Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, leads the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with four victories in 2000. Wallace has been the hottest driver on the circuit of late and he's going to one of his favorite tracks this weekend...
Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, leads the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with four victories in 2000. Wallace has been the hottest driver on the circuit of late and he's going to one of his favorite tracks this weekend -- Richmond International Raceway. He spoke about his championship run and voiced some opinions on other topics as well.
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- THE LAST FEW WEEKS THE WORD "CHAMPIONSHIP" HAS CREPT INTO YOUR VOCABULARY. YOU OBVIOUSLY FEEL THIS HOT STREAK HAS GIVEN YOU AN OPPORTUNITY TO WIN THE TITLE, RIGHT? "I sure am thinking championship because once you win a bunch of races and you do all that stuff, the next thing that's on your mind is the championship. I start out every year thinking we're gonna win a title and for some reason you win it or you don't win it. But this year we've had all those wins and all those poles and all those laps led and we're fifth in the points and I'm watching those guys make a couple of mistakes up front and we're outrunning them some of the times, and I think it's become a numerical reality that we can win this thing -- we can win it. They've got to have a little bit of a problem, but stuff that happened to Bobby Labonte at Darlington or things that happen to make you lose points -- that wasn't a good thing that happened to him -- so when they have those bad things happen you try to capitalize on them. I'm still thinking we can win this thing because we've still got 10 races to go, that's a lot of races."
AND WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE RACES COMING UP -- RICHMOND, LOUDON, DOVER -- YOU'VE HAD GREAT SUCCESS AT ALL OF THOSE TRACKS. "Those tracks have been good for me and I'm thinking about that. That's one of the reasons I'm so excited about the chance of getting this thing (the championship), I really am. We can't mess up and have problems, you don't want to do that."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR TEAM RIGHT NOW? "I feel as good about my team right now than I ever have, really. Gosh, when you win those races and do what we've done, I think my team is just as good as any of them out there. I try to keep myself a little humble when it comes to that, but I think the team is as good as I've ever had and I feel like I'm driving as good as I've driven in a long time and I'll be damned, I'm 44 years old. To me that's nothing. Everybody thinks it's old as hell for some reason, I don't know why, but I've always said I think the more you run the more experience you get to a point. It's not like the stick and ball sports where you have to be muscular and fast. Here you've gotta have a mentality where it's 'been there, done that.' I understand what this shock is gonna do, I know what this spring is gonna do, I know what line is the best line to run at Bristol or Darlington or Pocono or whatever. You've gotta have that understanding and the young guys don't have that unfortunately. When a lot of people say, 'Boy, when are you gonna retire because you're getting over the hill,' and you go out there and you win those races and win all those poles, it feels pretty good. And I always feel good when I see Earnhardt run good. He's up there at almost 50 years old now and he's still kicking butt. I like that part."
IT SEEMS THE YOUNG GUYS HAVE GOTTEN A LOT OF INK THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS WITH THEIR SUCCESS, BUT YOU LOOK AT IT AND IT'S YOU, EARNHARDT AND JARRETT THAT ARE WINNING RACES. "That's true. I'm not gonna try to promote you writing that, but that's reality and sometimes it's good to do that. I'm not gonna say any names, but one thing that bothers a lot of the veteran drivers is some of the lack of respect by a couple of the young drivers, or maybe one of the young drivers to come on the circuit, for what we've been able to do with this sport and grow it. It does get under my skin that they're impatient with the fans and impatient with their fellow drivers and say some of the things they say. I like some of the young drivers that are very humble that come on and don't do those type of things, I really respect those guys for that. I don't really respect some of the new ones that come on and don't have any respect for what's happened in the past. I think respect is the big, big thing. That's the reason my new teammate, Ryan Newman, I've got a lot of respect for him because he's been a real nice, kind fella who just wants to learn, learn, learn, learn. He's been testing a lot and he's won two out of three races. He calls me on the phone at home and we talk for 30 minutes, 'What do you think about this Rusty? What do you think about that?' So I think that's a neat deal. I think there are two ways to do this sport, but I think above all of it, all of the veterans like the respect and like some of these guys to have (the same appreciation) for our sport like we've got for it. We've done a lot of work building this thing. I've watched this whole sport come from a redneck sitting in the back of a pick-up truck to what it is right now. I've worked my butt off out there with the media doing interviews, spreading the good word and gospel around about this and we don't need people coming in and saying some of the things they're saying. I don't like that."
WHAT ABOUT PERSONALITIES IN THIS SPORT? "I think when you have a lot of competition on the track and there are two or three individuals that really like each other, and they find themselves side-by-side all the time and you get to go home and say, 'Well, I beat Old Joe or I beat Larry this week and us three, we're the three.' I don't think any driver likes to have the whole place talked about or just one other guy talked about all the time. I mean, Jeff Gordon would be the first to tell you that he really enjoyed being the man on the top, but he did not enjoy being booed all the time because he was on the top. And he didn't enjoy all of his comrades not thinking real highly of him because all they were hearing was Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. I think it's good for two or three guys to be on top. I think we've all shared in victories this year. I don't know if they're trying to find guy like a Tiger Woods that they can just keep talking about all the time, but that's something I hate. I think it's horrible for the sport just to have one person talked about all the time. That's a bad, bad deal. I think we all have enough class and character to be able to talk all the good things about the sport and carry it. I don't think we have to have one person to carry this sport."
DON'T YOU THINK FANS WANT THAT UNIQUE RIVALRY? "Rivalries are OK. Yeah, they want the good guy, bad guy stuff, but I don't think the fans want just one guy."
WHEN GORDON WAS THE ONLY ONE WINNING IT SEEMED PEOPLE SAID THAT WAS BAD FOR THE SPORT AND NOW THAT THERE ARE MORE WINNERS YOU HEAR THE SAME THING. "You hear that, but I don't have to agree with that and I don't agree with that. You've got this many different winners and this much stuff going on, how can that be bad? Somebody asked me earlier about what I thought about attendance not being where it's at and the stock falling. I said, 'Look five years ago. Look how many people were in the grandstands. Now look today at the people in the grandstands. I'll guarantee you there's more, not less.' Everybody in business wants to grow their company all the time and that's one word I just hate. Everybody's gotta grow all the time. Why can't you have a great deal and you do it all the time. We have to be bigger all the time. We get bigger all the time. We get bigger traffic jams. The price of hotel rooms go up. The frustation level goes up. The garage is packed with people. We've got 34 races, now we're gonna have 36. We'll have 36 and, I mean, there will always be one guy saying, 'Aw, come on one more, give me 37.' It'll never stop and I don't agree with none of that. That is the Wall Street mentality. That's what happens when you go public, you've gotta grow. If you're not public, you don't have to do that. I just personally think that the hardships on our sport because of growing it like that are getting to be tremendous. I know they're hard on me, they're hard on my PR guy, they're hard on my guy who handles all my stuff, they're hard on my family."
HOW ARE YOUR CREW GUYS PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY RIGHT NOW AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON? "They're a little worn and they're dragging a little bit. They talk about it all the time, but we've gotta do it. They used to never talk about it, but now they're all just talking about the grind. Everybody's talking about next year how we've lost our off weekends. NASCAR is doing one great thing that I really do like, they're trying to skinny up these schedules and may even think about getting rid of testing and stuff like that, which makes our life a little easier, but you're still at the race track. I used to love going into the race track. Man, I'd go the track, go to the hotel, I'd run down to the bar with my buddies and have a couple of beers to talk about the setup, go to bed, wake up the next morning, drive the car -- talk. Now, the only thing on my mind is get in the car, run the car, and leave as quick as I can."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIG DIFFERENCE IN YOUR TEAM THIS YEAR? "The engines have been fabulous. Our pit stops, the guys have been busting their butts every week practicing. Our engines are better, our cars are better, we've been to the windtunnel a lot, our pit crew's been real fast and we've switched to our brand new Penske chassis. We build them all in-house, we build everything ourselves. The Hopkins cars were great cars, but our cars are great cars. We've got our brand new designed car, our brand new bodies that are good, our engines that are strong, our pit crew is fast, and when all those things are running good everybody is in a better mood. When you get in a better mood, then you perform better. It's a compound deal."
IT SEEMS LIKE YOU HAVE BEEN MUCH BETTER ON THE BIG SPEEDWAYS THIS YEAR. "The speedways have been great for us, really, really great. The Michigans, Charlottes, Indys -- stuff like that. Our restrictor-plate stuff has been really, really good. We could have won almost every single race. Track position at the Daytona 500, if I could have gotten quick in front of Jarrett I was probably gonna win that race. At Talladega this year we came out leading the race and the motor blew, but we've had good motors. We had a chance to win at Daytona and Talladega."
YOU'VE ALSO BEEN GOOD ON THE SHORT TRACKS AS WELL, BUT THE FIRST RICHMOND RACE ENDED IN FRUSTRATION. "Oh yeah, you sit on the pole -- a new track record -- lead 207 laps at Richmond and I can't remember exactly what happened, but I think we pitted and everybody else stayed out."
DOES THAT MAKE YOU MORE ANXIOUS TO GET BACK TO RICHMOND THIS WEEK? "Yeah, I'm really anxious because I always run good there. I'm interested in trying some new shock absorber stuff there. My car has been running like 70 laps in a run and all of a sudden the front tires start chattering on it with the shocks we normally run, so I'm interested in trying some shock things. But I'm gonna go back with my normal qualifying setup that I've got the last two or three or four poles with up there and go for the pole with that. Hopefully, I can get it but then for the race setup I'll start off with that setup I had last time and try to perfect it some more."