Shawn A. Akers, NASCAR Online MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 27, 1998) Rusty Wallace had never been a proponent of multi-car teams. For him and the Penske Racing South organization, it just never really made much sense, despite what the rest of the...
Shawn A. Akers, NASCAR Online
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 27, 1998) Rusty Wallace had never been a proponent of multi-car teams. For him and the Penske Racing South organization, it just never really made much sense, despite what the rest of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series might be doing.
The 1997 season, a year that saw Wallace reach Victory Lane but once, however, served as a huge wake-up call for the veteran driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford. And with the development and implementation of the new Ford Taurus for this season, a two-car venture suddenly began to take on a new meaning for Wallace.
Not one to be left in the dust of other owners, Roger Penske decided it was finally time to join the ranks of multi-car organizations when he purchased Karl Haas' half of the former Kranefuss-Haas Racing operation late last year. The "collaboration effort," now called Penske-Kranefuss Racing, pairs Wallace's team with the No. 37 Kmart Ford and driver Jeremy Mayfield.
It won't be your typical two-car operation, however. Both teams will maintain their own race shops, although the two shops are just across the street from each other in an industrial park. A "loner" throughout his 14-year full-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series career, all it took was a frustrating season in 1997 to sway Wallace's opinion on the subject.
"I was against two cars, three cars and all that for a long, long time," said Wallace, who has 47 career victories, all with a single-car operation. "We won a lot of races that way, 10 in '93 and eight in '94. But last year we won one, so the writing is on the wall that multi-car teams are looking pretty good right now.
"In the old days, it seemed like with the multi-car teams, all they did was race each other, and there were so many complaints. I even heard that on Penske's Indy car team where instead of racing the competition, the crews got really frustrated with each other. But that's all streamed out, and it got better, and that's why we decided it was best for us to undertake this venture."
The two teams have agreed to a 100 percent cooperation level as far as sharing information from test sessions and race efforts. The No. 2 team tested twice at Daytona, the first time in conjunction with the No. 37. They've also tested at other facilities while preparing for the 1998 season. "I'm really excited about this," said Mayfield, who finished 13th in the standings last season. "This is probably the most excited I've been at the beginning of the season, and it's because of this combination of teams.
"We've tested several times together, and things have gone extremely well so far, better than I ever dreamed it would go. We've done a lot for each other so far because there's a lot of information coming in between two organizations. Just listening to Jeff (Gordon) talk about the multi-car teams, I can see where he's coming from and why the Hendrick organization is running as well as it has."
Hendrick Motorsports, a three-car operation, has won the last three championships -- two with Gordon and one with Terry Labonte. Robert Yates Racing has proven in recent years that multi-car teams indeed work, while Jack Roush has built a successful multi-car empire and now has five teams that share information. Two of his cars, driven by Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, finished in the top-five in points last season.
One advantage for the Penske-Kranefuss collaboration is that it didn't involve organizing another team from scratch.
"It worked out pretty cool," Wallace said. "Instead of having to go out and hire new people and build all new cars, we just took their current operation and put it together with our operation.
"We've done a lot of testing together, a lot of development together, much like the Hendrick and Roush teams do. So now we've just got an opportunity to have a second car without having to spend all the time and effort to build one. It was a pretty cool way of doing it."
As the old saying goes, "opposites do attract," and that's certainly the case with the personalities of the two drivers. Wallace is an extremely intense individual with his mind focused on but one thing -- winning. While Mayfield, who has yet to achieve his first career triumph, wants badly to win as well, he's much more laid-back and outgoing than his new teammate.
"That's just the way I am -- I've always been that way," Mayfield said. "When you come up the hard way, you have to work for everything you get, and you appreciate it. Being at this level, being a part of NASCAR and the whole Winston Cup Series itself, you've got to keep that in perspective.
"As far as winning, I'm probably as hungry to win a race right now as anybody out there. When that time comes, it's going to be great. But until then, we'll remain calm and just keep working our way toward that goal."
And with the collaboration of the two teams, Mayfield is convinced that a victory is not too far away.
"I feel like with the combination of the help of the two race teams and with the race team I've got, that win is right around the corner," Mayfield said. "We're definitely going to be a team to be reckoned with in the future. When you look at such names as Penske and Kranefuss, that's a winning combination. Both teams are winners, and I'm just glad to be a part of that. I know that in due time, we are going to be winners."