NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 6: No Rest for Rusty -- Wallace Prepares for Final Daytona 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 20, 2005) -- It's no coincidence that Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) chose the Daytona USA attraction at ...
NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 6: No Rest for Rusty -- Wallace Prepares for Final Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 20, 2005) -- It's no coincidence that Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) chose the Daytona USA attraction at Daytona International Speedway as the site to announce his "Last Call" plans for the 2005 season and beyond. The track is deeply meaningful for most drivers, and Wallace has never won a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points race at Daytona in 43 tries.
Facing his final Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, Wallace wants to finish this chapter of his career on top.
During his Aug. 30 "Last Call" retirement announcement, Wallace said he needed to come back to Daytona with the best prepared and best tested car he's ever had.
Now, having spent three days on the track at NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing, Wallace has had time to gauge his progress -- and make one final effort to fine-tune for his Daytona 500 farewell.
Wallace's intense focus on performance has left little time to reflect on one of his final visits to Daytona as a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver.
"When I wasn't racing and I wasn't testing, I've been thinking 'Do I want to do television?' " Wallace said Thursday. " 'Do I want to be more involved with the team? Do I want to get more involved with my car dealerships? What do I want to do?' The neat thing is, I've got the option to do all those things, and I've been trying to line myself up for what I want to do.
"What I found out when I got to the track was, I didn't even think that. I didn't think about that at all. I was thinking 'Man, I want to get that ol' hot rod running fast.' I don't want to come down here and look stupid in the Daytona 500 -- I want to win the damn thing. That's my goal."
Wallace's team certainly made strides during this week's testing sessions. The team's first runs were in the range of 49.50 seconds, almost two seconds slower than Greg Biffle's 2004 Bud Pole qualifying time of 47.774 seconds (188.387 mph). By Thursday morning, Wallace had improved his results and turned a fast lap of 48.557 seconds (185.349 mph). During Thursday afternoon's session, in which the drivers simulated race conditions by drafting in close packs, Wallace was the third-fastest driver at 47.890 seconds (187.931 mph).
"It's been a good test," Wallace said. "We've made many, many changes. A lot of aerodynamic changes; a lot of chassis settings -- probably about 45 separate changes on the main car."
In 22 previous attempts, Wallace's best Daytona 500 finish came in 2001, when he finished third. In the Pepsi 400 in July, Wallace hasn't fared better than fifth.
"I haven't won the Daytona 500," Wallace said "I've gotten close many times and I'd love to go into my final year knowing I got a '500' win under my belt. That'd be a special feeling. We've worked hard for these last two and a half days, just really getting down and trying to hunt for things."
NEWS OF NOTE
Blaney offers fans' perspective, looks ahead to '05 ... The all-new FanZone at Daytona International Speedway, which offers fans an inside glimpse, literally, into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series garage through windows, inspection viewing and rooftop observation areas, has drawn a lot of attention as drivers adjust to life behind glass. Dave Blaney (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), himself a short track owner (Sharon Speedway in Sharon, Pa.), knows the benefits the sport can gain by catering to its biggest supporters.
"I've owned a dirt track for two or three years now," Blaney said. "That teaches you that anything you can do for the fans comes back to you big time. I think the fans really appreciate things like that. It gives them more access to the sport and more access to the people. The drivers and crews -- we'll get used to it. It's part of our sport."
Blaney will make his debut in the Richard Childress Racing-owned No. 07 Chevrolet, with first-year sponsor Jack Daniel's on board. "It's really great to have (crew chief) Philippe (Lopez) and it's great to be with Jack Daniel's and RCR," Blaney said. "What a group. To be in the middle of RCR, our team feels good. To have Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) and Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) to work with is a big thing for me. Traditionally, the RCR cars have drafted great here [at Daytona]. They always go to the front in the race."
Sophomore Streak? Brian Vickers better prepared for '05 ... After winning the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series championship, Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC/ditech.com Chevrolet) arrived at Daytona with high hopes -- and left with a disappointing 39th-place finish in the 2004 Daytona 500. This season, Vickers says he's more prepared for the challenge that Daytona and the complete NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule represents.
"It's completely different this year," Vickers told media at Daytona. "You learn so much after a year. Last year, there were a lot of unknowns. I thought it wouldn't be that much different than the NASCAR Busch Series. But, there were a lot of differences. I've approached this year in so many different ways, on how to do my schedule and how I spend my off-season. I already don't feel as tired going in to Daytona as I did last year. Last year I felt wore out already because I wasn't as prepared for certain things, but now I am. I'm really excited and looking forward to 2005 after having one year under my belt."
Class in session for DEI's Ryan Moore ... NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series standout Ryan Moore, who will participate in a NASCAR Busch Series driver development program for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2005, spent the week in Daytona Beach with the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet team of Martin Truex Jr. Moore was on hand to learn from Truex during the test sessions. Truex, the 2004 NASCAR Busch Series champion, will attempt to qualify for his first Daytona 500 this year.
Trying something different ... At NASCAR Preseason Thunder, each team is equipped with two race cars, often labeled as "A" and "B". Naturally, the different cars provide each team an opportunity to try different chassis setups to test new ways of improving speed and power when championship points or qualifying positions aren't on the line. Looking at the speed charts, it's clear which ideas have worked -- and which didn't. In Thursday morning's session, for example, Kasey Kahne (No. 9 UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge) topped the charts with a lap time of 47.850 seconds (188.088 mph) in his No. 9B Dodge. In the 9A, Kahne was 26th fastest, at 48.716 seconds (184.744 mph). Jeff Burton was fourth fastest in the morning in No. 31, with a fast lap of 48.021 seconds (187.418 mph). In No. 31A, Burton was 34th fastest out of 36 cars, at 49.200 seconds (182.927 mph).
Thursday's fastest driver ... Martin Truex Jr.'s prospects for his first Daytona 500 are looking up. Truex was the fastest driver overall during the Jan. 20 test session at Daytona. In the final afternoon session, Truex paced the 2.5-mile track in 47.670 seconds (188.798 mph).
Up Next: NASCAR Busch Series teams to Daytona ... NASCAR Preseason Thunder continues Feb. 22-24 at Daytona, with the NASCAR Busch Series teams taking their turn on Daytona's high banks. Each day's test session runs from approximately 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with drivers available to the media during each day's lunch break from 12-1 p.m. More than 40 teams are signed up to attend the three-day test session.
On Saturday, Jan. 22, fans who purchase a FanFest ticket can watch testing from the FanZone during the day. FanFest begins at 5 p.m. with bands, pit stop demonstrations, auctions and fan forums with NASCAR Busch Series drivers. Admission to the NASCAR Busch Series edition of FanFest is $10 and the proceeds will benefit Victory Junction Gang Camp, The Women's Auxiliary of Motorsports and American Red Cross for tsunami relief. More FanFest information is available at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder.
Where: Daytona International Speedway.
When: Jan. 11-24.
Track layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway.
Test schedule: Jan. 22-24 -- NASCAR Busch Series.