Loudon Rusty Wallace Preview

It's Rusty, Robin and "Ronnie" teaming up once again for this weekend's CMT 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. They are hoping that Tuesday's "detour" through "Ronnie's hometown" will put them in a...

It's Rusty, Robin and "Ronnie" teaming up once again for this weekend's CMT 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. They are hoping that Tuesday's "detour" through "Ronnie's hometown" will put them in a position to duplicate the dominant run that Jeff Burton had in winning the July race at the 1.058-mile flat superspeedway.

"Nobody had anything for the 99 car (Burton) at Loudon in the first race, that's for sure," said Wallace, winner of the 1993 inaugural Winston Cup race at N.H.I.S. "That team...on that particular day ... they were in a league of their own. It was probably the most dominance we've seen in any race this season. We've been in that position before at other tracks and know how it feels to have them all covered like that. It's a great feeling and we're anxious to experience it again."

So anxious is Wallace and his Miller Lite Team Penske that they could be found testing their PR-16 car named "Ronnie" at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina on Tuesday. Their flat track "weapon" Ford Taurus is named in honor of the late Ronnie Hopkins, the Greenville chassis builder whose son continues to operate the business that is located only a matter of minutes from the historical half-mile race track.

"We finished fourth at Loudon in July with this car and think that we've hit on something that'll make the car much better," said Wallace. "That's why we scheduled the Greenville-Pickens test...to try out our new stuff. Who knows...we may be able to duplicate what the 99 team was able to do the last time around."

What Burton and his team were able to do was lead 64 percent of the laps (191 of 300) en route to the impressive win. After the final caution of the race with 70 laps remaining, he took total control of the race and cruised to a comfortable 7.5-second win over runner-up Mark Martin.

"I remember several races through the years where we had a car that was that dominant," said Wallace. "A couple of years ago (in Aug. 24, 1996 race) in the night race at Bristol, we led almost all the laps. If not for us having to come back from a flat tire and the way a couple of green flag pit stops sequenced around, we might have led the whole thing. We had a race at Richmond a couple of years ago (Sept. 9, 1995) where we took control early and just wore them all out before the night was through."

In his run to his sixth career Bristol win in the '96 race, Wallace started fifth and led 353 (71 percent) of the 500 laps. In the Richmond win, he led 254 of the 400 laps (64 percent) en route to his sixth career win at that track. Ironically, the Richmond win came in "Ronnie."

"There's no better feeling than dominating a race and bringing home the win," said Wallace. "What happens is that you get out there and everything clicks. The car handles like a dream. You can stick the thing anywhere you want. You get a rhythm going and it seems like the laps just fly by. Your dominance has the crew so fired up that they pull off pit stops equally impressive. You actually put yourself in a position where it's important to have a crew chief that paces you and keeps you from burning all your stuff up before the end of the race. I remember some of the wins we had back during the 10-win season in '93. In some of those wins, we were in a class by ourselves." A good example were his wins at Martinsville and Bristol in which he led 409 of 500 laps (82 percent) in each race.

What about dominating, yet still not coming out the race winner?

"There's kind of an empty feeling that you get if you're dominant and fail to put the big numbers on the board. I remember the races at Bristol and Phoenix last year when we were dominant and still didn't win. You get a little taste of what they say about second place just being the first loser, I guess you could say. You just have to try to step back and take a look at the big picture with the points and all and realize that you still had a good day at the race track." He led 240 of 500 laps at Bristol in April 1997 and was leading in the final turn of the last lap before a tap from the rear allowed Jeff Gordon around to take the win. At Phoenix, he led 117 of the 312 laps only to see Dale Jarrett make a miraculous run from a lap down to lap the entire field. Wallace finished second in both of those races.

Although he hasn't won at New Hampshire since the first race some five seasons ago, Wallace's track record is second to none. In the seven Loudon races, he has accrued four top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes. His only blemish to the record occurred in last September's race. He was running in 10th-place while coming out of the fourth turn to complete lap 299 when he was spun into the inside concrete retaining wall. The crash and resulting DNF (did not finish) at 299 laps relegated him to the 21st finishing position. He has an incredible 99.952 percent (2,099 of 2,100 laps) lap completion record on the track.

In the 17 races that Wallace and crew have used the PR-16, they have recorded three wins, 10 top-five finishes and 14 top-10s. They have led laps in 14 of those races and led the most laps in four.

Wallace holds the distinction of winning at N.H.I.S. from the farthest starting position back in the field. His '93 win came from the 33rd starting spot, which is also the farthest spot back in the field that has produced a Wallace win.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Rusty Wallace , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske