This Week in Ford Racing October 29, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, goes into this weekend's Pop Secret 400 still looking for his first win of the 2002 season.Â Wallace, who has a 16-year streak...
This Week in Ford Racing
October 29, 2002
NASCAR Winston Cup
Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, goes into this weekend's Pop Secret 400 still looking for his first win of the 2002 season. Wallace, who has a 16-year streak of posting at least one win, is fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings and trails leader Tony Stewart by 227 points. Wallace, along with crew chief Bill Wilburn, was a guest on this week's NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
BILL WILBURN, Crew Chief --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
HOW HAVE YOU HELPED CALM RUSTY DOWN IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS? "I don't know (laughing). If he feels that way, that's good. Sometimes I think I'm not doing as good of a job of keeping him as calm as I need to, but Rusty is our leader. I look at Rusty like a quarterback. I'm the crew chief. I'm supposed to probably be in that role more so than, if I were on another team and Rusty Wallace was not the driver, I would say the crew chief would play a bigger role. But Rusty has had so much input and so much influence on what we do, we rely on his experience and his outlook on a lot of things. So if he says I've been able to keep him calmer in some situations, I take that as a compliment because I've seen a lot of guys try -- to a point they've been able to succeed. I'll take it as a compliment, if he says I've been able to do that. Sometimes I wonder, but it's a tough deal."
HOW FAR BACK DOES YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSTY GO? "One of my first jobs was with Stewart Racing back in '84-85, when Rusty was running for rookie of the year. I was a tire changer and mechanic at that point, that was one of my first jobs. I was there up until I think April of '85 and then I went to Petty Enterprises. Those two companies are about five miles apart around Randleman and Archdale and the High Point (N.C.) area. That's where I first met Rusty and was first involved with his racing."
HOW HAS HE CHANGED AND WHAT'S IT LIKE DEALING WITH HIM? "He has a dominant personality, but I look at that as the guy has a drive to win that I don't think is matched by anybody in certain areas. I try to channel that drive in a certain way through the team members and just kind of keep him at an even keel. I think Rusty has been his own worse enemy in some cases over the years. He's got such a drive to win that sometimes he doesn't look at the big picture as far as the finishes and things that we need to do to be consistent every week. That's what this whole Winston Cup thing is based on is consistency. There's no doubt about it, he consistently wants to win every week. But some weeks when you can't win, you've got to kind of throttle back and take what everything will give you. That's one of the things I've tried to do. I don't want to squelch his desire to win or his drive or anything like that because I see a lot of guys out there that don't have that. That's the thing that has not changed from the first time I ever met the guy. I think he's a lot smarter and a lot wiser now. Like I said earlier, my job is to try to channel all that and parlay that into a winner. We haven't put the thing in Victory Lane yet, but, in a lot of ways, we've won in a lot of other areas this year. We've finished a lot of races. We've used our head a lot in some areas. We've made some mistakes in some areas too, but, I think, right now we're sitting in a little better position. There has not been a dominant guy yet, but, even though that's the case, we're still hanging in there with a chance at this thing. I think we've channeled his desires in some ways, but as far as has he changed over the years? Not really. He's still got that same strong dominant-type of personality with a desire to win that's unmatched."
WHY HAS HOMESTEAD BEEN SO HARD TO FIGURE OUT? "I think the one thing that goes in Stewart's favor is I think he's got a good feel for a neutral-type race car. With these tires that we've run the last couple of years, he'll tell you right there as quick as anybody that he doesn't really like those tires, but when you've got a race car with a neutral-type feel to it, that's when they're fast. He's very good at driving a car with that type of feel and, obviously, him and Greg and the guys over there have found that setup. We're still fighting to find that type of setup. Rusty is the type guy that wants a lot of grip and wants to feel the car in the race track. We've made some gains in that and finding that feel for him, but we're still working on it as hard as we can every week. The flatter race tracks, we've made some gains this year. We were better at Loudon and Richmond and some of the different places than we were the last couple years. We haven't won yet, but we were even better at Indy. It didn't really show. We ran second there and were still a little too tight, but we're taking that same mentality to Miami to try to get that feel that we need. We haven't been that good at Miami the last couple of years, but if we can get the same type of balance on our race car that Stewart's got, I'll guarantee you that Rusty Wallace can drive it around there just as good as he can."
YOU HAD EVERYBODY COVERED AT INDY, EXCEPT BILL ELLIOTT? "Bill put us on it there. Bill has been really good at certain times throughout the year. He's struggled the last few weeks, but he was the man that day and even Stewart was good. I think it goes back to that feel. Stewart was really good. He faded at the end. I don't know what happened, but he's got momentum going for him and he's gonna be tough at Miami. He'll be tough at Phoenix. I think he ran fourth in the spring at Rockingham, so, looking at the record, I don't see Stewart letting up. We're gonna do everything we can to get it perfect for Rusty so we can put that thing in Victory Lane."
HOW HAS THIS YEAR BEEN FOR YOU? "It's been a learning experience. Every week there's something new. It's had it's good moments and it's had it's times where I leave that track and would like to shoot myself. But it's been great. Rusty has been super-good to me. I think there have been some areas where I've been a positive and I think there have been some areas where I learned some things and, through doing that, it cost us a little bit. I've made some calls this year that I wasn't happy with and I know he wasn't happy with. Like I tell everybody, I make those calls based on what I think it takes to win that race. It's sort of like playing blackjack, if I knew what the next card was every single time I'd either take a hit or I wouldn't. I'd win every hand and I'd be a millionaire. But I've learned a lot. I think that will parlay into next year and make us a better team for the get-go. I can't think Rusty and Roger and everybody at Penske Racing for giving me the opportunity to even do this. I just hope that these last three races we can put that thing in the top-one, -two or -three spot every week and finish strong in the points. I've got a great group of guys that work here at Penske Racing and I'm hoping I've gained their respect. I think our team should have the respect of most people in the garage because we've sat in that top-five or -six spots all year and been pretty respectable in every account."
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR CARS FOR NEXT YEAR? "We've got a good engineering department and we've got some cars that are pretty old, that we're gonna cycle out and we're gonna build some new stuff. We've got some stuff that we've built for this year that we're gonna just strip down and put a Dodge body on for next year. We're in the middle of dealing with NASCAR now and templates and rules for next year. We've got some stuff on the plate right now that we're working on and we're trying to get ready to do some testing, but it will cycle out due to age and the number of miles and laps that are on 'em. We've got some really good stuff that we've built this year. We've got some stuff that we built last year that we're gonna cycle back through for next year, we're just gonna put different sheet metal on it."
HOW DO YOU BALANCE RUSTY'S THOUGHTS ON WHAT TO DO WITH THE CAR VERSUS YOUR OWN BELIEFS? "I think the first half of the year it was probably a lot more on his side of the coin. In other words, he'd make the call and that's what we'd do. The second half of the year, I've been able to go back and say, 'Remember what we did here? That wasn't that good. We need to look at something different. This has not been our trend the last few weeks, it's been playing out better for us.' A lot of times it's better for me to remind him what we did that wasn't right than to suggest something that we think is better. In that respect, we deal mostly off of our past records and what we've learned in our tests. I've got my ideas and we put all that into the mix. We deal with our engineering staff and they've got a lot of great ideas and things we've put into the works the second half of the year. It's a team type of thing. Rusty has a lot of input when it comes to setups and we play mostly off of what he says. A lot of times we'll put out the book and say, 'This is what we did and this is what happened,' and he'll agree with it and we'll try something else. That's pretty much how we learn what we're gonna do the next time. I don't think that combination is any different with a team that's got a driver that's got any sense at all and knows what he's feeling in the race car. I don't have the option of walking out and saying, 'We're gonna run these two front springs and that's what we're gonna do,' because that's not the way we do it here, but it's working good. Everything is good. We're getting better and I really feel like next year we've made such gains this year with these tires and learned a lot through our testing, that I think it's gonna parlay better into a better handling package starting the year off next year."
HOW MUCH OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS BASED ON HIM TRUSTING YOU TO MAKE THE RIGHT CALL? "I know there were some situations the first half of the year, some calls we made, some decisions we made where it was like, 'I know better than that,' or, 'We should have or shouldn't have done that.' A lot of times the answer is there afterwards, but I see it being better now than it was the first half and that's what I had hoped for. I'm just hoping that we can put together an effort and not make a mistake in a situation and put us in Victory Lane and then I think that trust factor will get even better. We've got to produce something. We've produced top-10 finishes and some top-five finishes -- some good runs -- and, obviously, a couple runs where we were looking at a victory and it just didn't happen. But we just need to put the thing in Victory Lane and have a good clean day a couple weeks in a row and I think that trust factor will just get better."
HOW HAS PIT CREW TRAINING EVOLVED? "It used to be that the guys who had been around the longest had their job that they liked to do the most and that's pretty much the way it was. But over the last 10 years the pit stop has become a huge issue. It's the difference between winning and losing a lot of times and with track position becoming the big deal it's everything. But the training part of if, we've got a full-time trainer and most of our guys are in the gym here at the shop at least on hour a day two or three days a week. Our situation, I've got one road guy that travels with us, so his workout program is a little different, but the rest of our guys are here five days a week and they work out just about every day. We practice twice a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and for the pit crew championship this week we're putting in extra practice in the building because it's raining right now. It rained all day yesterday and it's rained all day today, so we're practicing indoors to try to be prepared for this. But over the last 10 years, it's as important as motors almost. That's how important a pit stop is."
DOES THE CREW CHIEF LOOK AT PIT PRACTICE DIFFERENTLY NOW THAN IN THE PAST? "I think so. It would be senseless to get upset about that hour of training and you come in the pits first and go out 18th every week. It wouldn't take long to figure out that the pit stop is pretty important. The way I look at it is whatever failure happened the other day when they didn't get the lugnuts tight on Stewart's car, that very easily could have turned his fourth-place finish into a 34th-place finish -- just that one pit stop. The pit stop is terribly important and everything that goes into it -- from the training, the people you have, who you pick for your pit crew -- every decision you make anymore based on your pit crew is super-huge."
DO YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR GUYS TO RACE DURING THEIR DOWNTIME LIKE YOU HAVE? "I don't look at it as a negative as long as guy balances it well. In my situation, I left my full-time job here for a couple of years to pursue driving. I was only involved on a pit crew basis and I was responsible for being here for practice and keeping up my own physical shape. I was fortunate in that respect that the management here and Rusty and all gave me that opportunity. I don't frown on guys wanting to race as long as they keep it within reason of being able to perform their job and be accountable for what they're responsible for here. I don't discourage that. I look at it though the guys is probably learning something by racing on his own. It might make him a better person or a better player in our game, if the guy is out there with an interest in racing. Let's face it, that's what we do here 24/7. If a guy is in a position here where he can go and race on the weekends and learn some stuff and have some fun with it, I don't discourage that at all."
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY GUYS MIGHT BE DOING THAT IN YOUR SHOP? "I think we've got three guys here that race. I know my rear-tire changer drives Late Models at Concord. One of our fabricators has a Dirt Late Model that he races. We've got one more guy that races too, but I'm not sure exactly how much he does it or how into it he really is."
HOW BAD DO YOU MISS RACING? "I miss it a lot. In fact, I tell everybody that if I could have just won the Powerball I'd still be doing that, but I wasn't lucky enough to win that either. I enjoy doing what I'm doing right now. This is an opportunity to do something 100 percent. I'm focused on this 100 percent. I don't have any restrictions in that respect, so I love doing this. It's something I can do 100 percent and devote my time and effort to it. My sprint car racing that I did, I was kind of restricted. I didn't have the financial backing or the other stuff that I needed to go and put forth 100 percent effort to do it. Financially, I couldn't afford it out of my own pocket so I was kind of restricted in that respect and I was trying to do two different jobs at the same time. That doesn't allow 100 percent effort on either one."
WHEN DID YOU ACQUIRE CREW CHIEF CONFIDENCE TO MAKE PIT CALLS? "I don't know that I've ever acquired the 100 percent confidence. I believe I can do it. I believe the calls I make are based on the facts and circumstances I'm dealing with at the time. I think it was confidence that somebody else had in me is what put me in this position. I've been around this for almost 20 years. I've been in the pits for the last 12 years with Rusty and I've had a voice or been involved with his program for a long time. Maybe at some point in the past I said or did something that maybe made him think or the people here at Penske think that I could do this job. I have the confidence that the decisions I make are the decisions that can win races. I've made some good ones this year and I've made some bad ones, but I don't know of anybody that's doing this job in the past that hasn't done the same."