Wallace Optimistic for Rockingham

Wallace optimistic for Rockingham ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 18, 1998) With the debut of the new Ford Taurus in the first chapter of NASCAR Winston Cup Series restrictor plate racing on one of the circuit's largest tracks in the record books,...

Wallace optimistic for Rockingham

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 18, 1998)

With the debut of the new Ford Taurus in the first chapter of NASCAR Winston Cup Series restrictor plate racing on one of the circuit's largest tracks in the record books, Rusty Wallace and his Miller Lite Team Penske crew now turn their attention to proving the new model competitive on another type of track in this weekend's GM Goodwrench Service Plus 400 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.

"We're coming into Rockingham very optimistic about qualifying well and winning the thing," said Wallace, who put the new Taurus into Daytona's Victory Lane by winning the Bud Shootout two Sundays ago and finished a strong fifth in last Sunday's Daytona 500. "We tested at Rockingham under the new rules and were really pleased with what we had."

Wallace's reference is to the new NASCAR Winton Cup Series rules regarding spoiler heights and air dam clearances that become the standard for all non-restrictor plate tracks beginning with Sunday's GM Goodwrench Service Plus 400.

Under the new rules, the Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Monte Carlo will both have a rear spoiler height of five inches and a front air dam clearance of five inches.

Teams opting to use Ford's Thunderbird model will be faced with a 4.75-inch rear spoiler height and five-inch air dam clearance. The Pontiac Grand Prix will have a 5.375-inch rear spoiler height and a minimum air dam clearance of 4.625 inches at all times during practice, qualifying and races.

"We ran several banzai runs and were impressed with our (simulated) qualifying times," Wallace said. "We ran a couple of long runs, too, and the way we were running at the end has us eager to see just how strong that we can be in the real thing. The spoiler rule change just multiplies the importance of downforce."

Crew chief Robin Pemberton said: "At Daytona, it was a case of addressing the 'drag demons,' but at Rockingham it will be a totally different challenge. While downforce can be looked at as a negative in the races at Daytona and Talladega, it's what everybody would kill for on tracks like Rockingham and others. "This weekend's race stacks up to be a case of 'applying the downforce dragons' in that we're looking for all that we can get.

"I'm confident that the Taurus will be competitive and I really think that the rules change can play out in our favor. It puts more back into the drivers' hands. The cars just won't stick as good in the corners and the best drivers will have to be sawing on their steering wheels. That's when Rusty is at his best -- when it's man over machine. Add to that the fact that the track has continued to weather and wear. The situation could very well be back to similar racing conditions like it was several years ago when Rusty Wallace was just about unbeatable at Rockingham."

The time period that Pemberton is referring to is during the 1993 and '94 seasons when Wallace won three consecutive races (both 1993 events and the first '94 race). The 1.017-mile track was completely resurfaced before the October 1994 race and over the years the surface has become coarser and less adhesive.

"I'm about as hopped up as I've ever been about racing at Rockingham," Wallace said. "We've had a lot of success there but over the last few years we've just been a tick shy of having what it takes to win there. We're hoping to get the magic back this weekend."

In the seven races held at Rockingham since his last win, Wallace has a mixed record. He has three top-10 finishes, including a runner-up finish in the initial 400-miler held in October 1995.

Overall, Wallace's Rockingham career record sports five wins, eight top-5 finishes and 13 top-10 finishes in 28 races. He has one career Bud Pole at "The Rock," that coming in qualifying for the spring race during his 1989 championship season.

Bud Pole Qualifying for Sunday's 400-mile (393 laps) race is set for Friday at 2 p.m. (for positions 1-25). Bud Beer Second-Round Qualifying is Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (to determine the remainder of the 43-car starting field).

The 33rd annual GM Goodwrench Service Plus 400 has a 12:30 p.m. EST starting time and features live coverage by TNN and MRN Radio.

Coming out of the Daytona 500, both Wallace and Pemberton were extremely excited by their top-five finish.

"Now that's the way we can win the championship," said Pemberton as he entered the team transporter after Wallace's strong run, in conjunction with teammate Jeremy Mayfield.

He might be right as Wallace is definitely on the right track. In Wallace's last major bid for the title, in the 1993 season when he won 10 races yet lost the championship to Dale Earnhardt by 80 points, he accumulated 277 less points than did Earnhardt in the four restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega. Earnhardt had an amazing average finishing position of 2.0 in the four races, while Wallace averaged only 18.0. Even with Earnhardt's restrictor plate "hot hand," Wallace would have taken the title (by one point) if he could have averaged a 10th place finish. Had he averaged fifth, he would have beaten Earnhardt by 97 points, without even leading a single lap.

Courtesy of NASCAR Online

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