This Week in Ford Racing, May 4, 1999

This Week in Ford Racing May 4, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, extended his streak of winning at least one NASCAR Winston Cup race each season to 14 when he captured the Food City 500...

This Week in Ford Racing May 4, 1999

NASCAR Winston Cup

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, extended his streak of winning at least one NASCAR Winston Cup race each season to 14 when he captured the Food City 500 last month at Bristol Motor Speedway. Wallace has said Bristol is his favorite race track on the circuit, but listed Richmond as his second-favorite facility. He spoke about that, along with a number of other topics, as part of the weekly Winston Teleconference.


RUSTY WALLACE -2- Miller Lite Taurus - YOU'VE HAD 30 RACES AT RIR AND 22 TOP-10 FINISHES, THAT'S PRETTY GOOD ISN'T IT? "Richmond is one of my favorite race tracks. I've said it a lot. I love going to Bristol and I love going to Richmond. I guess everybody's gotta have a favorite track. Nowadays on the Winston Cup circuit it seems I like about all of them, but those are my favorites. Richmond has been really good to me and it seems like everytime I go there I run good, so, hopefully, it can happen again this time."

ARE YOU WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU'D BE AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON? "I'm farther behind than where I thought I'd be. I've had three bad problems with finishing below 30th - that was at Atlanta and Darlington and two weeks ago at Talladega, so I'm worse than I want to be right now."

WHAT DID YOU TAKE FROM BRISTOL AND MARTINSVILLE THAT MIGHT WORK AT RICHMOND? "We've looked at some of the trends that have been going on with the spoiler and air dam differences from last year and just applied them to different things. We'll go to Richmond, probably, with our standard setup that we always run so good with and start working on it from there, but you really don't know what's gonna happen until you get to the track and see how the tires work and how the temperature of the track is and how weather plays a part. But I'd be foolish not to go over there with some of the normal things I run."

DO YOU FEEL YOU'RE BETTER PREPARED THIS SEASON? "I feel like we're prepared, I really do, but we've had some unforeseen problems happen of late. It's just been frustrating with the Atlanta and Darlington thing that happened."

WHY DO YOU HAVE SUCH BAD LUCK? "Well, it happens that way every now and then. If feels good to be the lap leader and things like that, but that doesn't win you races. You try to do that, but unforeseen circumstances sometimes happen. Like at Talladega. I haven't had a restrictor-plate wreck in a long, long time and it seemed like for a long time there I was involved in every one of them, but it happened again at Talladega. I couldn't believe the guy I ended up running in to was Gordon. I hit him dead in the door at about 180 miles an hour and we both walked away from it, but you can't dwell on that, you've just gotta keep running. We went to California a couple of weeks ago and tested for that race and we ended up finishing 11th. We probably could have run a lot better than that. We made a scheduled green-flag pit stop and as soon as I left pit road the caution flag flew. There were three guys who hadn't pitted, so that put me a lap down and we had a hard time trying to get the lap back, so we finished 11th. We're out here at Sears Point right now testing for the event coming up here in six or seven weeks. The track has had a change down in turn seven. They've reconfigured the track and that's the reason I'm out here testing. You just have to be prepared and I feel like we're prepared. We've had some bad luck, but not a whole lot."

IS THE MIDWEST THE NEW HOTBED FOR WINSTON CUP DRIVERS? "It could be. I grew up in the midwest. Stock car racing seemed to start in the southeast, but there are a lot of drivers from all over the country. I believe Benny Parsons was from Michigan. Dave Marcis is from Wisconsin. Me, Mark Martin and Dick Trickle are from the midwest, so we draw drivers from all over the country. There's no doubt about that. Nowadays, if you look at where all the drivers are from, they're from all over the country. It's not so much a southeastern sport, but it was born in the southeast."

DO YOU FEEL YOU SET THE STAGE FOR SOME OF THE YOUNGER DRIVERS WHO NOW COME OUT OF THE MIDWEST? "I really think that doing what I did in ASA racing back in my younger years, that gave me the experience to build all my own cars and engines, and it gave me a lot of hands-on experience. The competition was so tough back then. Heck, you had Dick Trickle, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison would run with us every now and then. American Speed Association racing was just fierce, it was incredible, especially back in the late eighties. The mid-seventies and early-eighties was some of the greatest short-track racing in the world. I tell you what, I'm glad I did it through ASA racing rather than Busch Grand National racing or something back then because I honestly thought the racing was just tougher. That's the way we all grew up and that's how we all learned suspension and shock absorbers and chassis work and knowing what the car has to do. I think knowing how to race to win, instead of just running hard was something I also learned, so there's definitely a lot of talent from up in that area. I know most of the people up there and that's the reason such good drivers like Matt Kenseth and people like that are coming out of there."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEW TAURUS COMING OUT IN 2000? "We're developing again the new 2000 Taurus for Ford Motor Company. The car is in our shop right now. All it's going to be is a nose and a new tail. It's not going to be a radical design of the car or anything. The car will look a little bit different in the front. I don't think you're gonna see a performance change. That shocks a lot of people because they say why would you change a car if you're not gonna make it run faster? The Chevrolet guys are already saying, 'Oh my God, they're coming out with a bullet.' That's not the case. We're coming out with a car that has to have a facial change because of the new design of the 2000 Taurus, so the headlights will look a little bit different and the tail lights will look a little bit different, but, trust me, NASCAR is all over this car governing everything that gets done on it and what the outcome of it is gonna be."

HOW MUCH HAVE THE RULES CHANGES AFFECTED THE COMPETITION? "I think the spoiler and air dams have let the cars get back to racing each other side by side and things like that. NASCAR tried to slow the speeds down a little bit with the air dam and spoiler and all that did was take the drivers to the living edge. A lot of the guys crashed their cars and spun them out. When we raced, we couldn't get close to each other because there wasn't enough downforce when a guy got behind you to keep the car stable. Now with so much rear spoiler, the car is stable and it does provide much more racing. Now it gets back to, 'Are we gonna slow them down again or not?' When you go to a Michigan you don't feel like you're running fast. You go to California you don't feel like you're running too fast. When you go to Atlanta and you really feel like you're running real, real fast. It's the shape of the track, but it's a great track. You just want to run fast there because the place has got so much grip to it. The asphalt is real grippy with the way the banks are shaped. The spoiler has definitely helped the racing, but it's brought the speed back up, so that's what they're gonna have to look at again."

WILL NASCAR BE MORE STRICT WITH THE MONTE CARLO AND TAURUS NEXT YEAR TO KEEP THE PARITY THAT EXISTS NOW? "They don't want the balance to go away. I believe that's one of the reasons that they haven't approved the Monte Carlo to run this year because now they've got Ford coming out with its new nose and tail change. I think they want to look at both cars, so when they start the year 2000 they are sure they've got these cars as close as they can. They need to do that or else it will be lopsided again and we sure don't want that as competitors."

WE HEAR THE TAURUS HAS A HIGHER DECKLID. DID FORD DO THAT TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE? "That's not true. The decklid is not higher. We've got rules that we have to operate under. The decklid has to be 36 inches on the right side and 35 inches on the left side and we have to operate under those rules. It's just a facia change on the front and a rear tail light change. The rear window looks a little bit different, but the templates are all the same."

WHY DON'T YOU RUN IN THE BUSCH SERIES AND DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS TO IN THE FUTURE? "I don't have any plans to run Busch. I'm just not a believer that you can take information right out of the Busch car and take it right over to Winston Cup. Jeff Burton and Mark Martin have seen some success out of that and I commend them from that. Here's the big problem with Busch racing, and a lot of people don't tend to look at this which is very important, if I have 100 people on the team - which we have over 150 between Penske Racing, Penske-Kranefuss, and Penske Engines - those people all depend on the drivers. They depend on Jeremy Mayfield and they depend on Rusty Wallace to be their leaders on the race track and get the job done. If we go out in a Busch Grand National race on Saturday, which really doesn't mean anything at all towards our effort, and we get hurt, we take down the whole entire team. We just feel like the chance of going out there and getting hurt in a race we don't really need to be in is something we shouldn't be doing, so that's the main reason. In fact, in my contract just about all of my sponsorships say that I'm not allowed to do that anyway. I basically had that put in so I wouldn't ever get myself talked in to it. The other side of it is the chassis. The cars are about 100 pounds lighter. The wheel bases are five inches shorter. The engines are completely different. And everytime I listen to the chassis setups that Busch Grand National cars run versus Winston Cup cars it's totally different. Some cars get close, but most of the teams are way different than Cup cars. I'll be sitting there watching a lot of these races and I'll see some of the Winston Cup drivers and it seems like so many times they're caught up in accidents and wrecks and frustration, so I just say, 'Why should I do it?' I don't do it. I like to focus on the Winston Cup car at the race track, instead of having to run from garage to garage constantly. I don't think I could do a good job at it. Mark and Jeff are doing a good job at it and, like I said, that's fine."

ANY NEW PAINT SCHEMES PLANNED? "Nothing at The Winston. We'll be coming out with a new paint scheme the first week of June that will just blow everybody clear off the map. I think it's gonna be very exciting, but I'm not gonna give anybody a hint."

HOW HARD IS IT TO WIN A RACE EVERY YEAR LIKE YOU HAVE DONE OVER THE LAST 14? "It's real difficult. It's much, much more difficult to win nowadays than it was in the past because our rules are so close. There's no tolerance in our templates. There are hardly and differences between the Chevrolet body and the Ford body and it's brought the competition that much closer together. You can look at that every week when you see the qualifying sheet. When you go to a place like Martinsville, Virginia, and the pole-sitter versus last place is within two-and-a-half tenths of a second, that's unheard of. We used to have two-and-a-half tenths before the first and second-place car before. There used to be six or seven of us that would win consistently, but now there are a lot more people that are winning. It feels good to win every year. I'd feel terrible if I couldn't do that. I told myself if I quit winning, then that's when I'd quit racing. I'm still winning and I'm still racing. I feel like I've got another good five to seven years left in me. When I saw Earnhardt put a whoopin' on us Saturday at Talladega when he beat me on the last lap, and then win the big 500, I asked him how old he was. When he said 48 years old, I said that's good because there's still hope for me. Luckily, they don't ever talk about me being too old to race, I guess maybe because I'm still producing the numbers on the race track. I will tell you, it's a tough job out there and I feel like myself and Earnhardt and Rudd are still doing a good job."

DO YOU THINK JEFF BURTON HAS ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AS THE ONE TO BEAT IN THE POINTS RACE THIS YEAR? "Well, I tell you what, he's got a pretty good lead right now. I remember last year at California I was leading the point standings, I blew an engine, and I left there about 100 points behind and never could regain it. That was a pivotal race for me. He's still leading by a pretty good margin and running strong, so I think he's got a great chance. I really do."

ARE YOU FRUSTRATED WITH YOUR BAD LUCK THIS YEAR? "I don't really like to talk about frustration because there is a lot of stuff you can't do anything about. That doggone deal at Talladega, going down the back straightaway when you wreck, it's just one thing. The leaders were the ones that crashed, so it's not like qualifying does anything. We qualified good there and when Jeff Burton fell out with the smoke early, I was sitting there in third place, so qualifying was good. We were running around the race track good, it was just one of those things. Two guys went flying through the grass and across the track and, boom, I get nailed. I wished they would have picked someone else to nail, but I'm the one that got it, so that's just bad luck right there. The deal at Fontana this weekend. I went in there with high hopes of winning that race and running good. Gordon was running at warp speed again and I made a scheduled pit stop running fifth and when I left pit road the caution flag flew and I'm down a lap. That's bad luck right there. I still feel like we're really prepared. We're trying to stay that way which is why we're testing so much. That's it. I'm not changing my feeling on preparation. I still feel like we're prepared great and we're gonna stay that way throughout the year."

WHAT'S IT BEEN LIKE TO BE AROUND SOMEONE LIKE ROGER PENSKE? "It's just been wonderful. He's a mentor of mine. He's taught me a lot about life and business. He's a great guy to hang around with because he's a racer at heart. He's built his whole business around racing. When you're running bad he understands and when you're running great he loves that. He's been on top and he's been on the bottom. He's been cycled out all over his life and he's just a super guy to hang around. He's a real gentleman and a respected individual among everybody. He's just a great person to be with. I'm very, very fortunate."

HOW MUCH OF AN INSPIRATION WAS IT WATCHING YOUR FATHER RACE? "Dad's the one that got me involved in this sport. My dad still attends just about every one of my races. He's one of my biggest supporters. My very first race car was one that my brothers and I rebuilt after dad crashed it at a track in Rolla, Missouri. A big wreck happened down there, so we rebuilt the car and took it back to Lake Hill Speedway in St. Louis around 1976 and won my very first race. Dad has been one of my biggest rooters and cheerers and my mother has been too, and they're still going to all the races."

WHAT DID THEY DO TO TURN SEVEN AT SEARS POINT? "Last year they took the original turn seven out and built a new sweeper where the cars were running pretty fast through there, but it took away a passing zone - an area where we could outbrake somebody and pass - but nothing was happening. What they've done this year is they've put a lot more asphalt on the left-hand side of the sweeper and made it a 90 degree turn. Basically, what we have to do now is instead of going through there pretty fast in third gear and barely touching the brakes. Now we're going down that corner awful fast, on the brakes hard and downshift to second gear to make that right-hander. It looks like it's gonna be real, real tough to be a passing zone because you're going pretty quick into that corner and it's awful hard to get the car straightened back up and try to make a pass to the inside. It's just something we'll have to see. Myself and Wally Dallenbach, under NASCAR's direction, have been altering the corner. Right now it's not a defined corner, there are tires and cones set up to where it's gonna be. When we got on the track yesterday it was a disaster. It was just way, way too tight, so we relieved it and got it better. We practiced all day yesterday and we got it right now to what they want. It is different, although the people that haven't tested, I don't think they're gonna notice a big change. I'm running basically the same setup, the same gear ratios. If I would have known that it was this minor of a change, I don't know if I would have come here and tested, I'd have probably been at Richmond, Virginia and tested, but we were informed it was a huge change and, although it is different, it's not that big."

ARE SPEEDS TOO FAST RIGHT NOW? "Yeah, I think they need to slow them down. How do you slow them down? I don't know. I'd hate to see restrictor plates and stuff like that. I don't have the answer for it. I do know they're too quick and I do know another thing, if you take horsepower away, then you just run the corner wide-open. You're not going near as fast at the corner so you don't get out of the gas."

IF THE PROBLEM IS AERODYNAMICS, WHY DON'T THEY JUST PUT SOMETHING SQUARE ON THE FRONT NOSE? "What happens when you put something on the nose it makes the cars draft better and then the cars are stuck bumper to bumper. We've already been through that. We used to put some tabs on the front of the noses on IROC cars when I was working with those guys and we found that it just made the cars draft up like crazy, but that's not what we're looking for. I'd love to be able to go in the corner, get out of the throttle, touch the brake like we used to in the old days, and not run as fast and have better racing for the fans. What we're doing right now is we're just screaming around the race track bumper to bumper. I don't know if that's the best thing to do or not, although I do like these rules better this year than last year."

WHERE ARE THE STARS OF THE FUTURE GOING TO COME FROM IN THIS SPORT WITH THE PRESSURE THAT'S PRESENT? AND ARE YOUNG GUYS LIKE EARNHARDT AND KENSETH BEING RUSHED INTO CUP BECAUSE OF THE MARKETING SIDE OF THE SPORT AND NOT THE COMPETITIVE SIDE? "Oh, I don't know if I'd say anybody is being rushed along. I think there are just some drivers in the world that have natural talent. When you put them in the car they just naturally look good. Earnhardt, Jr. is one of those and Gordon is one of those. Matt Kenseth, I think everybody took notice of him when he drove Bill Elliott's car at Dover. That's what got Matt a lot attention, I believe. He did a good job there. I think the sport right now is safe for at least another five or six years with the current stars we've got. As far as where they're gonna come from, I tell you, they pop up out of the woodwork. We don't need to have a specialized circuit to do that. Let's take a look at Steve Park. I never even heard of Steve Park until two years ago. He went up to Watkins Glen and ran a good race there, and I guess Earnhardt saw it and hired the kid. Up to that point, I'd never heard of the man and he popped in. There are drivers who pop in that I've never heard of in my life, but it doesn't have to be the Busch circuit or the Truck Series or whatever. It seems like the good drivers are coming from some places that we never know of. The ASA circuit, I felt without a doubt, has been the breeding ground for the toughest and the best competitors out there. I'm pretty partial to it and that's why I'm saying it that way. Just look at the stats. Look at Mark Martin, myself, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Matt Kenseth and Ted Musgrave. We can just go on and on forever. Trust me, it'll be OK when it comes to developing new drivers. There will be plenty of racing for people to get into Winston Cup, but there's no doubt the sport is very, very safe right now. In fact, I think we've almost got too many drivers right now. If a driver has to go home and miss races, we have an excess."

DO YOU THINK DRIVERS WILL BE LESS TECHNICALLY SOUND IN THE FUTURE? "I don't think there are a whole lot of drivers like that around. I know you have to be that way, I think, to be continuously successful or else you have to have one smart crew chief with you to help coach you along and guide you. It is a team and you have to have a team to do it. I've got a great crew chief in Robin Pemberton. He's such a good leader when it comes to organizing people and leading everybody in the right direction. I think that's one of the reasons we get along so good. On the other side, you look at Gordon. He'll tell you that he's not a technical guy, that Ray Evernham's the one that makes all those calls. But he's able to give exact feedback to Evernham what the car is doing and those two have worked together for so long now that they understand each other and it's not a hard thing for them at all. That's just a different approach. I'll tell you, that's like a needle in the haystack relationship right there. Most of these guys have a tough time telling the crew chief what to do and the crew chief has a tough time figuring out what to do. So, that's one of the reasons I try to get so involved with the chassis and stuff, just like Mark does and Alan used to do."

YOU'VE RACED AT CHARLOTTE SO MANY TIMES, IS IT NECESSARY TO TEST AT A PLACE LIKE THAT? "It'll be a complete different deal. I understand what you're asking because we've been there so much with testing and racing, but everytime they change the rules it's always a chassis change. This is the first time we're going back to Charlotte with the big spoiler and the low air dam and all that. Let me tell you, that thing drove me nuts at the beginning of the year so I'm gonna need the test. There will be big spring changes in the front and rear, so it'll be different. I'd venture to say the speeds won't be any different, but the chassis setups will be different."

ARE MULTI-CAR TEAMS ALL THEY'RE CRACKED UP TO BE? ACROSS THE BOARD IT SEEMS ALL TEAMS HAVE ONE OR TWO CARS THAT STRUGGLE. "I think more isn't better all the time and I think that if you get too much information it can tend to get real confusing. How would you like to come in from a practice session and you stop and get all your drivers together and you say, 'Well, what do you think?' And you get five different answers and that happens all the time. That can tend to really confuse things. I think with just myself and Jeremy it helps a lot. There have been many times where he says one thing and I say something totally opposite and we're confused right off the bat with only a two-car team. We go to Talladega and Daytona and they can try a setup and I can try a setup, but usually those setups are awfully close at places like that. They'll go testing somewhere and bring back good information, I'll go testing somewhere and bring back good information. But I honestly personally think that if you get too many people you just confuse everything and it can hurt you. That's the reason I think that the two-car teams generally across the board do better than four or five-car teams. Don't take this at all like I'm pointing at Roush, I'm not. He's the only one out there with five teams. I think if you talked to Jack right now, he'd be willing to admit that he's had much more success out of the two cars of the 99 and the 6. When you talk to Mark Martin, Mark says, 'Well, Jack owns five teams, but me and Jeff Burton are only a two-car team.'"

IF GORDON AND EVERNHAM WENT OUT ON THERE OWN THEY WOULDN'T STOP WINNING RACES, RIGHT? "I don't believe so. It's just what these people have chosen to do with their teams. There's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't mean if you're a multi-car team that all your teams are supposed to run identical, it just means that you've got four or five teams. And I tell you, there are sponsors out there just dying to get into Winston Cup and they're dying to see a new team start with a decent driver. Nowadays it just has to be a decent driver because everybody wants to get in this sport."

WHAT'S THE LATEST BUZZ ABOUT USING RAIN TIRES IN A ROAD RACE? "There's no buzz at all out here right now. Rain tires are something they say we'll use if we have a problem with rain, but we're not doing any of that work out here right now. It did rain yesterday. We didn't get on the track until about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and we got about four or five hours of practice and that was it. The track dried awful quickly and we were back to testing. That's something I hear. I don't think it's something that's feasible to race in. These cars would run around the race track crawling looking like they're barely moving on rain tires, but we did do it out in Japan. We qualified in the rain and got that out of the way, but there were spin outs all over the place. I think if it was raining and it was a normal two-hour race, it would take about seven hours to finish the race."

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU'VE THOUGHT OF THAT MIGHT ENCOURAGE MINORITIES TO GET INVOLVED IN AUTO RACING? "I really haven't thought about it. It's open to minorities, there are no problems there. We welcome it. I just don't know why they're really not involved. There are different people trying to do it and they have had some success, but there are sure no walls up there. It's open to anybody who wants to try it."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Teams Team Penske