Rusty Wallace, Ford Racing Interview

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, heads to one of his favorite race tracks this weekend -- Richmond International Raceway. Since the race track was reconfigured in 1988, Wallace leads all active drivers with six wins. He...

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, heads to one of his favorite race tracks this weekend -- Richmond International Raceway. Since the race track was reconfigured in 1988, Wallace leads all active drivers with six wins. He comes into the race with 14 straight top-10 finishes at RIR and in 31 career starts has six wins, 17 top fives, 23 top 10s and two poles.


RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- WHAT'S YOUR SECRET AT RICHMOND? "Well, I like it. I like the track a whole lot. I get around it good. My chassis setup that I use up there is pretty consistent from race to race, although we've had to change it several times it's never something really, really big. It's always a minor adjustment, I think. But I think to win that much up there and be that consistent, you've really gotta like the track, you've gotta like the town and you've gotta like the people. When I get to go to that race track I always feel like I'm gonna win and, if I can't, it's like why? Why didn't I win? What happened? Because I feel so confident going into that place."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE AT ONE TRACK OVER OTHERS? "I think there's a lot to it. You've gotta have the confidence level and nowadays you've really gotta have the confidence level in your equipment too. I mean, if you're not confident in the car or in the engine or in the aerodynamic combination you've got, you're doomed before you ever get to the race track. People look at me all the time and say, 'Boy, you're always consistent at the Bristols and the Martinsvilles and the Richmonds and the road courses and places like that.' I mean, you try to be, but sometimes things happen that you can't be that consistent. I went to Bristol this year, sat on the front row, and had a flat tire on the right rear and didn't win the race. I thought I had a car I could have won the race with. Richmond is the same thing. I went there last time and everything was going great and Ricky Rudd blew a right-front tire as I was passing him and he got in the side of me. Miraculously, I was able to keep on going and finish fifth, but the car was tore up pretty badly. But this time I've got a wonderful car, I've got a great engine combination and I'm going there to win the race. I feel like I can win the race, so I've got a lot of confidence going into this week."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACING BACK TO THE FLAG AND IS IT MORE DANGEROUS AT A SHORT TRACK? "I think that racing back to the flag is not good anywhere. On the short tracks you tend to get really bunched up, so you can crash pretty easy. If you're racing back to the flag on the speedways, you're running full speed so you're running awful fast -- probably over 180 miles an hour -- so the crash can really be big time. There have been many times that I can remember going to tracks like Richmond or Martinsville, Virginia and I'm leading the race when the caution flag comes out. I throw my hand up, start slowing down, and I look in my rear view mirror and these guys are coming at me wide open. I've almost crashed three or four times just trying to avoid the cars that are trying to race me back to the caution flag. So if there's a gentleman's agreement out there that says only the leaders are allowed to race back to the caution flag, but there are cars trying to get their lap back. I tell you, it just doesn't happen. Unless there's a firm rule that there's no racing back allowed, I'm afraid it's just gonna keep on going. My opinion is I wish we could figure out how to not race back to the caution flag. All other forms of motorsports do it and we're one of the only ones that don't do it yet."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACES ENDING UNDER YELLOW AND SHOULD THERE BE SOME SORT OF GUARANTEE FOR FINISHING UNDER GREEN? "No, I'm not in favor of any of that. First of all, we can't do anything about the rain. If the rain comes out and we're already deep in to the day, I mean we've been digging around all day long and the fans have been getting soaked three or four times in the grandstands. To be quite honest, they're probably getting a little worn out, probably a little water-logged and they're probably looking forward to the end too. Now at Darlington the same guys were up front all day long. It didn't really look to me like there was gonna be much changing going on. I ran anywhere from 10th to fifth all day long and I'm sitting there running along in eighth. My teammate, Jeremy, he led and ran third off-and-on all day long, but I think NASCAR did the right thing by going ahead and red-flagging the thing and calling it. It worked out good. Now as far as having at least 10 green flag laps under the green, it might be nice for the fans but for the drivers and the owners and people like that, usually about 10 or 12 of these cars get taken back totally destroyed because everybody goes for it those last 10 laps and about every single time there's a huge wreck. It's just like waving a million dollars in front of somebody's nose with 10 laps to go, I mean they're gonna go for it. At Darlington there was a million dollars waiting for a couple guys, but, off of that subject, I just don't think it's good with five laps or 10 laps to say, 'This is it. It's go for broke.' It's generally a crash. It's not generally, it's always that way."

YOU'VE BEEN IN POINTS RACES BEFORE. WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'VE HAD A COUPLE DOWN WEEKS LIKE THE 88? DO YOU HAVE TEAM MEETINGS OR IS IT BUSINESS AS USUAL? "It's pretty well business as usual when it comes to this. You've gotta look and see what caused you the problem. I mean, the 88 their whole problem started with qualifying. We all know at Darlington that the back straightaway is terrible. If you get back there it's a tough deal and he got back there. He ran strong, but he didn't run as strong as he normally does, though. I noticed that. He had a good car, but not a great car like he normally does. So, you can't get all nervous or freak out that everything's going wrong, but I've gotta tell you, they've gotta be feeling the pressure right now with having over a 300-point lead and seeing it dwindle down right now to what it is."

ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT SILLY SEASON IS A YEAR LONG THING NOW? "Yeah, it concerns me that it happens but, thank God, I'm not involved in it personally. I've been able to do good enough on the race track and own part of this race team and solidify myself in this sport, so there's nothing I feel like I've gotta prove to anybody. Unfortunately, for some of these young guys coming up that aren't getting the consistent finishes, and with all the big sponsors we have in Winston Cup nowadays, there's pressure out there. I was just reading the deal this morning where Bickle lost his ride because of bad qualifying and poor finishes, but that's the way it is. Man, if you don't perform now, you've got a gun pointed at your head and it's a tough deal because I tell you what, Monday morning the sponsors are calling going, 'Hey, look. What are you gonna do about this?' And you might say, 'Well, you know, this particular day my Chevrolet just is not as good as a Ford or a Ford's not as good as my Pontiac.' You know what the sponsor says, 'I don't care if you run a Volvo, get it out there. We want to win. We don't care what brand of car you run. We don't care what brand of tire you've got. We don't care what brand of motor oil you run. We just want to win.' And that's what the sponsors are saying nowadays, so, unfortunately, the teams and the drivers, if they're not performing...a lot of it's from the sponsors. On the other hand, I'm not tooting my own sponsors horn -- well, maybe I am a little bit -- but if you get a sponsor that's been in the sport for a long time and they understand the sport. They understand the ups and the downs where everything is not always up. If they can be involved with the team more and can be involved with the team more to understand what's going on inside the team, then they're more understanding. But if they just roll into their office Monday morning, pick the paper up and go, 'Hey, this guy stunk again. Let's get rid of him.' That's a bad deal. A couple of weeks ago the Mobil Oil Corporation came down to one of our team debriefs at 10 o'clock. The 12 was struggling just a little bit with some finishes and they just wanted to hear what a team debrief sounded like, so they sat down and I really commend them for doing that because they got involved in our team. Miller has always been like that. But, I tell you what, the silly season, in my eyes, is gonna continue on for years and years as long as there are young guys and as many sponsors as involved in it, and the inconsistency out there."

IS THERE TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON THE YOUNG DRIVERS AND ARE THEY JUMPING FROM THE BUSCH OR TRUCK SERIES TOO FAST? "Maybe so. I think that the difference between a truck and a Winston Cup car is big time. I know the difference between a Busch Grand National car and a Winston Cup car is a lot different also. Now, if you take a current Winston Cup driver and put him in a Busch car, he generally looks pretty strong out there. If you take a Busch driver and put him in a Winston Cup car, he generally has some problems it seems like. There are some drivers out there that have proved me wrong a couple of times. I think Matt Kenseth is one of the best young drivers I've seen come up there. I think Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is doing quite well, although he's struggled just about every single race he's been in this year. Kenseth had a big crash this weekend. I think he was just a victim, but, I tell you what, when you run Busch and you're looking at cars that are over 100 horsepower off of what we run...that are five inches shorter in the wheel base from what we run and are 100 pounds lighter than what we're talking a completely different animal. So, if they're really good at their particular car and you bring them in Winston Cup, all of a sudden they find out that qualifying is extremely tough. Finding the right setup is extremely tough and the pressure on themselves coming from being a really top driver in their own category to coming to Winston Cup is sometimes very humbling. I think if you're gonna be coming from one of those circuits into Winston Cup, it's just gonna take time. Your sponsor and your owner just can't expect it to happen overnight. You can't expect just because you're good here, you're gonna be a hero over there. It just doesn't happen."

GOOD LUCK THIS WEEKEND. "I'm gonna try hard. We've been trying hard. We're right in the middle of a lot of rebuilding here. We just decided last week to build a brand new manufacturing facility, which is gonna house all our body-hanging, all our car building...and the 2 car and the 12 car -- all of the chassis will now be coming out of one facility. We're gonna bring the 2 car fabricators and the 12 car fabricators and try to get this thing organized where the two-car team is working the way they're supposed to be working. Right now I'm running one type of chassis and Jeremy is running another type, and I think that's one of the reasons for some of the inconsistency, but there are a lot of things down the pike."

ROBIN PEMBERTON, Crew Chief --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- RUSTY HAS HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS AT RICHMOND. WHAT'S THE KEY WITHOUT GIVING AWAY THE SECRET? "The secret you can't give away, it's really Rusty. He's just so good at the short tracks. He's just got a tremendous feel for the car and it doesn't matter, really, what kind of car we bring there or what kind of tire Goodyear brings, he seems to get the best out of it on the smaller race tracks."

DOES THAT ALLOW YOU TO BE A LITTLE MORE AGGRESSIVE? "Not really. We work real hard on our shocks and our spring package. The key to some of the short tracks is not how aggressive you can really be. The car has to really stay on the tires for a long period of time and all, so, I mean, it's all Rusty Wallace when it comes to those places."

DO YOU HAVE A TIMETABLE AS TO WHEN YOU CAN START WORKING ON YOUR CARS FOR NEXT YEAR? "We're trying to do some work on it now. Ford is a little bit behind on the introduction of the new car. They're probably two months behind for sure. We'll start working on it hot and heavy when we get pieces and parts approved by NASCAR. We don't really have a time schedule, it'll be all hands on deck when it happens."

FROM WHAT YOU'VE SEEN SO FAR, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT CAR COMPARED TO THIS ONE? "Well, there's not gonna be much of a change. It's more cosmetic, strictly styling. It's truly a good car. It was good right off the bat and, probably, the biggest problem we've had with it is that it's got a little bit more drag than what we need. Really, the short tracks and the intermediates it really doesn't hurt it that much or at all. On the speedways like Daytona and Talladega, that's the biggest problem we've got."

LAST WEEK FELIX SABATES SAID HE WAS SORRY HE EVER LET YOU GO. HE SAID A GREAT CREW CHIEF CAN MAKE MORE OF A DIFFERENCE TO A DRIVER THAN A GREAT DRIVER CAN MAKE FOR A CREW CHIEF. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "No, it needs to be a team effort. I tell you, I've been with a lot of different teams and some teams when I was really starting to get going as a crew chief, or people would even consider I was a crew chief. The biggest thing is a team effort. I tell you what, you can have a lot of guys that all they have to do is believe in themselves and, if they pull in the right direction, success will come. A lot of that is just surrounding yourself with good people and good support. I've been fortunate, when I was with Felix, that we had some young guys and they've gone off and done their own things. But, at that time, we all pulled together. We had great pit stops, pit crew, we believed in the driver, and those guys believed in me. I don't know if you can make a big difference as far as meshing a great driver or crew chief with somebody sub-par, but I do know for a fact that if you have enough people that are all pulling in a common direction, that they'll succeed. But a lot of it has to do with teamwork."

WHY DOES IT WORK WITH YOU AND RUSTY? "You have to be able to adjust. Rusty Wallace is a great driver, talented, and he's really great on the short tracks and the intermediates. The speedways are things that I have probably been able to help a little bit on, but as far as our chemistry goes, my main goal is to really give him whatever he needs or feels that he needs for a race car...never let it be said that he wanted something and I said no you can't have it. We've done everything that we can to give him every car, every type of spring and shock, every piece that bolts on the car that he thinks that he needs to make it handle or make it go fast or stop fast or whatever it takes. That's my main thing is just to really give the driver whatever he asks for."

DO YOU RELY ON THE PI SYSTEM FOR PIT STRATEGY? "Everybody's had that for years and years. That's probably like having a stop watch. It's something that you plug in the fuel used and the consumption and the caution laps and, generally, it can get you probably within a couple of laps of where you need to be in a fuel window. But, as far as the strategy goes, there's not much strategy to that. That just lets you know when you're gonna run out of gas or real close to it, but we do have all of those things and they're great tools. They help you."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace