Tuesday, Sept. 14, 1999. Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Team Monte Carlo driver Kenny Wallace and car owner Andy Petree. KENNY WALLACE (No. 55 Square D Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Wallace, a 36-year-old St. Louis, Mo., native, ...
Tuesday, Sept. 14, 1999. Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Team Monte Carlo driver Kenny Wallace and car owner Andy Petree.
KENNY WALLACE (No. 55 Square D Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Wallace, a 36-year-old St. Louis, Mo., native, scored a career-best second-place finish earlier this season at Loudon, N.H. He has one top-five and three top-10 runs in his first season behind the wheel for car owner Andy Petree. Wallace has qualified in the top-five four times and is 22nd in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings with nine races remaining.
"Loudon has always been a good race track for me. My stats say that I've been in the top 10 the last three times I've been there. Besides capitalizing on the fuel mileage race last time, we were running in the top 10 when that happened. I'm looking forward to getting back there and trying to get a victory. This has been a great year for me. It's been a step in the direction to where I've been gaining a lot of compliments about my ability. The car has been very competitive. The only thing that's a little aggravating, we'll run two or three good races in a row and then we'll get into a situation like we did at Darlington where we were running for 12th or 13th spot with Dale Jarrett only to get wrapped up in an accident. I'm real thrilled to be with Andy Petree Racing. I guess you'd say it's taken and revitalized my career. That's the way I'd put it. Definitely, early in my career, I was used to a lot of success in the Busch Series. Then I have struggled the last three or four years in Winston Cup to say the least. It feels nice to be one of the boys now and be able to talk to the guys that run in the top 10, top 15 every week. It makes me feel like somebody.
"I certainly do think it (owner-driver in Winston Cup) is going to disappear. I think it was a dream for drivers to secure themselves in the sport and never have to worry about being fired. Basically, Alan Kulwicki was one of the most successful people in doing that years ago. With the competition so tough right now, meaning you can't give up any little thing, whether it's your psyche or anything like that, I think that Ricky Rudd, I think that Brett Bodine when they go home on Mondays, they still have to worry about their payroll. They have to worry about their employment, everybody they've got to take care of. I will have to say I enjoy my Mondays where I can come home and relax and do what I want to do. I think it's hard to be an owner-driver now. You need to take that time and get ready mentally for the next race instead of worrying about all your employees and things of that nature.
"Right before the race at Richmond, I was able to see Greg Penske and talk to Greg about the death (of CART rookie Gonzalo Rodriguez) amongst the Penske Race Team. He told me what happened, and basically I would be lying to you if I told you I didn't think about it for a moment. I think as a race car driver you think about it and then you purposely get it out of your head. Any good athlete in competition cannot afford to store that in his brain. We all know our risks out there. That's why we all hope for the best and prepare for the worst. We do everything we can in our cars. It's not a good situation to hear about whether it's in CART or ASA or any series. You feel like it's one of your own, sort of like when policemen are shot down in the line of duty. You train yourself to just go on, and we've had to do that over the years. This is one of the few instances where a driver really got killed in a race car. Alan Kulwicki was in a plane crash. Davey Allison was in a helicopter. Neil Bonnett did get killed in a car. It's a tough situation, but it's the same old saying. You've just got to put it out of your head and go on.
"We were taken so off-guard by it. It was basically, 'man did you hear what happened in the CART Series this week?' You won't catch drivers longing for a conversation. When there's a death in racing, basically it's a short-witted conversation, like what happened and why and how can we prevent it?
"Kenny (Schrader) did discuss this with me (plans for next season) before he made his decision, wanting to know if it would bother me at all. I told Kenny our relationship goes much further than just race cars and that I want the best for him and not to worry about me. I'm just fine. I felt like Kenny, like any race car driver, has an urgency to try to make all the right moves to try to put himself in victory lane. I just want the best for him. We remain best friends, and we still fly with each other to the race tracks every week in his airplane. I don't feel betrayed by any means because like any race car driver or car owner or crew chief or motor builder, everybody is trying to make all the right moves. It's just like a big chess game. I hope him the best. I'll miss him because I don't think I could have had a better teammate than Kenny Schrader.
"I talked to Andy Petree on Monday, just seeing how he was doing. I'm sure Andy will talk to me about it. I've suggested already that maybe we hire a driver that has some chassis knowledge and has some experience. I think that there's room for our sport for a rookie, but I would really like to see a rookie come in like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth. I would like to see all rookies run a limited schedule for a year first. I don't think that we can afford with the success APR has had, especially with Kenny being 14th in the points right now, I think what I'm looking for personally is a teammate that has some chassis knowledge and understands our sport right away.
"I know Mike (Wallace) would very much like to drive the car, but since it is a sensitive subject, my brother, I'm going to stay out of it. I'm going to let him and Andy talk about it. I know that Andy's phone is ringing off the hook, and he'll choose the right person.
"From the first time I ran Loudon in 1991, it seemed like the corners were so tight you had to ... get ready to come off of them. Even though the Winston Cup cars have a lot more horsepower than the Busch Grand National cars, the favored line seems to be go in the corner low, let the car go up say five feet and dime in the corner and shoot up off the corner and make a longer straightaway out of it. That's for sure the groove there. I can tell you that I got in a little bit of trouble early in the race last time there by not pulling enough gear. I made a mistake. It is quite a motor race track. I know I would liked to have pulled a 471 gear last time. I pulled a 463 and still ended up being competitive, but it took me long into the race for the track to grease up and my tall gear came in and helped me from having wheel spin. I think that the race track, as far as shifting goes, is too tight of a race track. I really feel that this is race track where you need to have both hands on the wheel. It's a very tight race track, great facilities, but we need with the tight quarters there, the last thing I'd really want to be doing is going from overdrive into third in the middle of those corners.
"This year, as I said at the start, was a revitalization of my career. I feel like that I'm with a combination that knows how to run in the top 15 right now. Andy Petree and everybody at APR has brought something to me that I've never had before. I know some people didn't know where I was going in my career and to be honest with you I didn't know where I was going. I spent a long time being loyal to Filmar Racing. It just got me nowhere. To be with a professional team now that has all the resources they do and they understand the process of being better.
"I've learned more this year than I have in the last five years about running in the top 10 and running in the top 15 and taking care of my equipment and racing for points and how important qualifying is and being involved. Right now, this is the happiest I've been since 1994 when I won three Busch races and filled in for Ernie (Irvan) when he was injured. I just feel right now I'm on the right track. I know I'm not in the top five yet, but I know that at least I'm headed in the right direction. First of all, I want to end this year up in the top 20 in the points. The top 25 is really what NASCAR makes a big deal out of, but I'd really like to be in the top 20. They have little perks like RJR will pay for the top 25, pay for their hotel room at the Waldorf=Astoria for our banquet, and 25th is the last spot for point fund money for the driver.
"Next year, obviously my goals are going to be a little higher because we will feel like the new team has now geled. I'll keep my crew chief, who I am thrilled to death with, Jimmy Elledge. Next year we want to do what I've wanted to do and that's win races, sit on poles and be the greatest.
"That's something we've been working on over the years and brake companies have a lot of different braking systems, whether it's recirculating fluid, meaning that the fluid is always moving in and out of the master cylinder. You don't always have the same old, hot fluid. You recirculate it. That means it goes in and out. It keeps it cooler. I had a little bit of brake problem at Loudon last time where my pedal was sticking down. These two tracks, back-to-back, are very big braking race tracks and without brakes you're nowhere near going to be competitive. We've also seen that Geoff Bodine had a good racing going and he lost his brakes.
"We definitely pay a lot of attention to it and before the race we put on all new braking components. We do this before every big braking race track. We put on all new rotors and brake pads before the race starts. I can only go back to years ago at Martinsville where Davey Allison was leading the race and had so much brake that he literally melted the valve stem. That's before we had the metal ones.
"It's just something we deal with. I feel like some drivers are harder on brakes than other drivers. I honestly I don't have that problem, but I was taught very early at Martinsville to lay off them brakes for a little bit until the very end. Early in a race, I try to pump my brakes going into a corner because if you lay on 'em, it creates constant heat. A real good brake system will basically stay cooler. A lot of the guys right now, I'll tell you a little trick a lot of them are doing. They're taking that right front wheel and they're taping on two-faced, heat sync aluminum foil. If you look on some of the wheels, there's a silver lining inside the right front tire and that helps keep the heat from transparent through the wheels. It's a very touchy situation."
"When I looked at him (Kenny Wallace) in the beginning before I actually got to know him and work with him some, you see on the surface he qualifies good and he doesn't wreck much. That's always a good quality for a great race car driver. That's something that you've got to have. You've got to qualify, and you've got to be able to run fast to start with and keep the fenders on the car. Then you start building your program around that. If you go to the race track and don't qualify good and tear the fenders off, you can't really build a program around that, so that's what I looked at initially. Then we saw all of his better attributes after that, after we got to working with each other. He's got a great attitude, obviously, a good, positive outlook. If you've talked to him much, you know what kind of person he is and he's just a joy to be around. It's help build the team around him. We've got Jimmy Elledge there as a crew chief, and they both have a lot of confidence in each other. It's a first-year team, and we've struggled a little bit, but I think we're on an upswing and looking good for next year.
"Some tracks just fit drivers and that one (Loudon) seems to fit him (Kenny Wallace). We have a pretty good program there, too. We've run good with Schrader there. We've qualified good with Schrader. We haven't really run as good as we'd like there, but it's a good track for Wallace. He's got a lot of good tracks.
"We've got a time line we're going through here. I've taken a lot of calls yesterday and some this morning from drivers, people who are interested. I've got to put somebody really good in front of Oakwood. They had this program kind of built around Schrader. That kind of changed last week. I've got to get somebody out there that's at least as capable as Schrader and they feel compelled to keep going here in Winston Cup. We want to build our program stronger. We don't want to back up. We want to keep going forward. I can't rule it out (hiring a driver from CART or IRL) for sure. I really can't tell you where my focus is now. We're in the early stages of this. It's going to take a week or two to get honed in on where we want to go.
"They're going to run the same car (at Loudon) that they ran at Martinsville and the same one they ran at Loudon last time. They're very similar tracks. There's a lot of difference in the speed. The setups are quite similar. The type of car you run is very similar, so yeah, we'll be comparing notes from Martinsville.
"They're (Oakwood Homes) fully committed. We've got a good agreement. They're a great company. We've got to put a good driver in front of them. They deserve it. They signed on this thing with the expectations of having Ken Schrader or a talent equal to. That's my challenge, to go out here and do that for them. That's my part of the contract. I'm sure they're going to uphold their end, and I'm going to uphold mine.
"The face of Winston Cup racing has changed over the years and seems to continue to change. I kind of look at it a little different this week than I did last week. I'd say the money has changed the sport. I don't know about the personality of the drivers. I guess what you're asking is does it stifle what they'd normally say and their feelings and that kind of thing. It probably has. There's still people out there that will say what they think, but they usually get in trouble for it."
"That was never discussed (driver change before end of season). It was never even anything we talked about. What we talked about was next year. It did hurt me, I'll be honest with you. It hurt me personally. It took me a few days to get over it, and it's probably going to take me even longer, but that was never discussed. We plan on finishing the season together and it's never been talked about. I'm not going to say who's in it right now because we're talking to quite a few. It's going to take a few days to get sorted out on who we're going present to Oakwood and obviously who they're going to approve.
"I think it (RAD program, a joint effort with Richard Childress Racing, Andy Petree Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) is going to help, for sure. I wouldn't spend the money on it if I didn't think that was going to make a difference. I think it should. We're going into a new year model (with 2000 Monte Carlo). There's obviously a steeper learning curve with a new car, and that program should help us considerably. I'm kind of banking on it. Our three organizations, and there'll be six cars or more involved counting the Busch cars, I think they're all going to benefit from this aero program. That's why we're spending the money on it.
"It's very limited (information on new Monte Carlo) so far. I don't have any negative reaction to the car at all. Actually, everything we've looked at is positive. It's a very limited amount of information that we have right now. We haven't run it anywhere we've got a baseline so to speak, so we can't say yeah, it's better than what we've got or better than this car or that car. But the car does drive good, and it looks like it's got a lot of potential."