This Week in Ford Racing October 29, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Part 1 of 2 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 ...
This Week in Ford Racing
October 29, 2002
NASCAR Winston Cup
Part 1 of 2
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.
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
WHAT'S YOUR GAMEPLAN WITH THREE RACES LEFT?
"With three races left, I mean, I haven't gone this long in a long time without winning. I think it was three or four years ago I went the whole entire year and finally at Phoenix we scored there and kept the streak alive. Then the following year we got the wins pretty quick, so I'm concerned a little bit. I want to get the win knocked out real quick. I'd love to win a championship, there's no doubt about that. I'm only 70 points out of second place right now, so that looks real positive and real good. If Stewart has an engine problem or something like that, then we're right on his tail again. This championship is gonna go right to the last race, I really feel confident it will. It's just been that tight all year long. There's a lot of pressure on myself to get the win done. There's been a lot of pressure all year long, really. I never thought I'd go this long without a win, but we've had a great car all year long, we've been real consistent, we've run real fast. There are so many times we shoulda, coulda, but didn't. Talking about the Bristol race, talking about the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, talking about the 400 in Daytona -- all those second places. But 'if' is a big word in this sport and I haven't done it yet."
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN YOUR CONFIDENCE?
"Right now the pressure is on more than ever because there's so much money out there, there are so many good teams, there are so many engine combinations. I tell you, people just don't blow engines much anymore. You've got to have great pit stops, you've got to have good engines, you've got to have good bodies and you've got to have good people. Nowadays, I would say the top 20 teams have got all that, so it's definitely tougher than it's ever been. I'm going into every single race now, these last three races, feeling like I've got the safety pulled off the trigger or the pin pulled out of the hand grenade and ready to go at every single race. I'm treating every race like it's the very last race. Last weekend at Atlanta I had a great car and I tried something real, real aggressive. I said, 'Man, this track always gets real tight. I'm gonna loosen it up before the race starts,' and when that race started I never estimated how loose that track was gonna be. I was real, real loose. We made early pit stops to try to fix the car early, which we did, we got it looking real, real good. But we made a pit stop and via the way the pit stops were falling, I ended up getting lapped leaving pit road. I tried all day long to get it back and couldn't, but when it was all said and done, we probably had an easy top-five car, but a 17th-place finish and we lost more points to Stewart, which was frustrating, but, hey, there are three more to go."
HOW MUCH WILL YOUR NOTES HELP FOR NEXT YEAR?
"It really doesn't go out the window. First of all, the bodies that are all gonna be put on these cars next year are gonna be so close it's gonna be unreal. The long templates are identical for all the cars and these particular rules have been based off the Ford and Dodge-style templates. So, we've been in the wind tunnel many, many times with the Fords and we pretty well know what our downforce balance numbers are, and now the job is to put the new Dodges in the wind tunnel and see where they lie. And then once we understand it, which I think is gonna be awful close, I don't expect the chassis setups to be a whole lot different. Everybody knows I've been campaigning all year long and I'm getting a lot of NASCAR guys to listen but they're moving awful slow, is to cut these rear spoilers off these cars. I really want 'em to cut the spoilers down and soften these tires back up and, I swear to God, it's gonna put the racing back a lot better than you see it now. This dreaded aero-push that you hear about every single week, I think that's gonna get to a minimum if we do this. But what they had to do now is get all these bodies the same. Now they've got the Chevrolet, the Pontiac, the Ford, the Dodge -- all of the templates are real close. So the next thing we want to do is for the Rockingham race next year, hopefully, I can get up there and jump up and down and talk 'em into these new rules going into Rockingham next year."
IN '98 WHEN YOU CAME INTO PHOENIX DID YOU REALIZE THAT WAS YOUR BEST CHANCE TO WIN AND DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD A DOMINANT CAR GOING INTO IT?
"Yeah, I felt like I had a real good car going into it. That is one race that we did dominate. It fell short because of rain and we ended up winning the race anyway. We had a big lead when that happened, but every race I'm looking at right now going, 'Man, I've got to get it done.' I went into Atlanta this week thinking I could have really gotten it done there, but the problem happened. The car that I ran at Atlanta this week is one of my favorite cars. The guys turned it around and we're gonna take it right back to Rockingham this weekend and try to get it done there. I've been doing some off track testing at different tracks around the country getting ready for Phoenix. That particular car I drove I really liked the way it handled and then we got one of our aero guys that said, 'Well, I've got another car here that's a little different.' And I said, ''Have we ever had this car in the tunnel lately,' and they said, 'No,' so I got them taking that thing to the wind tunnel Friday to verify that it's good, but we want to take the best piece out there. I love going to Phoenix. It's like a big vacation in a way because you get to see a whole different group of people, but it's a track I've really run good at. I was leading the race last year when I blew a right-front tire, so, hopefully, that won't happen again. We've learned a little bit more about how to be kinder to the tires, but Phoenix is definitely a race that I'm focused on really hard."
IS THERE A LOT TO THE THEORY THAT THESE YOUNG GUYS DON'T HAVE NOTES TO FALL BACK ON LIKE THE VETERANS AND THAT'S A REASON FOR THEIR SUCCESS?
"It could be a little bit. I think one of the reasons for the success for the new young guys coming in, really, is the equipment that we're putting them in for one. I mean, we put Ryan in the very, very best car that we could possibly build. It's the same thing I've got. Jimmie Johnson, the same thing with Jeff Gordon; Kurt Busch has got the very best available. This stuff of paying your dues is really not out there as much anymore and I don't know if you really have to do that. It was something that I did when I was coming along. I remember David Pearson, Donnie Allison, Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett all telling me, 'Kid, you've just gotta pay your dues and it will come.' But nowadays there's so much money in this sport, you really don't have time. I'm a car owner. Ryan drives for myself and (Roger) Penske and Don Miller and we've got to put him in the best stuff we can. So I think one of the reason these young guys are coming out of the box and running good is they really don't know any better about what is right and wrong in the chassis stuff. What I thought was right and wrong, a lot of times this year, has been wrong. So they've come out with new, fresh ideas and the other part of the question is that we're putting them in top-notch equipment, too. To tell you the truth, I think I've learned more off of Ryan this year than he's ever learned off of me with his thought process."
HOW MUCH OF A FACTOR IS THE TIRE?
"I would say the tire is the dominant factor. The tire has been hardened up a ton. It's basically taken every setup that we've been working on and thrown 'em out the window, so we've had to learn over and over and over. A lot of the setups that I've run in the past just haven't been any good. I went to Bristol, Tennessee, this year, a race that I love a lot, and I did an extensive two-day test up there and when I was done I thought to myself, 'Man, I would have never dreamed that my setup would look like this compared to those nine victories I had there.' The setup that I had in the car, that I about won the last race with, it was so much different it was incredible and it's all because of the harder tire."
Rusty Wallace press conference, part II