NASCAR Nextel Cup Wake Up Call New Hampshire International Speedway Friday, September 16, 2005 RUSTY WALLACE How was the trip to New York? "I had a good time up in New York. I wasn't there long. I got up there Wednesday night. I spent all...
NASCAR Nextel Cup Wake Up Call
New Hampshire International Speedway
Friday, September 16, 2005
How was the trip to New York?
"I had a good time up in New York. I wasn't there long. I got up there Wednesday night. I spent all day Wednesday in Dover, Del., testing my Busch car and then went up to New York and had a great dinner that night kicking off the event. On Thursday morning I woke up early and was on "Today Show" with Katie Couric and all them. That was a lot of fun.
I went up to ESPN Zone and did a deal with all the media there, and I was on, heck what is that ESPN show? I was on "Cold Pizza" that morning. So I did about four or five media gigs. I did a lot of roundtable stuff with some writers. Not as many things happened as I thought would happen, but I was pretty well packed up for the day, so we did that and we're all happy with all with that. Now I'm in New Hampshire and this is the first race of the kickoff and I feel like we're really prepared for it."
Tell us a little bit about seeing your son grow and mature in your race car?
"It is a lot of fun. Obviously a lot of my effort is going into Stephen. He's here with me this morning. He had an off weekend from Hooter's Pro Cup racing, so I made him come up here to New Hampshire and hang out with me a little bit. The more he hangs around these cars the more he'll get it. I'm putting a lot of effort into him right now. He won the race in Michigan, finished fourth last week at Chicago, he's been on this Midwest tour right now running around doing a lot of testing and stuff. So, we're trying to get him up to speed and next year we'll run him in at least 12 Busch races in the 64 car, my Busch effort. It will be Stephen and Jamie McMurray. I'm excited about that."
What are some of the other things you'll be doing next year after you retire?
"Well, not everything is totally put to bed just yet, but right now I've got about five or six things I've got my hands into. I've got five car dealerships up in East Tennessee that I'm real proud of that are doing real well. I'll be definitely still actively involved in Team Penske, doing a lot of their sponsorship work. I'll be involved in television doing a little bit of television work. And definitely a lot of work with Stephen going on right now. And there's different opportunities popping. I don't have all the answers yet but I've got a pretty good foundation for life after racing."
Everything is going exactly the way you designed it for your last season, right?
"It's going very close to that, it sure is. When you quit full-time racing, like I'm quitting NASCAR, you would hope that you go out on top of your game. And that's the reason I retired when I did from racing to go out on top. Right now, with all these top fives and top 10s and all the stuff I've been having and to be in the Chase, it's just real, real good. Everything is as planned right now. First you must get in the Chase to try to run for the Championship, and so I made it. I feel like I've got a great shot, just like anybody else."
Can you discuss when you won the first Cup race here in 1993?
"I won the first Cup race here, and it was quite a bit different. The chassis setups were different, the cars were different. Then we came up here and tested and had a really great test and came back to the race. I about spun the car out qualifying, got real loose, and had to start way in the back of the pack. I worked my way forward and I won the race. To win their inaugural race is a special deal. Whenever you get to win any inaugural race at any new race track, it's a lot of fun. So I did that, and at least I can say I won the first race here. I hope I can say I won the last one that I raced at here, also."
Have you thought about what your last race at Homestead will be like?
"It is the last race when I get to Homestead. I'm going to test at Homestead. I have one test left and I decided to use that one single test for Homestead for the simple reason that I think it's going to be right down to the wire for the Championship at that racetrack. It's the only one I've got. And I do want to go out in style. I want to look really, really good out there my very last race. I want to be real prepared, that's the reason I'm using that particular test.
"As far as going out on my game, yeah, I think nobody would argue that I'm at the top of my game right now. I think I'm driving better than I have in a long time. I think the team is really gelling, we're getting along great. This Larry Carter is just an amazing individual. I think possibly he could be one of the strongest in the garage area, I really think so. He's just done remarkable things for me, the team loves working for him. All the employees love working for Larry, working with him.
"I haven't been out of the top 10 for 17 years except for the last year and the year before when I had crew chief changes. Now I'm back on track and I'm back in it. I've got a lot of rhythm and a lot of flow going with Larry, which is really the wrong time to be retiring right now since I've really got it rockin' and rollin' with him. But that's the way it is. He's going to make somebody else, make Kurt Busch or whoever might be a great crew chief. I think he's one of the hottest ones out there, I really do."
How are you balancing the sentimental feelings against going for the Championship?
"That's a real good question. I am struggling with all these sentimental things. I sleep pretty good at night, but I've got to tell you, I think more than I've ever thought in my life. My mind is constantly running, it's like it's plugged into 440 electric or something. It's just constantly, constantly running. I don't think it's ever going to be able to stop until Homestead's over. I don't doubt I'll retire, I don't look forward that big pay reduction. I don't like that at all. Once I get all the little things I'm working on kind of put to bed, and hopefully everything will be all in order to where I exactly want it at Homestead, then it will be a smoother transition.
"But, I'm really struggling with how I want to be actively involved in the sport, in what role. I know I'll b e working with Team Penske, I know I'll be working with Stephen, I know I'll be doing a little bit of television work. Is that enough to satisfy me? I don't know."
Have you had a moment where you had a tear or went wow?
"When I went wow was at Bristol, TN. That was the wow that kicked in a Bristol when I stood up there was a 160,000 people in the grandstands. They were flying F-18s over in pairs of two signifying the car No. 2. They lit the whole turn one and two up with the Rusty words, and they built their own trophy for me, this incredible trophy with all my wins. I looked up at Kelly Jarrett, Dale's wife, and she's sitting there crying, and all the gals are boo-hooing. I'm like 'Man', I was wiping tears away from my eyes myself. It's just a hell of an emotional deal. One of my best buddies, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, he's sitting there wiping tears away, and I'm like 'This is weird, man'. It was a very, very emotional presentation that Bristol did. The rest of the racetracks will be hard to beat that one, because they really stood on the throttle. Eddie Gossage says he's going to try to beat them, so we'll see what happens."
What is your strategy in these last 10 events?
"Well, they told me -- I'm not a big records driver -- they told me that in the last 10 races the No. 2 car has gained more points than any other car. With that type of consistency going on, with all those top fives and top 10s, it's put into third place in the points. So look, in 1993, I won 10 races and winning all the races didn't win me a championship. Dale Earnhardt still beat me by I think it was like 60 points or something. So I've done all that where I've won all the races and that still hasn't earned me the title. This Championship points race is always built on consistency. You've got to finish the race and get as much points as you can to get it done. Now, would it sound better to be real consistent and have a win? Oh hell yeah, it would, and that's what I'm trying to do. I'd love to have a win just to make it sound better. Do you have to do that? No, you don't have to do that. But race would I like to win? I'd like to win the last one. I'd like to go out a winner and a champion, too. It would be a great thing. I'm already halfway there by getting in the Chase now."
How long have you guys been focused on getting ready for the Chase and do you have an advantage over the guys in the eighth through 10th spots?
"I might have built it more than I really meant to. I feel like I've been prepared for every single race. It's pretty hard to prepare much different going into any race, because you already feel like you're 100 percent prepared. All I'm saying is that I feel like I've got a good car. I feel like those practice sessions are really crucial. By the end of that last practice session today I'm real comfortable with the car. I learned some things here last race and took those things that I learned and took them to Richmond, VA, and a lot of it worked there. And what I learned there I'm bringing back to try to improve on here. Looking at my notes, I finished (sixth) last time, I had solid top 10 all day long, a solid run. Throughout the day the leader was here and I was there the whole doggone day. It was a good run for us. I feel like we need to get out of here with a good top five or a good top 10 finish at the worst and keep on digging."
Do you understand why Gordon is having a hard time getting a feel for his car?
"No, it doesn't shock me. Some guys just 100 percent rely on their crew chiefs to get the job done for them, to get their car handling. I've never been that type of guy. You guys all know me, I'm a hands-on chassis that does all the shocks and springs and car settings myself. Some of these guys that have to rely 100 percent on the crew chief and their team to make it work, sometimes struggle when that situation grows apart. I think that's where Jeff is at right now. He's putting a lot of focus on those guys to get that car handling for him. He has to rely on those crew guys to do that. I don't like to back myself into a box like that where I've got to totally rely on somebody else, and I think that's where he's suffering right now."
Have you allowed yourself to dream about winning at Miami and is there any chance you might race in a few events next year?
"Right now, I plan on going out and Homestead being my last race. So I keep telling everybody that I'm retiring full-time from NASCAR Nextel Cup. I don't count on it, but if I wanted to come back I don't want to be crucified over it. If I want to run four or five races and do something like that. But, I honestly don't see that. What I do see myself doing, though, when we do all the testing with Stephen, helping Stephen test. I'll drive the car, he'll drive the car. We'll swap back and forth and get the thing up to speed. I see myself doing that. I see myself, if Team Penske calls me up and they need me to help test somewhere, that I could do that. As far as entering full-time competition, like enter Bristol or enter Daytona 500, stuff like that, I don't see that right yet."
Have you allowed yourself to think about that last race?
"I used to allow myself to dream about its going to happen, how it's going to unfold and things like that. I remember I was at the Coca-Cola 600 with eight laps to go one year. Leading the race by half a lap, and I'm thinking to myself 'I'm going to thank Joe and Larry in Victory Lane and I'm going to do this and do that. Thirty seconds later that sucker blew the engine. Blew the lid off the thing, so I didn't finish the race. So I said it's not over 'till it's over and I learned that the hard way."
Have your fans been different this year?
"The fans have been the most incredible thing I've my life. I honestly get out for drivers' introductions and all 160,000 people stand up and cheer and I don't hear any boos. I used to hear boos and used to get eggs thrown at me all the time. I don't hear any boos this year. I don't know if I'm the sentimental guy because I'm retiring or what's going on, but they're treating me like just a million dollars. It's just fantastic the way they're treating me."
Do the last 10 races build momentum for next year?
"No, I don't think it did. Obviously, I'm not doing that because I'm not going to be racing next year. If you're thinking you're going to these last 10 to get ready for next year, to me the next 10 are the most important. Next year's not important to me right now. So I don't sign off on that. I'm doing all I can right now. Every race this year I've been approaching like it's the very last race. I'm putting my entire effort into that. And boy, that's really paid big dividends for me, it's got me some great finishes."
Where you using the 10 races last year to build momentum for this season?
"No, I wasn't at all. I was trying to get a win, and trying to finish up as high as I possibly could in the points. I didn't even think about it. I knew the rules were going to be different this year, so I couldn't really be building momentum last year for this year, because we ended the year with harder tires and bigger spoilers. This year it was totally different, so you really couldn't do anything to it."
Mark seems to be taking one for the team, how would you react in a similar situation?
"If guess if my car owner came to me and posed the question to me 'You need to help us' I'd have to say 'I wish I could but I can't'. I feel real comfortable with what I'm doing. I could run next year and look really, really bad and leave a bad impression on everybody. Or I could quit ahead of my game right now and leave a positive impression on everybody like I'm leaving right now. And that's what really I want to do. Right now, I don't have any thoughts of doing that. If the new driver went out there and something went wrong and he got hurt, if he got hurt, got in a crash or something, and they called me up and said 'Rusty, can you fill in for four or five races?', then absolutely, I'd do that. As far as any other position, no, not right now."
How do you expect non-Chase competitors to race against the people in the Chase?
"You can't really expect any of those guys to race any different, because to them, they're looking after themselves and they've got to. They've got to look out for their team and their sponsors. I don't expect them to drive any different, I really don't. I expect all of them to run me hard, to run everybody hard. Although I know last year, the guys that were in the Chase and the top 10, when I was racing with him I knew that guy was in the top 10 and something in my mind told me to go ahead and race him but don't rough him up. I had that in my mind. Another thing, I was a little bitter that I wasn't in the top 10 so I was like 'I'm going to pass that guy and get away from him'. But I knew that I had to race those guys pretty clean."
Don't you have to be worried about winning the Championship instead of some ceremonial departure?
"I'm absolutely looking at trying to win a Championship. To me, that's a great question. Our last 10 races are like, man, let's get a victory, let's get a Championship. Because I don't have many chances, I'm starting to run out of bullets right now. We've got to make stuff happen. That's my attitude going into it. When it's all over, then I can do the boo-hooing and the tears in your beers and all that. Right now, I'm not into all that. Right now, I'm trying to get some victories, you know."
Now that your career is winding down and both Penske teams made the Chase, has anything changed with your teammate?
"It's pretty much the same. We talk occasionally now. It is what it is. I'm tired of beating myself up over it. So I'm just doing my deal. I'm driving as hard as I can. Our performance has been really, really good in the No. 2 car. I don't have anything against the team except they just don't do things the same way I do it. I'm afraid it's going to be that way, because when I retire, then he can move on to the new partner. Maybe those two can get along. But right now I think it's a lost cause for me."
How important would it be for you to win a Championship when Stephen is old enough to remember it?
"It would mean everything in the world if I could win the Championship and the kids now could be there with me and could understand it. I have a photograph in the office back at home with Stephen sitting on my shoulders with a toy car trying to stick it in my ear in victory lane. That's about all he remembers. He sees the picture and goes 'I can't believe that was me'. It would be nice for the last year for these guys to suck up all the nice things that are happening right now."
Is there anything to Roush having five teams in the Chase? Do you expect a gang-up deal?
"No. I think it's definitely a compliment to what they've been able to pull off. There's no doubt about it. They've been on again and off again all year long. I would have never bet any of the money I had that Matt Kenseth would have made it in the top 10, as far back as he was. But, he started laying those numbers down and getting consistent and grabbed those points. I've seen Mark run real good and run real bad. Every one of them have had their up and down times. At lot to be said about how many test sessions they've got left. All I can tell you is I wish I had that many left. It's sure not a negative. I'm sure a lot of people are trying to figure how to turn that into a negative for them. They've got it going on right now as far as having that many in the top five, that many test dates available.
"But I will tell you that I'm sure the drivers are going to try to help each other all they possibly can. The drivers generally don't run the same setup as each other so I don't expect any one of the drivers have the same setup in there. I think if you talk with Mark Martin right now you'd find that out that Mark Martin, this race, is driving Kurt Busch's car, that he won last week with, I think. I think that's incredible that would take a car he'd won with and say 'Here, you drive it'. I would have said I'm going to drive that again and try to win again."
Talk about Penske Racing having two cars in the Chase?
"That's been great for the team. It shows that Team Penske is solid, it shows that we've got good horsepower. We've got fast pit stops. We're running pretty good handling cars. I can't really think anything negative about at all. Although I will say last week I didn't hear Penske (on the radio) the whole day. At the beginning of the race I heard him say, 'Rusty, I'm here' and I said 'Okay, good, great'. And then three-quarters of the way through the race, I said 'Hey Roger, where've you been? I feel all alone in here. I haven't heard you all day long'."