Dodge This Teleconference Tuesday, June 3, 2003 Rusty Wallace, Don Miller and Bill Wilburn RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Intrepid) NOTE: Wallace finished sixth last Sunday at Dover and moved to eighth in the series standings. He's...
Dodge This Teleconference
Tuesday, June 3, 2003
Rusty Wallace, Don Miller and Bill Wilburn
RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Intrepid)
NOTE: Wallace finished sixth last Sunday at Dover and moved to eighth in the series standings. He's moved up from 16th following Martinsville. Wallace has four wins at Pocono in 38 career starts at the 2.5-mile triangle. He finished ninth last season in the Pocono 500.
"I guess it's OK for whoever wants to come in to come in. I never thought I'd see a foreign manufacturer get involved in Winston Cup, but a lot of those cars are built in the U.S. right now anyway. It doesn't bother me much. I'm a Dodge guy. I've been a Ford guy and a Pontiac guy. I think I've done a really, really good job for all of those guys. Right now I'm with Dodge and these people have been really, really great to me and Roger and everybody on our team. I love working with Dodge right now. I have no understanding at all of anything with Toyota or Honda or any of those companies. All of those big relationships have been handled by Mr. Penske. He's got all the car dealerships and the insight to deal with those people. Once the deal is put together with the car manufacturers then it's my role to come in and support them and do all the appearances and activate the sponsorship agreement and make everybody happy.
"I think Dodge has spent a lot of money, too, so the money doesn't scare me at all. It's pretty hard to beat how much money Dodge has spent trying to win races and what kind of support they're giving to their teams. I read that the other day - money, money, money. To me that's just a bunch of bull. That's nothing. All these car companies are spending big bucks right now. We've got the world-class engine facility there in Mooresville (N.C.). We're building huge horsepower. Dodge has got one of the most beautiful wind tunnels in the world. It still keeps coming down to people. Nowadays instrumentation and computers are huge into it, so I'd say the engineers are going to have a lot to do with it. No doubt, money does buy speed. There's no doubt about that, but we've got good support.
"Pocono has got three corners. Everybody breaks it down to turns one, two, three and all that, but it's turn one, obviously being turn one. Turn two, being the tunnel turn and then turn three being the very flat corner that leads into the front straightaway. If you really broke it down, you could almost say it's turn one getting in, turn two getting off turn one, turn three, four and five. The place has really got five corners, but we refer to it as one, two and three. The first corner has got some banking that you can lean on getting in, and then you go across the tunnel turn and it's definitely five or 10 degrees less banking and then you go to the very last turn and it's almost flat. There's three very challenging corners there that require downshifting on the transmission, that require a big compromise in the chassis setup. People used to ask me which corner I set up for. I really don't set up for any individual corner. I try to get the best of all of them nowadays. I don't say, 'I want to get better than any car out there in turn three.' I don't do that anymore. I kind of used to. I still think the most important corner is that last corner leading to that big, long front straightaway. That gives you a big draft and let's you pass cars easier and things like that. There's passing off turn one and a lot of passing off the tunnel turn and a lot of passing up off that turn three that builds all that momentum for the front straightaway.
"I've won a lot of races there, and I had a lot of races won there that I didn't win. It is definitely one of the races on my radar screen that I go to thinking I could win any time I go.
"In the last decade, I don't know that I've changed a lot of my driving style, and if I have, I don't realize it. The car and equipment and the races and personalities and engineering and all this stuff has come on to alter what might look like a change in driving style. In my heart, I don't think I'm driving any different. I'm definitely not as sporadic and wide open as I was before. I think I'm more focused and on the gas now and paying a lot of attention. You could have 10 guys that could win at any given time and now you've got 25 of them cats. It's definitely changing. There's a lot more money in the sport which also makes it look like driving styles have changed.
"I keep questioning that. What's the reason we're struggling on this? Again, it's a people sport. I think organization has a lot to do with it. I think catching all the breaks on the pit stops has got a lot to do with it, and I think having a great handling car has got a lot to do with it. I've personally been real happy with the performance of our car. I thought this year we've run really, really well. We've qualified great. We've been in the top 10 a lot and the races we haven't been in the top 10 it's only because something weird has happened like pitting while running third and the caution flag comes out and puts you two laps down like what happened at Bristol, Texas and Darlington. Those three races in a row it happened to me. Then you look at the 600 in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago and I was sitting there running sixth. We made a normal green-flag pit stop and the caution came out and puts me down a lap. Those type of things are real upsetting to deal with, but the performance of that car I think has been there all year long.
"I don't want to be sitting out of the top 10, that's for sure. That's something that's always a concern going into the year. If something goes disarray with all the big-time competition going on, but we've been pretty steady. Obviously we want to win races. That's my main goal right now to do that, but we've been rock solid, there's no doubt about that. We've just got to get a little smarter on our chassis. We had some huge problems on our pit stops a couple of races ago, but Billy Wilburn (crew chief) had a lot of pressure on him to get it right and he knew he needed to get it right. He worked real hard on that pit crew last weekend and the pit stops I had were second to none. They were fabulous. I had some 12.90s. I never had pit stops that fast in my life, and boy did it feel good to come out of there with that consistency. That's what it's going to take to get it back in victory lane, a good handling car and things like that.
"It's frustrating. I summed it up a few weeks ago by saying it's getting damned ridiculous. It is, because we're a hell of a quality team, and there's people popping up like popcorn winning races with no consistency, and that gets upsetting. My teammate Ryan Newman is supposed to be winning races with the equipment we've got, the engineers he's got and he's a naturally talented guy, so I expect it out of Ryan. But there are other drivers that are popping up and I didn't think they'd win, but they are. That's racing. I feel like our team is a team that's expected to win every single week, and when we're not, we've got to start looking in the mirror and wonder 'what the hell is going on here?' It's just racing.
"It's going to be a real big deal for us. Steve (son) is going to have a lot of people there, and I won't be able to make it. I'm freaking out that I can't do that. I want to be there really bad, but I made a commitment to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company six months ago to visit a big appearance they've got me going to at Nashville Speedway, the short track, not the new track, but the short track on Saturday night. I generally don't do any appearances on Saturday night because I want to stay focused on the race for Sunday. These are great people. They've done a lot for me, so I'm going to fly from Michigan down to Nashville after Happy Hour practice on Saturday and attend this big function for them at that track. Steven it just so happened that two months ago decided he wanted to run Hickory for his inaugural race on June 14. I can't be there, but I'm going to have a lot of good people there. I'm going to have Barry Dodson, my ex crew chief there. I haven't officially asked him yet, but I know he'll do it for me. He's going to oversee Steve a little bit for me. He's got grandpa there, and my dad will be there. We've tested three or four times now, and he's running below the track record. He's flying and doing a hell of a job out there. I expect him to do great.
"24-7. I've been talking to him a lot, a lot of safety stuff inside his car, a lot on driving style, a lot of things like that. It's been really, really fun dealing with Steven because he's all ears. He can weld, he can paint, he can load the truck, he can build engines. He can do everything at age 15. His school work his great right now, so I'm a real proud pop right now.
"I gave Greg a shot at racing and he liked it, but he said, 'dad, you know, I'm not sure this is my calling.' So Greg will be going to Wake Forest law school next year. He graduated from college last year. Katie is going to be going to the College of Charleston, but Steven is obviously the racer. He loves it. I called a friend back from my ASA days, Robert Hamkee, and he built me a brand new car for Steven. Then I called our guys at Dodge and they're getting ready to start promoting their late model racing engine. They contracted Maurice Petty, Richard Petty's brother, to organize the whole program, put the engines together and organize them so they can have a real rock-solid race engine. Maurice has built a real killer engine, and one of the first engines was on the cover of Stock Car Racing Magazine, and we got that engine. That's the engine in Steven's car right now, so we've got a full-blown Dodge team in Steven's car with the supplied engine from Dodge. We've been practicing good, and we're looking forward to June 14.
"A lot of guys have had opportunities to win (at Pocono) and it just hasn't happened for some reason. Number one, you've got to like the track. Number two, you've got to feel comfortable with what you need there. It's not that you've got a certain spring or shock in mind what you have to have to get around that track. I know what corners I want to get off well. I know which ones I've struggled with, and I know the trend now, what's going on with the cars. You've got to kind of know what you want, and I think those drivers that have won in the past kind of know what they want. No matter what team they're with, they put blinders on and say give me this and give me this until I get what I want. Then I know I can win.
"I personally thought those races are too close together. I think all these races ought to be split up a little bit. It hasn't happened. It's been one of those weird deals where they're close together, but they seem to pack 'em in for both races. I've got to support 'em.
"I consider it an honor to be with Miller Lite, and to be consistently in the top 10 I think that's every drivers' goal to accomplish that. If you're not there, I think you've got to start looking at your team and the people that support you. You have to believe in yourself as a driver, and I believe in myself as a driver. If things aren't working, and me being part owner of the team, then we've got to start making changes and we've got to start looking around. It's been slow going with our team, but I think Billy is doing a hell of a job right now.
"We've sold a lot of beer and we've been together a long time. I expect to be together until I quit driving. I don't know if they'll be in the sport after I quit driving or not, but I'd like for them to stay in the sport with Team Penske. I don't know if they will or not. When you think of Miller Lite at the race track, I think you think of the 2 car, Rusty and I've done a lot appearances and met a lot of distributors and dealers around the country. It's been a real fun time, and I'm still having a great time. I'm still getting to meet the new people from SAB who bought Miller. I don't know if anybody knows or not, but now Miller Brewing Company and South African Brewery is the No. 2 beer company in the world right now, so that's pretty neat.
"All these guys want to shift. My idea of shifting at Pocono is the less you shift the better off you are because the less chance you have a tearing up a transmission. These people are always tearing up transmissions. There might be a tiny bit of speed in double shifting, shifting going down into turn one and shifting again before you go into the tunnel turn and then shifting again at the start-finish line. There are a lot of drivers that do that, and I've seen them blow a ton of stuff up. I've seen drivers not shift at all and just scream the crap out of the engine. I'm the guy who shifts at the start-finish line and down shift again going into turn one and then that's the extent of my shifting until I get back around to the start-finish line.
"I am so damn glad they're going that to Homestead. I don't know of any driver out there except maybe a couple that don't want anything changed there. It's been, in my idea, not too good of a race down there because it's so flat. We find ourselves racing every year on the warmup lane, dead against the grass, not even up on the race track. The only reason you're up on the race track is on the restart or if you get knocked up there. For them to spend that amount of money and go 24-7 to rebuild that track is a good idea. I had a long talk with them about that facility. The compound banking is a good idea. Turn one at Michigan has less banking than the second lane. We actually do race on the bottom, top and very, very top at Michigan. I think it's a step in the right direction doing what they're doing. I'm all for it. In order to get this thing done they're going to have to work a ton. It's definitely going to be cheaper on us to come in a day ahead of time to practice and test instead of a thousand people going down there and spending a bunch of money on testing. It's not a bad idea. I don't know if I want to see that at every race track because we'd be at the race track all the time and that's the last place everyone likes hanging out at all the time, but to go down there and get some practice time is a good idea.
"The last thing I want to have happen is my peers be angry at me all the time. I'd rather be a driver that people respect and have a good time racing against and can kind of have some type of idea what's going to happen, like Mark Martin. When you're around Mark you know he's always going to be fair to you. When he's on your bumper, you'd better be fair to him. Then there's some guys who are just flat-out nuisances out there. You don't know what's going to happen. They could be four laps down and race you like every single lap is the last lap and things like that. You definitely want to be liked by your peers. You don't want to start any controversy. You want to race hard but I don't want to leave the race with everybody hating me.
"I have tried to talk to some people when some people thought I'd done something that I really haven't to try to calm them down. Basically everybody listens. Only one driver hasn't, and that's fine. A good phone call will cure cancer the next day and calm these guys right down. I had guys give me a phone call when I didn't think they'd done anything at all. They thought they did. I don't want anybody upset with me and my driving style. Things happen. You go out there and get into some guy and don't mean it, but if it routinely happens there's a problem.
"It's expected. It's supposed to be that way. It could be more than that if not for these problems coming down pit road and the caution flag falling. It's ridiculous, but we've had a good car all year long, really good. I think the qualifying has been strong, and the pit stops have been erratic, but last week Billy got that fixed. We're going to get the cars handling a little better and get it back up to victory lane. The consistency has been great. I think every single week we've been right there.
"Bobby (Labonte) is another one of those veterans. He's not as veteran as I am, that's for sure, but he's been there a long time with a really good team. I expect it out of him. He's one of those guys that doesn't surprise me. I expect that. When he won the championship, I think his stats were incredible. He completed almost every single lap that year.
"I'd definitely like to have a little more time to see what it (new Homestead surface) is all about, but the problem is you can't. I read all the statistics on what it's going to take to get that track completed. Ten thousand dump truck loads of dirt have to be brought in. They have to work 18 hour days until race time is near to get it done, so I know they're up against the thing. The last thing they want to do is commit test days to somebody. NASCAR is pretty sharp. They're already thinking about what to do, bring these guys in a day ahead of time or two days ahead of time and turn 'em loose. I think that will give everybody enough time to figure it out.
"I don't think you'll feel any transitions on the race track when you're driving. I think the whole goal is to be able to run side by side. Everybody is tired of the aero push. I've told them that at a lot of these race tracks, the trend is to build the track where you can really get in the corner deep and as you exit the corner the track flattens out. That's the problem we have at California and Texas. Somebody's always got to win, but if you want to have better racing and not that aero push, I think we need the banking on exits instead of more banking on entry. I told them that, and they've talked about the transition. I think it's a good idea to create more side by side racing. It's never been done before, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. Everybody in the world is going to have an opinion. There's drivers that like it and don't like it. Owners that like it and don't like it. Engineers involved with their instrumentation, there's enough stuff going on right now and people will figure it out.
"Tony (Stewart) is always good for a story. If I'd won a thousand times the last thing I'd want them to do is change the tire and change the track. I can understand why it's coming out of him.
"I went on vacation with (Gil) de Ferran this year in Utah. He's such a cool guy. When I saw him win that race (Indy 500) it brought tears to my eyes because I was really, really excited. A lot of the drivers were talking about the threepeat thing with Hielo. He's a blast to hang out with, but he's already won two Indy 500s and Gil hadn't won anything as far as the 500, and I was pulling for him. It was a very good feeling to see him win that race and also see Team Penske win three in a row. I know all the stock car guys were rooting for those guys. It was a lot of fun seeing him win that thing and seeing Mr. Penske so happy also with a brand new car out there, new manufacturer everything. It was really cool."