that are just a lot different than what' I'm accustomed to I'm pretty skeptical to go to it. But then again, I was very, very open-minded going into two of these tracks, going into Vegas and going into Atlanta, I guess, because of how Ryan tested, so I just immediately put that in there and I kept telling myself, 'Man, I can't run that. I never been able to run stuff like that.' And I did and I about busted my ass. But then again, there's a lot of stuff that they're doing that I have learned some things from. And there are other things - for instance, Ryan brought my setup here. His car was identical to my car when we unloaded, and he out-qualified me by a little bit here. But, still, each driver has to adjust to what he feels most comfortable with."

TRACK POSITION, TIRE WEAR, FRESH TIRES, ELLIOTT SADLER WON LAST YEAR BY NOT STOPPING, AND A LONGER PIT ROAD. "The pit road is something I don't really know what's gonna happen yet. I gotta tell you, if I had a bad qualifying run and I had to be on the back straightaway I wouldn't be near as concerned. In fact, I told my guys, 'You know what? I really think that that back straightaway end pit could very well be the best pit in the place. That could be the very best pit, and I wouldn't be surprised if a race got won from that pit. Because, I wouldn't want to be the number one guy in because then your pit stop will get done in, say, 15, 16 seconds and as you get ready to pull out, there'll still be cars coming in. But at the very end, if you were down there, I think you can get your pit stop done and get gone and you wouldn't have any traffic leaving and that could be a real, real good deal, no doubt about that. Back to the tire, we all know Goodyear builds a good tire, but in my opinion, it's too hard for this race. I like all race tracks when the tire wears and the handling starts to go away and that's where you start being able to pass. But if the tire never wears out, we just find ourselves running bumper to bumper around here, and that's what happened last year. We got that same compound of tire back, and we'll just have to see again, but it runs for a long, long, time and nobody's handling falls out and thus creates no passing, and that's not a good deal. The fresh tires don't a whole - they do do a little bit for a short period of time."

WHAT ABOUT A SOFTER TIRE FOR THE COLD, LIKE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE LAST YEAR? " It's going to be a little bit warmer tomorrow. I hear that it's going to be in the 60s tomorrow. Every day is gradually getting warmer and warmer. I was real surprised yesterday to find out how cold it was out there, even with the sticker tire, the first corner the car was hooked up. It was skatin' and slidin' all over the place, so that's a good sign. I don't think that cold tire's gonna be a real issue. And as hard as this tire is, cold temperatures, I don't think it's gonna be as big of an issue as I thought it was going to be."

HEADING INTO TEXAS AND CALIFORNIA, CARS ARE SO AERODYNAMIC NOW, CAN YOU DEFINE WHAT THAT FEELS LIKE TO THE DRIVER AND THE DIFFERENCE WITH THIS LITTLE GIFT THAT THEY GAVE THE FORDS BEFORE THE SEASON? "Well, I didn't know we got anything before the season. That has nothing to do with Texas or California, that was just rear-spoiler reduction going into, you know, as the transition went all through Speed Weeks and everything. And I was real happy to hear the other day that they're not going to make any changes whatsoever for Talladega versus Daytona, which I think that's be good, because our cars ran pretty good in the race. But we did get a one more inch kickout on the front air dam on the downforce tracks versus last year. And that's one thing I noticed that's made a pretty good change. I've had to tighten our race cars up because of that. And I think I found a little of that yesterday, even at this short race track. But the aero push is just something that's a real pain in the butt. When you go out there, you're running real good and all of sudden you pull in behind a car and this real good grip you had in the front end, all of sudden it goes away and the front end starts sliding on you and you can't seem to pass a car. And that's what's called the aero push. You got a real good sticky front end by yourself and you get behind a car and that's gone. And you gotta have air to create downforce, but sometimes, I think, we got too much downforce on the back and not enough on the front because this aero push is more dominant."

Wallace Part II

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Rusty Wallace