Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, is in fourth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heading into the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway on Sunday. Wallace is the second-leading active winner in the series with 54, ...
Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, is in fourth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heading into the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway on Sunday. Wallace is the second-leading active winner in the series with 54, which includes his last victory one year ago at California.
RUSTY WALLACE-2-Miller Lite Taurus
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR'S WIN AT CALIFORNIA? "I thought that win I had last year at California was one of the biggest of the year. I mean, the California 500, it's just got a special ring to it. We've been going to all these races for so long - Talladegas, Daytonas, Richmonds, Rockinghams, all that, but California has been pretty new to us. And that market is so big, and it's all different fans, and it's in front of everybody out there. And, to go out and win the 500-miler in a dominant fashion like we did was a really cool feeling. That's a special race for me. In fact, I'm taking that same car back, but we've done a lot of upgrades to it. It's one of my favorite cars, called 'Mad Max,' it's been completely all re-built and freshened up, and it's a good car. Our guys have been working really hard on the horsepower. That track is definitely a horsepower race track. I think that's one of the reasons I won last year, I had so much horsepower that I was really pulling everybody in the straightaways. When I went to Texas this year, I started 28th and drove to the front and took the lead, pulled out, almost a half a straightaway lead on everybody. Tony Glover came up to me and said, 'I told everybody whoever looks the strongest in the straightaways at Texas will be the guy to beat at California.' And he came right up to me and said, 'You're gonna fly out there,' because our motors are gonna be good."
ARE THERE OTHER THINGS ABOUT CALIFORNIA THAT MAKE YOU COMFORTABLE? "The thing about California as far as racing now, it's a real smooth, flat race track, hard to pass, you get the big aero-push there real, real bad, but I like the area. I don't know if I'd live there full-time, but I got a lot of friends out there. Greg Penske, Roger's son, is one of my best friends, and we hang out together. He's gonna meet me at the airport when I land out there, I'm gonna stay at his house the whole week. We go on vacations together - me and him and his wife and my wife, Patti. It's fun to go out there and do that stuff and see the different sites. It's just all different fans, so I like that."
MANY OF THE NEW TRACKS ARE ONE-AND-A-HALF MILERS, CALIFORNIA IS A TWO-MILE TRACK. FROM A DRIVER'S PERSPECTIVE IS THERE MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE? "Well, the biggest difference is, the two miles versus the mile and a half, the bigger the track is, the more that horsepower shines, and that's where I've really noticed our engines have been some of the strongest in NASCAR. And, the bigger the track gets, the faster I can go. So, the mile-and-a-half tracks have been good, too. I sometimes wonder why they build the big tracks like that, but, boy, when you go out and run that place, the brute speed and the openness and there's so much room inside the tracks, it's kind of refreshing to go to different types of tracks. Now, one of my favorite tracks is Richmond, Virginia. That's a three-quarter-mile race track that's got grooves on the bottom, middle and top. I vary a lot. I love running the road courses. I'm looking forward to going to Sears Point, to see all the changes they made out there. And then you go to the Brickyard 400, and as soon as that's over that's a whole new deal. Then you go to Watkins Glen, that's a whole new deal. So there's a lot of whole new deals that happen."
YOU'RE ALSO GOOD AT MICHIGAN, A TRACK THAT'S SIMILAR TO CALIFORNIA. "I don't have any bad tracks coming up. We're fourth, we've led some laps, we've run up front all these races. My qualifying hasn't been very good this year for some reason, and I don't know what it is yet, and I'm really trying to pinpoint that. I definitely know what it is, it's the tire. But I'm trying to figure out what to do with the tire to improve my qualifying effort. A couple of years ago, I won nine poles and four races. I mean, every time I went out, I thought, 'Man, I'll blow these guys out.' I mean, I'm just gonna get 'em, you know? Because I was just getting these poles like crazy, I got a third of the poles that year. Then, all of a sudden, a lot of these guys caught on to what I was doing. There was some stuff that I was doing before anybody was doing, now everybody does it. Light fuel loads - a lot of guys run light fuel loads for qualifying, well, I did that all the time. Nobody did that. So now they've all caught on. Now, everybody's qualifying. I go look at the qualifying run-downs now - at Martinsville, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. First to the bump was two-tenths of a second. Two-tenths of a second. And then when Happy Hour practice was over at Martinsville, I went over to the screen and looked at it. First to 36th in practice was two-point-three-tenths. That's when I met with NASCAR and Goodyear and said, 'Look, guys. These tires are too hard. They're not wearing. It's follow the leader out there. Our racing's not as good as it needs to be. And for us to go to a place like Bristol where I've won at nine times, and the guy that wins the race runs a hundred and sixty laps, and if you just don't pit, you just stay out. I don't think it's right. And I think it's causing too much follow-the-leader racing.' And they agreed with me. Goodyear wants to cuts some spoiler off the back of our cars, take some downforce off of 'em. If NASCAR agrees to do that, then I believe that Goodyear will soften the tires up, where they'll wear, and then we'll get the passing going on again."
BOBBY LABONTE, WHEN HE WON, SAID THAT HE'D WISH THAT THEY'D GO BACK TO WHERE THE TIRE WOULD GO AWAY A LITTLE BIT. "Yeah, the tire needs to be grippier initially, and wear. And that's what we've always had at Bristol and we've always had that at Martinsville and places like that. And now the tire is very good, very consistent, never wears and so nobody can pass nobody. That's a problem."
THE WIN AT CALIFORNIA LAST YEAR WAS YOUR LAST WIN. DOES IT SEEM TO YOU LIKE A YEAR HAS GONE BY SINCE YOU LAST VISITED VICTORY LANE? "Oh, yeah. So many, so close. My God. Go to Richmond, last year, 400-lap races and I led 300 laps in both races, [darn] near. Just dominate all day long and right at the very end slip up, finish third the first race and fifth the second race, or something like that. That deal at Michigan. Huge lead in Michigan, driving away, second race, and I lost a cylinder. The good part is as soon as I lost a cylinder, I started flying backwards and a big rain storm came and rained the thing out. And I finished, with the motor blown up. The motor's completely blown up, won't even hardly run. It's just smoking and spitting, and they red-flag it, so I got real lucky there. Big, big lead in Michigan, big, big lead in Richmond - the one I just rip my hair out over is the Kansas City race last year. Huge lead at Kansas City, I come in for a normal yellow-flag pit stop, I leave pit road, they said I sped out of pit road, they put me tail back. I go from tail back past forty-some cars, I get to fourth and the race is over. I was truckin' it. It kills me. But, so close. If I'm back hovering around the tail-end of the field that's one thing, but, boy, the old hot rod is just screaming, and I just gotta close the deal now. Now, I just gotta get it done."
HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED ALL OF THESE YEARS TO AVOID HAVING A SEASON THAT PEOPLE WOULD CONSIDER A DOWN YEAR? OTHER DRIVERS WHO HAVE BEEN IN THE SPORT SEVERAL YEARS SEEM TO INEVITABLY HAVE A BAD SEASON, BUT YOU'VE REMAINED CONSISTENT. "I told Kenny, I told Mike, I told my son Greg, and I've told Stephen: 'You're not going to be continuously successful on a race track unless you understand your car inside and out.' You can't get out of that car and say, 'My car's not handling, guys. Fix it for me.' I get out of my car and I say, 'Change that spring, change that shock, change that sway bar.' And I got a really good support staff. And I learned that. I built my own cars, I painted my own cars, I hauled my own cars, I built my own engines, I did everything when I was learning. Because of that, I became sort of a motorhead. And, so, when the guys build me a good car at the shop and they build me a good motor, and they put it all together and bring it to the race track, then it's up to us to tune it up, and make it handle as good as you possible can. But if I can start out with raw, good stuff, a great pit crew, a great car, then it's up to us to put the right shocks, the right springs and all that in there. Well, I'm the type of driver that I actively get involved in that, and I'm glad I did that. Because if I wouldn't, I'd have to rely on too many other people. And so when I have guys that I lose, some of the stuff I can carry myself. If Bill Wilburn knew everything and he left me, then we'd be sitting there knowing nothing. But if he leaves me, I'm like, well, that's a big loss and I wish that hadn't have happened, but, 'Okay, guys, change that spring and that shock. Let's go.'"