Sonoma: Ford Racing - Rusty Wallace interview, Part I

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, has two NASCAR Winston Cup Series wins here at Sears Point (1990 and 1996) and four road course victories overall. Wallace, who is sixth in the point standings going into Sunday's ...

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, has two NASCAR Winston Cup Series wins here at Sears Point (1990 and 1996) and four road course victories overall. Wallace, who is sixth in the point standings going into Sunday's Dodge/SaveMart 300, held a Q&A session before practice Saturday morning.

Part 1 of 2

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus

DID YOU HAVE CERTAIN REFERENCE POINTS THAT ARE GONE NOW AT THIS TRACK?

"Oh yeah. They're gone. When I came down the hill it was like a tube of mountains. You knew exactly where to go through it and when I came down for the first time yesterday I said, 'What in the world is different here?' And as I came down I was still looking for it, but I was already past it. It sure has changed a lot -- the feel of everything. We used to come out turn 11 and had a lot of room to feather out towards the wall and cut back in to go up, but there was none of that going on. I had to put more swaybar in and change the wedge around because the car was rolling a lot. I had to do that to fix it in one spot, but kind of hurt it everywhere else. It's a little bit different on the setup, but the visuals are what the deal is. In fact, when I qualified yesterday, I was so busy qualifying that when I got done and I slammed the brakes on, I told my guys, 'When I go past that start-finish line, you holler and don't let me forget to pull back in past that bridge,' because I didn't want to sit out there the whole day and wait until everything gets done. So I got past that bridge and it was all I could do to get it stopped and pulled down in there. If he wouldn't have hollered, I would have driven right past it, so a lot of things are different. But when I got done qualifying, it was one of those deals where you've driven home and don't remember driving home. I drove and finished the whole lap and hardly didn't remember the lap because I was so busy. With all the new stuff going on, it confused you. It was like, 'OK, let me go do this one more time. I'm gonna get better."

HOW DO YOU REMEMBER THE CHANGES?

"That'll come real quick, there's no doubt about that. Our biggest concern yesterday was entering turn nine, the high-speed left-hander, and you turn back right behind the bridge -- I call that 10 -- well, they didn't put any ripple strips against the asphalt and it was just dirt. So all of the rocks and everything poured on top of the race track and that's what happened to Ricky Craven. He hit all the rocks and flew off the course and crashed yesterday. I haven't talked to NASCAR to see if they fixed it yet. They were gonna work last night, but."

CAN YOU OVERTHINK A ROAD COURSE?

"No, I don't agree with that. I think a road course is all motion. If you've ever ridden a motorcycle before there's a thing called body English, where you throw the bike this way and throw the bike that way and maneuver it around. On a road course, you find yourself doing a lot of things like throwing the car sideways with brake and all that. When we used to run the bias ply tires here, you were all over this course. You were very, very aggressive and that's what made you go fast. With the radial tire, you have to be so precise now. Everybody used to hate road course racing, but now everybody is finally realizing that you've got to like it. Now, everybody is building specialized road courses. They're all out here testing, so the competition has really gotten compacted big time. I don't look at each corner, I just do it. I just kind of know what's gonna happen and I try to set up before it. I see the corner coming at me and you can't just drive to the corner and turn. You can't expect the car to handle that perfectly that you can drive it through, so you have to kind of set up for it and get that motion going. It's a real rhythm track."

DO YOU THINK THE VETERANS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE ON THIS COURSE?

"I don't think so. If it was the old course, maybe so, but the course changes everytime we've come out here the last three years. So everytime it changes, it's new for somebody. I think anybody that came out and tested has got an advantage over not testing."

IS THIS MORE OF A RHYTHM COURSE THAN WATKINS GLEN?

"No, I don't think so. I think Watkins Glen and this track are about the same when it comes to rhythm. I just think road course racing is a real science -- it's rhythm. Most everybody runs the same right-front and left-front springs. You've got square springs in the front, square springs on the right and you set your cambers up almost identical because you're turning left and right. Then the big thing you've really got to worry about and work hard on is your brakes. Nearly the whole circuit went to VIR and tested up there with brakes. I didn't go this year because I did a lot of that last year. I didn't think I could gain anything because if there was one thing I learned it was that everything that I learned at VIR chassis-wise, didn't work here at all or at Watkins Glen at all. What you learned on brakes did help you, but I felt pretty confident there so I didn't go. Here, you're gonna see all the passing going into turn 11. You might see some passing going into that last turn, I don't know what it's called. I still don't know how to figure these turns out. I tell them, 'the one by the big oak tree, turn right there.'" D

ID YOU TEST HERE?

"No, Ryan tested and ran good. He learned some things, but he basically came back with the same setup that I normally always run here. He had a little more swaybar in the front, that's about it, but everything was real close. You've got to get some really grippy, fast-stopping brakes to out-power somebody going into 11 and in this new turn seven. And then there are some places where people will just get out of shape and you can pass them, but, generally, road course racing is all about having a fast car and being able to outbrake people under these tight corners. That's one thing I wish we had. That's the neat thing we had with the carousel. We used to come down that carousel and get flying up towards that corner and guys would brake there and pass. They keep trying to re-create it by putting in 90-degree turns, but it just hasn't happened yet."

DO YOU FEEL SOME OF THESE YOUNG GUYS ARE SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE THEY TRY DIFFERENT SETUPS FROM WHAT THE VETERANS HAVE TRIED?

"My real consistent runs this year, but my conservative finishes -- basically all top 10 finishes this year -- is because I haven't been near as aggressive with some of the new things going on. Now some of the guys are running super, super soft front springs. They're running tons of front swaybar. They're running real gigantic rear springs and I'm like, 'Man, that's just too far off the beaten path for me.' If I tried that, I'd have a big handling problem and I don't want to chance that. Because of that, I've kind of taken a conservative approach that has been netting me those sixth through 10th place finishes. Now that the year is half over, I would have never thought that stuff would work. But now that I see it working, I'm more apt to start the second half of the season by getting on the aggressive side of things. Ryan has been real aggressive in his thought process. I'd basically say, 'Bah-humbug to that,' but then I see it work and I say, 'Well, now I feel more comfortable trying some of that stuff.' So we're gonna step it up the second half with a real aggressive setup and I think the wins will come and the top fives will should start coming, but, man, it really has changed. You just cannot believe that what you never thought would work starts working. I've talked to Mark Martin and I've talked to Jeff (Burton) and all those guys, even Gordon, that I can't believe this stuff is working."

IS IT HARD TO ADJUST TO THE DIFFERENT FEEL OR IS IT IN YOUR MIND THAT IT SHOULDN'T WORK?

"In your mind you know it shouldn't work. There are guys out there running so soft a springs that they're purposely coil-binding them, so when you go in the corner the spring locks up and the car can't go down any farther. When they disallowed the bump stops last year, they were using the bump stops to do that. To me, I was like, 'Man, this is just a punch of hocus-pocus. I'm staying away from all that and I'm gonna stay with more of what I know works and gives me consistent finishes. There were some guys last week that had springs so soft that as soon as the car would pull out on the race track, it would just fall to the ground, but then it couldn't go any farther because the little soft spring they had was bound up -- it was locked up. But they would run the whole race and the car would run good the whole race. I was like, 'Man, I would have thought they would have torn the tires off the car or something,' but it didn't.

"It's gotten to where the aerodynamic portion of it has gotten so important about the attitude you set the car for downforce. I'm politicking real hard right now, and a lot of drivers are, to get the rear spoilers downsized on the cars because the biggest problem we've got with this aero-push is that all the cars have so much downforce in the back that when you get behind a car, you can't pass them. But the other problem, which is the main reason, is that we've got so much downforce that Goodyear had to harden the tire up. Goodyear's got the tire real durable, a great tire, and the Goodyear people have told me that if we can get NASCAR to take rear spoiler off these cars and get the downforce off, that they'll soften the tires back up. When they soften the tires back up, then the tires will wear and we'll see the passing come back and it'll be a lot better. I cited one of the races at Bristol. I said, 'I can't ever remember going to Bristol, and I've won the thing nine times, where we go there and the guy who wins the race does it by staying out for 160 straight laps and doesn't pit, and the tires after the race still look brand new. Now that's too hard.'"

-ford racing-

Rusty Wallace Part II

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Ricky Craven , Mark Martin