Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, qualified fifth for Sunday's Global Crossing at The Glen. Wallace has two NASCAR Winston Cup victories at Watkins Glen (1987 and 1989) and he spoke about his road-racing prowess during a Q & A...
Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, qualified fifth for Sunday's Global Crossing at The Glen. Wallace has two NASCAR Winston Cup victories at Watkins Glen (1987 and 1989) and he spoke about his road-racing prowess during a Q & A session in the infield media center Saturday morning before practice.
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
DO YOU THINK YOU'VE GOT A CHANCE FOR YOUR SECOND WIN OF THE YEAR HERE TOMORROW?
"I hope so. We've got a brand new car here. It's running real strong. I've had really good luck at the Watkins Glen track, it's been good to me. We just came back from Sears Point, where we qualified second and finished fifth, but I think we've got a better car this time than what we had out there. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's race and this morning's practice session to see how it turns out in race condition."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ORLANDO SENTINEL STORY THAT CAME OUT FRIDAY REGARDING NASCAR'S PENDING ACCIDENT REPORT?
"I think that everything that happened yesterday is just pure speculation. We all know it is, but I know you've got to do your job and ask those questions. But it is speculation, don't you think? Until the report comes out officially, then we'll take a look at it, but right now that newspaper down in Florida has been the leader of a lot controversy and a lot of bad things, so I don't really want to comment on that particular issue because I don't know if that's good information or not. I read the whole report (the newspaper story), and even if it is, I don't know if I agree with it."
WHAT ABOUT THE TIRE HERE?
"Well, believe it or not, I think the tire that Goodyear has here is a real good tire. Now, I haven't been the biggest fan of what they've been using at some race tracks. I think it's been an awful, awful hard tire -- too hard -- and it's been a real tough thing to get the cars handling right. But, this tire here seems to be pretty good. I really liked it out at Sears Point. It was consistent, it ran a long time. Yesterday, my car -- right off the truck -- was a great handling car. Probably one of the best handling I've had throughout. If I wouldn't have screwed up coming into that turn 10, I might have had the pole -- maybe, maybe not -- but I got the wheels hopping over there and had to slow it up a little too much, but I like the tire."
HOW SERIOUSLY DO GUYS TAKE ROAD RACING?
"A long time ago, everybody used to take their short-track cars and they'd basically take the left-hand side of the car or the right-hand side of the car if you're on the right-hand side, and bang a hole in the quarterpanel and change the gas receiver over there and say, 'Boy, we hate road courses. There are only two of 'em on the circuit and we're not gonna spend the extra money and build special road race cars.' But we've always built specialized road race cars because it is so important in the points championship hunt. And now everybody builds the best road race cars they can and they test all they possibly can. There are even guys going to schools now, so they've actually taken road racing super seriously. But, on the other hand, I still think you see those road racers that normally run good still at the top. Ricky Rudd is always there, I'm always there. You always see guys like that, that have won in the past, up front. Jeff Gordon always runs good on the road courses. He's taken a liking to 'em and he runs really good at 'em. I will tell you though, if you come into a road course with the wrong attitude. If you come to the road course saying this thing is a pain in the rear end and I can't wait to get out of here, I'll guarantee you, you will not run the way you think you ought to run on that track."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE SO-CALLED RINGERS THAT RACE AT THESE TRACKS?
"It doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I like seeing new people come into our sport and compete with us, I really do. Ron Fellows is a class-A guy and so is Scott Pruett and guys like that, that compete with us, so I have no problem whatsoever."
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT A ROAD COURSE?
"The way I look at a road course, with as many years as I've been driving road courses now, I look at it by 'okay, what happened the last race? What caused me to have my problem?' And the last time here I chose some really soft brake pads at this track. I'll back up a little bit. The last time at this race track I went out and I was running really good. I went to make one last run and it started sprinkling down in the last corner and I spun it out in the rain and crashed the car. I had to get a backup car out and I'm going like, 'Man, I'm gonna have to qualify this backup car with no practice,' and then the rains came. So I started fifth on points, but then I was running great in practice and selected way too soft a brake pad and lost the brakes. So, what I'm looking at is, 'okay, I've got to make sure I've got the right brakes in this thing.' That's what everybody looks at. You see brakes out there that we never run anywhere else -- specialized brake pads -- so this morning we'll run enough runs to make sure the brakes don't fade. We've completely changed the front suspension on our cars so it allows better cooling to the brakes, and what I do from road course to road course is learn what happened to me that last event. If everything was smooth, the brakes were great, the pit stops were good, and I missed the setup a little bit, I'll make a notation on that -- 'let's change these shocks or whatever.' Like right now, I've got all my Sears Point shocks on and I've got all my Sears Point brakes on. I ran the whole race at Sears Point and had no problems, so I'm gonna try to do that here too."
JIMMY SPENCER SAID HE DOESN'T LIKE ROAD COURSE RACING.
"Well, Jimmy Spencer says a lot of things. But I'll tell you, Jimmy said that last year too and he came out here and qualified really, really well. Everybody likes racing if you run good. If you struggle and you're down on your luck, then you don't like it as much, I'll tell you that."
WHAT'S THE FUTURE OF WINSTON CUP ON THE ROAD COURSES?
"Well, I really like racing road courses. I like 'em a lot. In fact, I wish there was more. I love going to Northern California. I love coming up here to New York, the people treat us great up here and I really do like it. I would hope that NASCAR would enforce it a little bit more and maybe upgrade the facilities here. That garage area is probably the toughest garage area we have on this circuit. I think you need a forklift to get in the garage area sometimes on that backside, but I like it. I like the shape of the track and stuff like that. It is getting tougher and tougher to pass, though. We're having that same problem everywhere we go because everybody is running so close to the same speed. This technology has really taken off. Before, there was a lot of difference between the cars and now they're almost identical and you can't pass. That's the reason there is so much importance on brakes because everybody wants to get down into this turn one and pass everybody under braking, or into that inner-loop, or into this last turn 10 -- stuff like that."
WHAT'S THE KEY ELEMENT HERE?
"The key element, going back to what I just said, is really the brakes. You've got to make sure you get the right brakes and then the next thing is selecting the right gear ratio. The gear ratio is real important. There have been many times that I've tested on the road course and said, 'I need a lower second gear or I need a better this,' and I go out there and the car feels real good, but, man, I'm not going anywhere. So the gear ratio is super-important. On a road course, you've got to have so much rhythm. The car's just gott flow through all these corners, so if you get too low of a gear and you get off the gas and the car just stops, then you pick up the throttle and it spins the tires and does all this crazy stuff, you've lost your rhythm. Road course racing is a lot about rhythm, it really is."
WHERE HAS ALL OF THIS AERO-PUSH COME FROM?
"It came from just too much downforce in the rear wheels is where it came from. Then, if you remember, four or five years back we went completely to the other extreme. What we did was we raised the front air dam up and took the rear spoiler down and all that did -- we still had the aero-push, but it made the cars real dancey. I don't know if you remember that real controversial thing that happened to me and Dale Earnhardt at Michigan a couple of years ago where we were practicing and I went into turn one. I'm underneath him and the car just spun out. The year before it happened to him and Gordon and then the year before it happened to him and somebody else again. My idea is these cars have got three-and-a-half inches of air dam on the front and they really need to be lower than that. In some cases, there might even be a situation where there doesn't need to be a rule for a front air dam because that would help the front end stick enormously. I think the spoilers we've got on the back are really too much. If you go talk to Goodyear, Goodyear will tell you they'd like to see some spoiler off the back and nail the fronts all we can because the reason you can't pass the cars is that the front-end starts sliding on 'em. That's the only thing, so I would be more in favor of a lower front air dam and a little bit less rear spoiler. You want to plant the front-end all you can so you can steer it. That's the reason you can't pass."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SUCCESS HERE?
"This has been a good track for me. We all have our ups-and-downs. I've won here a couple of times, I've been on the pole here a couple times, I've led a ton of laps. I looked at my record before I came up here, it was third, fourth, third and last year I had a brake problem and I think it was a 16th-place finish, so you learn from what happened the last time and try to make it better. That's the reason Robin built me a brand new car and we've got different brakes. I don't know if we've got the best stopping brakes, but I think we've got brakes that are gonna last a long time and be consistent. I'm hoping this is the year we can get back in victory lane on a road course."
WHAT ABOUT STARTING FIFTH?
"Fifth is a really good starting position. I tell you, nowadays, there are a lot of things you can do at race tracks to get yourself from the back to the front. You've got to have a great handling car. You can two-tire it, you can have a fast pit stop. Unfortunately, on a road course, it is a lot different than an oval track because on a oval track you've got the option of just putting two tires on. On a road course, you won't be putting two tires on. You're either gonna stay out on the track or you're gonna come in and put four tires on. That's real key. I tell you, where I've really gotten myself in trouble several times on the road courses is I pit too early and the rest of the field stays out and then I get completely out of sync. Not this year, but the previous year at Sears Point, I sat on the pole with a new track record leading the race and on lap 14 the caution flag came out and I pitted while the whole doggone field stayed out. That's the bad thing about leading the race. When you lead the race, if you hit pit road you're either gonna be right or you're gonna be wrong. I hit pit road and the whole field stayed out. That was a sickening feeling, so you want to run real long, as long as you possibly can, and even if my car is off a little bit, you've got to really weigh the differences. Is it better to pit thinking the whole field is gonna come with you? Or do you just need to stay out and nurse that thing to the end? Nine times out of 10 you need to stay out and nurse it to the end because of the track position."
WHAT ARE YOUR BEST WATKINS GLEN MEMORIES?
"I've had a lot of 'em. People keep talking about (one in particular). In fact, I was at a restaurant the other night and somebody was telling me, 'Man, I'll never forget that race that you and Ricky Rudd had.' Rudd was leading the race and I drove in the last corner and got on the outside of him. I came clear down the straightaway with the left side tires in the dirt, throwing roostertails 50-feet high, smoke flying across the start-finish line. He beat me and I finished second, but dramatic things like that. Then I've had bad runs, where I've got off course. The biggest reason a driver gets off course is you get in so hot, you get on the brakes and you start wheel-hopping the rear wheels and you lose control of the car. That's what you see happening down in one a lot during the race and in practice probably. Other than that, some of the cool memories I've had was when I won the IROC championship right here at Watkins Glen. I led the race start to finish basically and won the championship, so that was a good feeling. I remember I got up in victory lane here and I was on a platform about 15-feet high and Jay Signore handed me the trophy and lost balance of it and it went down about 15 feet. I've got the trophy sitting at home with the thing bent and torn up. The whole end of it is wiped out from him dropping it, so it's pretty memorable. I've even straightened it out, but I just remember that crash."
WHAT ARE YOU GOALS FROM HERE ON OUT?
"I've got a lot of goals. I'm real aggressive towards this points championship. They're all talking about the top three cars right now, but I'm looking at my points and looking at the tracks I've got coming up. That doggone race I had at New Hampshire, where I blew that engine and took me from fourth back to sixth in the points -- now I've clawed myself -- I lost 150 points there and now I'm back within like 42 points with what I've made up. I had a good race at Pocono and a good race at Indy last week and I'm just gonna keep clawing at 'em. I went to Michigan last time and had a great car and got in a crash with Todd Bodine right off the bat and now I'm taking my favorite car back up there, an old car called Mad Max, and I feel like I'll have a good run there. I'm hoping for a good run here. All you can do is say, 'okay, I'm gonna go to this race track and, boy I don't feel good about it,' but all the tracks I'm going to I feel really good about it. I've got here, I've got Michigan, I've got Bristol and I'm banging a lot of really good tracks out that I've really seemed to run great at. I'm the defending champion going into Bristol and I'm the defending champion going into Michigan, so you've got to feel pretty good about my chances going into it, at least I do."