Rusty Wallace Interview 98-10-27


October 27, 1998

NASCAR Winston Cup



RUSTY WALLACE -2- MILLER LITE FORD TAURUS -- ENDING THAT 59-RACE WINLESS STREAK HAD TO BRING A SIGH OF RELIEF, RIGHT? "It was real important to me, no doubt about it, but it was pretty cool to win the race because the car was so dominant all day long. It was a brand new chassis that we built and we took it out there. The guys did a helluva job on the body. They had it in the wind tunnel a couple times and it was just a regular stock Ronnie Hopkins chassis we put together. We took it out there with a great motor. We went to Phoenix thinking that we haven't won, we've gotten close so many times. Last year we were in Phoenix we led a ton of laps and finished second and this car, we honestly think it's our best car in-house right now, so with three races to go we decided to take it out there and try it, and, boy, did it work."

YOU WERE CONFIDENT BEFORE THE RACE WEREN'T YOU? "I was real confident because when I drove the car I said, 'Boy, I finally got the feel back that I had a couple years ago,' this real comfortable feel I always look for instead of chasing this chassis or chasing that. I got in this car, a style of car that I've been used to racing and won so many races with in the past and it came right back to me. We put our normal setup that we would put in it, adjusted the chassis, and went out there and was flying. I said, 'Man, this is great.' I hate that the thing ended under rain, but if we had been sitting there running fifth or sixth and beat them out of the pits and won that's one thing, but to dominate all day long...I told the media, 'God, I hope I don't wake up Monday morning and read that Wallace won because of the rain,' because I think everybody understood the car was really quick."

YOU'RE ONLY 36 POINTS BEHIND DALE JARRETT FOR THIRD PLACE IN THE POINTS RACE. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO FINISH THIRD? "It's real important to me to catch up into third because we've been pretty consistent. We haven't had any problems as far as breakdowns or anything. I hate to takeover a spot by somebody's unfortunate problems, I like to outrun 'em, if I can, on the race track. Jarrett had a problem at Martinsville and another one at Charlotte, and unbelievably I had a problem at both those same race tracks, so at this point I could be 250 points ahead of him but it didn't happen. Right now, I'm 36 points behind and I'm fortunate to be there and, hopefully, I can run him down."

HOW MANY NEW CARS WILL YOU BUILD AS FAR AS TRYING DIFFERENT THINGS AND YOU'RE GOING FROM ONE STYLE OF ONE-MILE TRACK TO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. WHAT WILL YOU HAVE TO DO AS FAR AS CHANGING SETUP? "The type of car you use won't be any different, but the setup is completely different. The springs and the shocks and the swaybar and even the tire pressure settings, all that stuff, is a complete different thing. The car itself and the body configuration, air dams and spoilers, all that remains the same. You're just going to a track that's a mile, it'll take a different gear ratio and different chassis setup. As far as how many cars a team builds to start the season, it all depends on how comfortable they are with the chassis they have and stuff at the end of the year. A lot of the times what the teams will do, they're very comfortable with the chassis because those things don't hardly change. Just about the time we try to make the cars better, sometimes we screw 'em up, which is pretty evident by what I did this week -- go back to a car I've been used to and it puts me in victory lane. But what they'll do, they'll take those cars they've been running, take the bodies off of 'em, rebuild the chassis, sandblast the frames and put a new coat of paint on 'em and put brand new sheet metal on that current chassis and start the year off like that. Then there will be other guys that'll just build brand new cars because they need 'em. Like right now, we're building a brand new speedway car because we feel like we can make it better than the one we've had. Our Daytona effort has been superior this year compared to years in the past. We've led almost all the restrictor-plate races. The Daytona 500 was great for me and the Firecracker 400 was great for me. I told our guys, 'Now we've just gotta go a little step farther to get this thing instead of following these guys running in the top five, I can pull all five of these guys,' so we're building a brand new speedway car and right now it's about a quarter of the way done because we want to get it in the tunnel quick and get it on the track right off the bat the first of January and try to win the 500 with something."

SO THE PHOENIX CAR WAS A HOPKINS CAR YOU WERE USED TO? "It was a stock brand new Ronnie Hopkins car, something that I've been real accustomed to in the past -- no new design or nothing. Probably one of the most significant things was the engine. The engine was awful strong. Larry Wallace is doing a lot of development work over there and his engine was superior."

DID YOU HEAR TALK ABOUT WHETHER THE SPORT HAS PASSED YOU BY? "It's just something that aggravates the hell out of you. Dale Earnhardt went through a lot of that, I've gone through it, Elliott's gone through it, Ricky Rudd, all the guys that are over 40 years old. For some reason they put a bullseye on our head and they target us when we're down and having a problem. I told 'em, 'If I went out there every race and ran 20th or 30th and was uncompetitive and getting lapped all the time, then maybe I'd think it's time to hang it up.' I've led a ton of laps this year. I've had four poles and a ton of top-five finishes and then they say, 'Well Rusty, you haven't won, do you feel like the sport's passed you by? Do you think you're a little washed up? Or something like that. It's enough to really get you aggravated, but usually those questions come from people that are under-educated about our sport and really don't understand it. Then a lot of times that comes from TV people whose producers are sitting in the truck trying to get you fired up to get some type of exaggerated answer out of you."

I SAW THE REFERENCE ABOUT DUSTING OFF THE TAPE OF YOUR LAST WIN. "That one there got me a little mad. I got ahold of Bill Weber, who dreamed that whole deal up, and he thought he was doing something funny. He didn't think he was doing something that was gonna upset us. So when I told him that I didn't really appreciate that he was really floored."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT A QUEST FOR ANOTHER TITLE? "The quest is definitely there. If you guys sit back and look and I know you have, we led this series clear up to 10 races in the year. I went to California, sitting there running second with eight laps to go and I blow a motor and lose 120 points. I go from leading the thing to not leading the thing. Then I go to Bristol, set a new track record, leading the race and I blew a motor there. Then I went on to Pocono, qualified second right on the front row with Gordon, took off and that's when they said I jumped him on the start and the black-flagged me, so I'm sitting there and three laps later that motor blew. So I lost three engines and that was right at about 390 points that I had calculated that I lost right there. Those were three races, one of them I'm confident I had won was the Bristol race when I lost the motor. At California I had second locked up there and who knows what was gonna happen at Pocono because by teammate Jeremy Mayfield won that race and I felt like I had a car equally good as Jeremy's that day, so who knows."

ARE YOU AWARE OF HOW LUCKY YOU WERE TO WIN SUNDAY'S RACE? "Somebody could have pulled something, yeah, but when I won that race, that's one thing I'm gonna talk about a bit. I don't consider myself lucky to win that race after leading 200 and some-odd laps. The lucky part comes in, when the caution flag came out we all hit pit road because there was no rain. It was a no-brainer on what to do at that point because everybody needed fuel, nobody could make it, we all had to pit. So we're all on pit road and it's not raining, and as we leave pit road the sprinkles start to happen. The lucky part I got, if there's any luck at all into it, is that my pit crew continued to perform what they had been doing all day long is get me out first after coming in first. Yeah, I know somebody could have stayed out. Maybe the last guy on the lead lap could have stayed out, but I don't think Houdini could have dreamed that it was gonna rain because it wasn't raining and it never rains in Phoenix. And even if it does rain, it usually quits in 20 minutes. Who would have dreamed that it would have stayed raining for four hours, but it did."

IF YOU WERE BACK THERE ON THE LEAD LAP, WOULD YOU HAVE GAMBLED BY STAYING OUT? "No way. I would have come into pit road and try to pick up as many position I could with a fast pit stop and try to improve that with four new tires and a tank of gas. I wouldn't have been out there with 50 laps to go and just stay out and think that it might rain, but if it doesn't I'm gonna come out pit road dead last. So there's no way you could have dreamed that one up. It just wouldn't have worked. Why would you try that if it's not raining. At that point it wasn't raining. I don't want that to tarnish my single victory of the year. I feel like we won it in dominant fashion and I'd just as soon seen the thing go green because on every start the car took off. Those are questions you always have to answer whenever you have a rain delay. Not only did it rain and tarnish the victory a little bit, but we had to do victory lane in a beat up garage area."

HAVE YOU GONE COMPLETELY TO LARRY WALLACE ENGINES? "Yeah, we sure have. We went to Larry Wallace's engines and fairly shortly Larry Wallace's organization is gonna become a part of the Penske organization. He'll be building engines for the 2 car, the 12 car, and maybe one other competitor, but we're exclusively with Larry Wallace in all the race tracks we run right now, except Daytona and Talladega. And our guys are working under some of Larry's direction right now on restrictor plate stuff. The restrictor plate stuff is still being built at our shop because our guys are focused really big on that, but Larry is building engines exclusively everywhere else for both cars."

WHO WOULD THE OTHER POSSIBLE CAR BE? "It would be the 90 car with Dick Trickle. They currently are building his engines and I don't think there's any change in plan to not do that."

HOW MUCH HAVE YOU GAINED WITH HAVING JEREMY MAYFIELD DOWN THE STREET? "A total gain. That one there is pretty obvious. He won his first race this year. I've won this year. We've both been in the hunt all year long. We've both learned a lot because we've tested a lot together. I think the two-car team has worked really good for us. I don't think it would work nearly as successfully if we went to three though."

HOW IS ROCKINGHAM'S TRACK FOR PASSING? "It's real easy to pass. Rockingham is a track where passing is pretty easy. It's a real trick track to race on because there's two and sometimes three grooves out there. I tend to do a lot of my passing in turn one and two, up off turn two and off of turn four. I've passed many cars on the top side of the track and many of them on the bottom side of the track. I'm looking forward to the race. It's a 400-miler and it's a track that I went to to begin this year. I tested for three days there, got my shocks and springs worked out and led the most laps there that day. I thought I had the doggone race won. I came in for a pit stop and Gordon beat me out and I came out second. I couldn't get back around him and I finished second in the race. I think everybody knows that my biggest goal at the beginning of the year was to try to win my 50th race during NASCAR's 50 anniversary. With the way we ran last time and this car ran so strong at Phoenix, the hope is still alive, it really is. I feel I can go to Rockingham and win that race. Jeremy is down in Atlanta right now doing an extensive three day test and I'm sure he'll bring back some good information for us and try to apply that and win Atlanta too. The championship thing is kind of ho-hum deal right now as far as Gordon winning the thing, I think. It would be exciting for me to go down and win my 50th at Atlanta."

COULD YOU COMMENT ON NASCAR'S PROPOSED NEW TESTING RULES WITH FOUR CONTROLLED TESTS AND THREE ADDITIONAL FOR EACH TEAM? "I think it's a fine deal. We all go to Daytona and Indianapolis and Charlotte and Talladega, I think was the other track. We all go there anyway to test and then all that does is give us the option of where we want to go for the next three. I think what they're trying to do is get it so the multi-car teams aren't turning their tests into just a ton of tests. If they make it mandatory you have to test at those four, if you want to test, that does help out the single-car teams, which is fine with me."

IS THAT REDUCING FROM WHAT THEY'VE DONE IN THE PAST? "They're trying to make it mandatory that if you want to test you have to test at least four of those. Say if you have a five-car team, instead of turning it into 35 test sessions it's still seven. They're trying to make it fairer for the teams that aren't so fortunate and don't have multi- and triple-car teams."

YOUR MILLER TEAMMATE BOBBY RAHAL IS RETIRING AFTER THIS WEEKEND'S CART RACE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? "He's a great competitor, there's no doubt about that. He doesn't really have much to prove, except he feels as though right now is the time to do it. He's putting a new driver in there that he's pretty confident with. Only the driver himself knows what he feels. If his heart's still in the game and he's excited and got that burning desire to win, fine. But if there are a lot of other things on his mind...the will is always there to want to win, but if you're mind is wandering around on different things, maybe it's time to quit. He just feels like he's got other opportunities. He's excited about being a car owner and he's going out a helluva champion and a helluva competitor, so I think it's a good time to do it."

IN YOUR MIND, WHAT HAS HIS IMPACT BEEN ON THE SPORT? "He's brought, as far as CART racing I'm not real knowledgeable, but I think he's brought a lot to the sport. He's one of the big names that people always talk about and that in its own right is something to be proud of."

DID YOU GET ANY GOOD LUCK CHARMS DURING YOUR VICTORY DROUGHT? "I had a lot of things from the fans, tons of things. From saying, 'Hey, the last time I was at a race it was at Richmond and you. This is the next race I'm going to and you're gonna win because I'm going.' And, 'Here's a good luck pin to put in your car. If you put it in there, it's brought luck to me at Desert Storm and different places. If you put it in you'll win.' I've had a lot of 'em trying to help me. It always makes you feel better."

WHAT WAS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS OF GOING AWAY FROM A HOPKINS CHASSIS AND THEN GOING BACK TO IT? "I personally was getting confused because I always ran the Hopkins cars and then we started out with the new Penske chassis. I wanted to try the new Penske chassis to see if I could improve on the Hopkins. We took it straight to Pocono a couple years ago and we won right off the bat. I got all excited about that so we started building more and more of them. Then, when NASCAR came with the rule change where they took all the air dams and spoilers away from it, then the car didn't seem like it handled near as well. I was getting beat by normal stock Hopkins cars again. So then when we signed on with Kranefuss' team, he was building a car that I drove a couple times. I said, 'Man, this thing feels good to me. It feels real good.' So then we built a couple of those and then that got real good. Then I noticed that the Hopkins cars, the 6 car, the 99, the 88, are still outrunning us. I'm going, 'You know, out of all this stuff we tried, the old stock Hopkins just still seems like it's the car.' So we bought two of 'em and I said, 'Let's put these things together.' We put one of them together, took it to Michigan and I got my doors blown off. I said, 'Well, maybe that's not it.' Then later we took it to the wind tunnel and found out the body was terrible, so we tried it again. We built another brand new Hopkins and started working on the body and getting it right. Robin basically took a car to the wind tunnel and kept moving panels around trying to get things better and better. He got the thing pretty good and then he said, 'You know Rusty, I think this thing is what you're gonna like, let's give it a whirl and try it.'

And you saw what happened."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace