Texas: Dodge - Kenny Wallace interview

KENNY WALLACE (No. 23 Stacker2 Dodge Intrepid) NOTE: Wallace is coming off a 10th-place finish last Sunday at Bristol in the Food City 500. The 39-year-old St. Louis native will be making career start No. 271 on Sunday. "Our team really needed...

KENNY WALLACE (No. 23 Stacker2 Dodge Intrepid)

NOTE: Wallace is coming off a 10th-place finish last Sunday at Bristol in the Food City 500. The 39-year-old St. Louis native will be making career start No. 271 on Sunday.

"Our team really needed that 10th-place finish at Bristol. It seems like if you finish 11th nobody really cares about it. Finishing 10th was a good boost for a team that had been struggling. We're excited to get that under our belt."

SHARE YOUR FINEST MOMENTS

"There's so many. It could be in racing or it could be in human life. On the human life side, it was when my first kid, Brooke, was born. That was pretty wild. In auto racing, it would be a couple of things. Obviously when I pushed Dale Earnhardt to his very last win and getting Dale's approval after that race over the loud speakers, that was pretty cool. It seems like I'm always pushing somebody to a win. Me and my brother finished first and second in the '98 Bud Shootout. Those are some that rate right up there and got national attention."

HAS THE ECONOMY AFFECTED RACING?

"Every time I go to the mall or every time I go to the race tracks, I joke and say, 'boy the economy sure is bad.' We just came from Bristol where we sold out to 160,000 people. My true belief is that the money is out there and people are holding it because the stock market jumps up and down 300 points every week in one day. I really believe there are so many uncertainties in the world right now, it's a very desperate feeling time for a lot of people. Actually when you go to the malls or race track, my souvenir trailer, people line up to buy die casts. The money is being spent. I think that corporate America right now is sitting back and looking and wondering if it should spend 8 or 10 million bucks right now or do I wait until next year? I think the stock market hits corporate America more, but I think everyday people are still doing good."

COMMENT ON WAR

"I can tell you that I'm obsessed with the war. I don't care if I'm the minority or majority either one. I'm very obsessed with it. I go to bed watching it, and I wake up watching it. I caught myself the last couple of days getting tired watching it. I can't stand any negativity. I'm a very positive person. We lost an Apache Helicopter and that really bummed me out, so I turn it. That's always been one of my strong suits. I'm a very positive person, and there are a lot of negative things going on with the war. I know that all the people I surround myself with are the same as I am. Everybody is paying attention to it."

IS THIS YOUR BEST OPPORTUNITY TO SHOWCASE YOUR TALENT?

"I thought when I was with Andy Petree that was my best opportunity. At the time, I had a couple of second-place finishes. We got very close to victory and things fell apart and didn't work out. Since then Andy has had a very tough time. I don't blame myself on that. I would have to say this is definitely my best opportunity. I'm with a team that has a lot of longevity. Bill Davis Racing has been around quite a few years. It's not a new operation. From that standpoint, I would say yes, this is my best opportunity. Racing is a funny game. Two years ago Mark Martin ran horribly and then last year Bobby Labonte ran horribly and then this year they're back on track. That's kind of the way our sport is, so I'm hoping we get our season turned around here real soon. With only one top 10, it's a little discouraging, but I know we've got what we need here. It's all about people."

ADDRESS THE CHALLENGE OF BALANCING THE DODGE INTREPID

"Our team has been thought a lot of changes. We lost Tommy Baldwin. We lost Booty Barker. We lost a lot of crew members that went with Tommy Baldwin, so from the human element, we went through a lot of changes over the winter. We have replaced those people with some great talent - Frank Stoddard and Chris Rice. When we put Chris Rice over to the Busch Grand National team it was disappointing to me because he was my main shock man. I had to go through a change. Then, we are going through this huge aerodynamic change, and all the Dodge teams are struggling right now. Bill Davis and the whole Dodge organization had a meeting in Detroit on Thursday of last week. The consensus was all the drivers are saying the same thing. The cars are loose getting in the corner. We've built a new car for Texas, and they tell me the body is put on differently. We're playing catchup, and I think that's why you see us run a little better on tracks where aero is not uncontrollably unbelievable. We're working overtime right now trying to find the remedy, just like Richard Childress Racing. Hopefully we can catch up with it.

"I know that he (brother, Rusty Wallace) and Ryan Newman have probably got the best stranglehold right now on the body location and things like that. Every year we always have a different curve thrown at us, and that was a curve that got thrown at us with the new body location. Other than that, everything has been rolling along. Ward and I have just had trouble getting our car feeling the way we want it to. We'll keep working at it."

COMMENT ON CHANGES AT PHOENIX TRACK

"Kenny Schrader is a real good friend of mine. Basically, he's like one of my brothers. I grew up with him. It's funny because somebody told me and Kenny that at the same time. Kenny was like, 'why are they doing that?' He's the all-time winningest driver at Phoenix. When Kenny said that I wondered why it would bother him. Michael Andretti said the great thing about race tracks is they all have different quirks. Really that wall is something we have to stay away from. I appreciate Phoenix fixing it because it is something you have to avoid, but it's like that at any race track. We always have to avoid the walls. I appreciate them doing it. I enjoy going out to that race track. It's one of my favorite places. Them moving it out a little bit is going to help. We've had a lot of wrecks there, people tagging their right rear wheel. It's fine with me, but then again all tracks have different quirks, but that one was OK with me because you have the ability to stay away from it. I wouldn't schedule a test there just because they're moving the wall away. I don't think that's something we need to be concerned with. You'll be able to take your car and run the higher groove if you have to and make more passing. When you get on the outside of somebody exiting turn two, they can pinch you up and run you into that wall. I think you're going to see better side-by-side racing coming off turn two at Phoenix because of what they're doing."

DO YOU EVER IGNORE CREW CHIEF'S PIT CALL?

"The only way a driver can overrule a crew chief is feeling the comfort zone. If Kurt Busch did overrule Jimmy (crew chief Fennig) the only reason he did that is because those two are such good friends right now because everything is going good. They're winning races. They ended the year on a good note. Those two are 50-50. On Rusty's behalf, Rusty owns 20 something percent of that team, so Rusty is the true boss there. Everybody knows that inside our sport. Rusty runs that team hands on and personally. If you ever scan Rusty, he tells the crew exactly what to do. It's got to be hard on my brother to race like that. For me, I listen to my crew chief. If I'm going into war, I'm going to listen to my commander and I just do what my crew chief tells me to do because I don't want to overrule him. If I do overrule him and it's the wrong move, you have everybody upset with you. I'm one driver. I've got my crew chief, crew members, it could be a total of 40 of them and me. If I make the wrong call, then 40 people are upset with me, and I don't want it to be that way. You have to have law and order, and you have to have one chief. My chief is Philippe (Lopez) and whatever he says is what we do. Don't get me wrong. He might say we need to come in, and I might say, 'do you really think so?' I will challenge him, but I obey his orders for sure. There might be times he'll say, 'pit this lap,' and I'll go another lap because maybe I'm not in the right position. Different drivers have a comfort zone where they might have had some success and they might do what they think they need to do, but I would say most Winston Cup drivers do what their crew chiefs tell them. So many times calls could have gone one way or the other. A lot of them is timing, which way does the caution fall?"

WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT YOU THAT MAKES YOU A CUP DRIVER?

"I would say my drive and determination is what separates me from the other people. There are a lot of great race car drivers out there. I always heard Dale Earnhardt say this. He'd say, 'you know there's a ton of talent out there and they're all hidden. There are shy people and people afraid to sacrifice. There are people who are married and have children and are afraid to quit their jobs and chase their dreams.'

"When I met my wife in high school, she knew I was racing. She knew better than to challenge me and take away what I dreamed of. You have to have a dream, and you have to have people support that. That's what separates me."

ARE PEOPLE MOVING ON IN NASCAR WINSTON CUP?

"When you lose somebody, like me, we've lost Dale Earnhardt. It's been not quite a while, but it's been quite a while, so I think that people tend to talk about the past when they learn something from somebody. I won't quote people who are living today just because they are competitors. I learned so much from Dale Earnhardt. He was such a gauge not just for me but for every driver out there. We never put Dale in our category because we all knew he was bigger than life. We knew he was the king, kinda like Richard Petty was in his day. Nobody ever doubted his ability, nobody ever questioned him. Nine times out of 10 people say, 'this is what Dale would have done.' He could see the air. There was just always a positive tone because he accomplished so many things. Everybody never challenged his greatness or his decisions, so you tend to quote those things. It worked for him, so you're hoping it'll work for you.

"I don't mean to dishonor anybody, but I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. right now is more popular than his father was just for the fact there we're in a new era. I guess Junior is 27 or 28. I don't know his age exactly (28). He's got an unbelievable, mind-boggling following. From what I hear, I hear his souvenir sales are let's say 100 percent. Then I hear that Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, my brother are all like 50 percent and then everybody else is down. Junior is so far ahead of the game as far as popularity. It's kinda like the Grateful Dead following, kinda like John F. Kennedy Jr., and nobody will retaliate against Junior on the race track. If you try to retaliate against Junior the fans will come down on you like a mob. He is the golden boy, but not in a negative term. He's a great kid. I'm a good friend of his. I do things with him. I can call him. We used to race slot cars together. I know the real him, and I know he's having a good time with it, but he's definitely more popular than his father because of that Marilyn Monroe, James Dean type of deal. He's carrying on the tradition, and he's so interesting."

OPINION ON RUSTY MAKING THE CALLS

"My brother has personally told me he wants to race three more years. I cannot see my brother changing his ways with three years left. Whether he needs to change or not, I don't think he's going to. It's been so successful for him for so many years. We can all go he needs to be like Ryan Newman. It's funny because Ryan Newman has only won one race and in that race Kurt Busch was getting ready to pass him and it rained. The only difference between Ryan Newman and Rusty is that Ryan Newman is the greatest qualifier of all time. When they drop that green flag, my brother is always there. I think sometimes qualifying can overshadow the race, but if you look at the races, Rusty is as good as Ryan. You've got one kid that's coming in with an engineering degree and you've got the old man on the block that has always done it is way. If Rusty wasn't competitive, then you could say something about it. The problem with Rusty is he runs in the top 10 every week, so you can't knock it.

"Rusty is the only one. He literally makes the decisions. Mark Martin can make the decisions, but he lets his team work with him. Rusty runs the team."

WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGE DOES THE TEXAS TRACK PRESENT?

"Texas always creates a challenge to everybody. The corners aren't the way we all like them. Going into turn one, there's not the proper amount of banking to feed you in the corner. Exiting turn four, the banking falls off fast. It creates a challenge to all the race teams to get the cars to handle well in those areas. We've built a new race car for this particular track because our intermediate program for myself and Ward has not been where we want it to be. Texas is bigger than big. Bruton Smith has done an incredible job trying to host everything and fulfill our needs. From massages to manicures and pedicures for our wives. It's a huge, huge race just because there's so many people going to be there, but on the other hand, it's another race on the schedule. We're going down there to try to be competitive and keep our surge going. We ran well at Darlington, but when we pitted the caution came out and put us two laps down and we ran 23rd. We were much better than that, then we got 10th last week, so we want to go down there and run competitively to keep the roll going."

WHAT DO YOU DO IN TEXAS AWAY FROM THE TRACK?

"I'm really looking forward to going over to the World of Outlaws. I love the sprint cars. They're awesome, really cool racing. So I'll get on my golf cart, and my wife and I and Kenny Schrader will run over there and maybe we'll go up in one of the suites and take it in."

WILL YOU BE ABLE TO BUILD ON THAT 10TH-PLACE FINISH AT BRISTOL?

"I know people sometimes forget my stats. My stats are pretty damn good coming from the Busch Series. Top 10s are encouraging because the Winston Cup Series is so tough. To get a top 10 nowadays is 10 times bigger than it used to be. A top 10 in Winston Cup is like you've really accomplished something, but still in the back of my mind, I want much more than that. I'm very happy with the run. For five days, the crew can be prideful and hold their heads up high. That's part of the goal, to keep everybody excited and pumped up. That means a lot to me."

-dodge motorsports-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kenny Wallace , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Michael Andretti , Richard Petty , Andy Petree , Tommy Baldwin , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Bill Davis Racing