Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, won the 1989 version of The Winston and is considered one of the favorites this year. Wallace, who is currently 62 points out of the lead and third in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings, along with crew chief Robin Pemberton, were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- WHAT ABOUT THAT WINSTON WIN IN 1989? "Yeah, that win back in '89 was a pretty good one. That was a lot of money back then, it still is now. It was real controversial that day between me and Darrell Waltrip, I remember that. It was an exciting race that I'll never forget. It was real controversial and I wish I could have won it in a little bit different way because it riled up a bunch of fans." WHAT IS THE MINDSET FOR THE FINAL 10 LAPS? "The mindset for the 10-lap segment is just go for it, it really is. That's a race that's a tough one to win. We're used to running long races. We're used to setting our cars up to run long races -- 500-mile events, 400-mile events, whatever -- and to figure out how to get a car to go lightening fast for just 30 laps is pretty tough. The air-pressure you select in the tires, the engine you put in the car, the chassis setup you use, the shock absorber pressure that you use, they're all different than what you'd probably run in a 500-miler. So, there's a lot of guessing going on. There's a lot of practice that goes on during the day and the race is at night, but this time we've got very, very limited practice. I guess we've only got 20 minutes of happy hour practice, so it's gonna be a real tough deal." HOW MUCH INFORMATION CAN YOU TAKE FROM THE WINSTON TO THE 600? "I think you can take a lot of information from it, that's one of the neat things about running The Winston. It's a big money payer, but also one of the best things for us is it's just extra track time to get ready for the 600 with those night conditions. The only thing that's gonna be tough now is that the practice session has been limited to 20 minutes and that's very little time to do any practices, so that's kind of a kink in the plan right there." WHAT WOULD THE REACTION OF THE DRIVERS BE IF THE WINSTON MOVED AWAY FROM CHARLOTTE? "I've always thought Charlotte was a great place to have it because it's a real exciting race track. I've heard rumor of that, but I don't know if there's any truth to that or not. It would definitely have an effect and I'd have to do a lot of thinking as to whether that would be the right thing or not to do." DO YOU LIKE THIS RACE MORE BECAUSE IT'S BASICALLY RIGHT AT HOME? "I do. It's right around the corner for me, basically, so I'd rather run it right here in Charlotte." A COUPLE OF TEAMS HAVE CHANGED THEIR SEATBELTS FROM SIMPSON TO ANOTHER COMPANY. HAVE YOU LOOKED AT ANY OTHER SYSTEMS? "No, what I've got right now, I think, is the very best around. I wear Simpson and I always have. I don't think there's anything wrong with those belts whatsoever. I've said that a thousand times. They're still in the middle of their investigation and they'll come up with what they feel is the right answer once they've had plenty of time to study it, but right now I've come to my own conclusion. My conclusion is that the belts are fine when they're put in the car properly and adjusted properly, so I feel comfortable with it." IS THERE MORE CONCERN FOR A DRIVER IN THE FINAL SEGMENT BECAUSE THERE ARE NO POINTS ON THE LINE? "Well, it's a high impact race, no doubt about it. With 10 laps, all hell is gonna break loose. You've got to really drive aggressively and defensively at the same time. We're just going for the money. You've got a ton of drama going on. The people in the grandstands are flipping out going crazy. The flash cameras are jumping out all over the place and it's a huge event as far as getting your adrenaline flowing. It's really up to the drivers and the drivers are really pumped, I know I am. At Charlotte there are a lot of lights and a lot of fireworks and stuff that really makes it a gala event. With 10 laps to go there's a lot of pressure to do well and you know with 10 laps to go whether you've got a hot-rod or not." DO MOST DRIVERS LIKE TO USE THE SAME CAR FOR THE WINSTON AND 600 OR GO WITH TWO DIFFERENT CARS? "In the past I've taken a car that I'd run in The Winston and the 600, but this particular time in The Winston we're running a brand new paint scheme. Our car is gonna be silver and black, it's gonna have Harley Davidson all over it and it's a complete departure from anything I've ever had. The car just looks fabulous, it looks really, really cool and real mean looking. I think it's gonna be a great car. It's brand new. It's a carbon copy of the car that I've been so happy with -- the car that I won the California 500 with, the car I won Michigan with, and the car I had last year at Charlotte that ran so good in the 500. That's a car called Mad Max, so we're saving that car for the 600. Now, this particular car we're gonna run in The Winston should be a carbon copy of that car. It should be identical, but you never know until you run 'em, but we're gonna run two different cars." IS THE ATMOSPHERE AT THE TRACK THE WAY IT WAS BEFORE DAYTONA OR IS THERE STILL SOME UNEASINESS? "I would say that right now everything looks back to normal as far as the way the race operations are going, the way the drivers are running, the way the fans are coming to the race track and stuff like that. Earnhardt will never be out of anybody's mind. He'll never be out of my mind. I think about him everyday, I honestly do. But when you get to the race track and you get practice going and get in the heat of the battle, you tend to get wide-open with what you're doing. So I would say that basically all the drivers and teams are back to racing NASCAR as usual, but it's always in the back of our minds. I mean, immediately as soon as I won the (California) 500, I thought about Earnhardt and carrying the flag for him, and I'll do that every race if I win this year." WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SOFTENING THE FRONT ENDS OF THE CARS AND HOW MUCH OF A CHANGE HAVE YOU SEEN AS FAR AS WHAT'S IN FRONT OF YOU WHEN YOU'RE IN THE CAR? "I haven't seen a huge change as far as what's in front of us, except we've done a lot of cross-bracing in front of the car to try to make it stiffer so the suspension components don't move around as much and we get better handling. We've done that and in doing that we tend to make the car a lot stiffer in the front. Is that the right thing for safety? I don't know. I'm not an expert when it comes to that, but we have tended to get that way and that's made our cars go faster. We're definitely a little stiffer. I'm not gonna say we're a lot stiffer from what we've had in the past. A lot of people say we are and we're really not, but I will tell you we are stiffer and I don't know if that helps or hurts in a crash, I really don't. A lot of people think it hurts. You talk to people like Dan Davis with Ford Motor Company and Dan thinks the added stiffness we've got helps in a crash, so there are a lot of opinions out there. Right now, NASCAR is our sanctioning body and those guys are the ones doing the testing on everything and they're the ones that are gonna put the rules in effect for what they feel we need to have, although we do have an opinion and they do listen to us. I'm not gonna say they just say it's my way or the highway, they listen really, really good. If we say, 'Hey, this is wrong,' then they'll step back and take a second look at it. Moving right along to what Humpy's (Wheeler) doing, I guess he just wants to try something himself and make a suggestion to NASCAR if he finds something. Him running a race track and being a track guy, he's been around a long, long time and seen a lot of tracks and a lot of crashes so I'm sure not gonna say he's the wrong guy to do something. You've got to commend him for thinking about safety, number one. If you're gonna put some barriers up at the race track, I'm all for that, but as far as getting right into actual car design, that's a real tough deal to get involved in. I commend him for taking an interest in it and if he comes up with something, he can let NASCAR know what they found out and maybe move right along. Sometimes two heads are better than one." WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RYAN NEWMAN AND HIS SEASON SO FAR? "He's had a pretty good season so far. He's learned a ton. He's run a lot of Busch Grand National races and he's qualified good in just about every single one of them. He tested over at Charlotte last week and when he left he was the fastest car over there, so I was pretty impressed with that. In fact, I looked at the setup he had and everything and it's a little bit different from what I'd dreamed I'd run over there and maybe from what I will run, but he's got a lot of track time now. I guess he holds the all-time record running around Charlotte Motor Speedway right now in the ARCA car he had last year. We're gonna put him in a Winston Cup car and run him over there in the Winston Open, see how it turns out and go with it." IT SEEMS A LOT OF GOOD TEAMS HAVE STRUGGLED WITH THE SETUP. IS THERE A PROBLEM? "The Roush cars have just seemed to get themselves stuck in some bad luck honestly. Some crashes, some blown motors, some pit strategy that went disarray and things like that. But the tire is driving everybody completely insane right now trying to figure it out. I finally have got a handle on it pretty good, I'm not saying I've got it, but we hit on some good stuff at California and hit on some other stuff at Richmond. We had good runs in both of 'em. We led the most laps in both races, but I just got a little too loose at Richmond with not understanding the tire totally and slid back to third -- Tony won. I'd say all in all that the inconsistency you've seen out of all the drivers out there is definitely the tire. The setups are completely different than what we've run in the past and when you've run so many years and build a database of what you should run and what you should, and all of a sudden that's gone, man, I tell you what, it's really, really tough. Now we're trying to adapt to this real, real hard but real, real durable tire." IS THIS A DIFFERENT PROBLEM FROM THE ONE TEAMS EXPERIENCED LAST YEAR WITH THE TIRES? "Yeah. The tire right now is pretty bulletproof. It's been real reliable and real durable and real consistent -- unlike the year before where we had a lot of consistency problems. They've just hardened 'em up a little bit and paid a lot of attention to product quality and they're doing a good job. I tell you what, though, they've put all the problems right back in our laps trying to figure out how to get these cars to go around the corner a little quicker and consistently." WHAT SORT OF INTANGIBLES DOES ROGER PENSKE BRING TO YOUR TEAM AND HOW INVOLVED IS HE DAY-TO-DAY? "He gets pretty involved in a lot of the decisions businesswise and he's always in the loop with everything that's going on. He never comes and says, 'Hey, you've gotta do this to your car or do that to your car.' Roger and I, together, we'll go see most of the sponsors when it comes to renewing contracts, along with Wally McCarty. We do a lot of work together when it comes to renewing the sponsorships and maintaining the sponsors and stuff like that. If I've got some new ideas, if there are some new things that Miller Brewing Company wants to do, I'll run 'em past Roger and we'll both run 'em past the Miller Brewing Company -- like the new paint scheme you're gonna see at The Winston this week. We might be coming out with one more new paint scheme this year, a really neat deal, so Roger gets involved in all those type of things. He doesn't say, 'You've got to put this shock absorber on,' but he'll ask you the question about what springs you have in the car and stuff like that, but he's a pretty well-rounded guy. He's probably the world's best businessmen, one of the most successful businessmen in the country. He's a great guy to call my friend and he teaches me a lot about things outside of racing. It's just really cool to have him as an owner. He calls me all the time. We talk just about every other day at least. I know what's going on at Indy and I know what's going on with CART, so he's having a good year and we're having a great year now. We're sixtysome points out of the championship and we feel like we're gonna win the thing this year. I just really feel the chemistry is right with the race team. We're running great and I'm going for this championship. It's the best shape I've been in. I think at this point in '89 when I won my championship I was over 100 points behind at this point and now I'm only 60. We've got some great race tracks we're going to, so I feel like we're the guy to beat right now. I think we've got a great team and we're going for this championship." DOES ROGER'S PRESENCE ALONE ADD SOMETHING TO THE TEAM? "Sometimes we can all talk ourselves into something and walk right off the bridge together and Roger is a good guy when it comes to stepping back. He'll say, 'Hey guys, is this the right call? I've been there, done that and it's not gonna. Hey guys, let's go for it, let's try it.' He's really good at sitting back and thinking, but he doesn't think too long. He makes some pretty fast decisions, but he's got so much doggone experience under his belt. His sense of presence when he's in the garage area or whenever he's around the team is unreal. I know when Roger comes over to the car, undoubtedly a NASCAR representative will come over and say, 'Is Roger here?' And we'll say, 'Yeah.' And he'll say, 'Well, Mr. France and Mr. Helton would like to talk to him.' So he puts his business hat on and runs over there and knocks that out and then comes and puts his racing hat back on. Everybody knows when he's there from the top to the bottom I can guarantee you that." ONE DRIVER HAS NEVER REALLY DOMINATED THE WINSTON. IS THAT BECAUSE IT'S SO COMPETITIVE? "Yeah, it gets back to what I said earlier. It's a real, real hard race to win because we're used to running 500 and 400-milers, and in order to get your car to run really super-fast for 30 laps and faster yet for 10 laps is something none of us really have a whole lot of experience with. Now with this new schedule they've got with only 20 minutes of practice, it's really gonna confuse everybody again. It's something I really don't agree with. I don't know why they did that when it comes to that particular amount of practice where there's this much money on the line and this many sponsors showing up in town, but they did. It's a tough one to win, but I feel like we've got just as good a shot as anyone. We're gonna have one hell of an engine over there for that race. We've got a great looking car with Harley all over it, so I think we're ready to go."
ROBIN PEMBERTON, Crew Chief --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES IN THE TWO CARS YOU'RE BRINGING TO CHARLOTTE? "We're just in a habit here in the last year-and-a-half or so that we just build a lot of new cars. New cars seem to work well for us. They're lighter because they haven't been beat up. There's not a lot of difference in all of our cars, but we have a tendency of bringing new cars to Bristol all the time and figured we'd bring a new one to The Winston." CAN YOU SEE SOME SORT OF TRANSITION THAT CAN BE MADE IN REGARDS TO SOFTENING THE RIGIDITY OF THE FRONT ENDS WITH SOME CRUSHABLE AREAS? "It can be. The thing that we need to do and that I think is important is to understand what kind of shock that the drivers are taking. We need to do sled tests just like the manufacturers do and, I think, just to get everybody to understand how much energy is being absorbed in the chassis. I don't think I'm the right guy to answer the question, but there's a lot of information that needs to be gathered before we do this knee-jerk reaction to try to make the cars stiffer or not so stiff or whatever. I don't think right now any of us have enough information to make calls on some of this stuff. We can always make things better. We can always do that, but we need to do it with the right information and the right engineering behind it. I think with the manufacturers like Ford and General Motors and Chrysler Corporation, they've got plenty of qualified people that can help us with all of that. I think they want to help and we need to allow them to help us." DO YOU PREPARE A CAR FOR THE 600 DIFFERENTLY THAN FOR A 400 OR 500-MILE RACE? "Not really. There's a lot of wear and tear. The extra 100 miles in a race, which is obviously the longest race we run, there's a little bit extra wear and tear on the engine and trying to turn a lot of RPMs for that length of time, so the engine company might back up a little bit and make things a little safer for us. We probably won't have the most horsepower that we would have just to run that extra 100 miles, but, basically, the car is the same and it's the engine and components like that that we might make a little safer for the longer run." WHAT ABOUT THE FANS BEING ABLE TO VOTE FOR HOW MANY CARS WILL BE INVERTED FOR THE WINSTON? "Well, it's all about the fans. I think it's pretty good to get 'em involved. That'll be good. It's good to get the fans involved and it'll add a little controversy on the home front. That'll be good for that for a change." HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CHANGES AS FAR AS THE CARS CREATED BY NASCAR? "No, we've got the same cars now we've had for the last three years." RUSTY TALKED ABOUT BRACING IN FRONT OF THE CAR. WHAT IS HE REFERRING TO THERE? "Our cars, we take a lot into account. We've had the same people building our cars here in our facility since we started doing it about five years ago. We take safety into account. We've got some bracing around the foot box area to keep the car from coming in on your feet. Our roll cage, all of our cars that run a mile and better, have five door bars on the left side. Our cages are a little bit bigger than most people. A lot of our stuff has been safety-oriented and I think that gives the driver a sort of comfort level. As far as the bracing goes in front of the car, we're not after real light cars per se in some of those areas like other car builders are. Not knowing the exact question and how he (Rusty) answered it, I really don't know how to comment." HE SAID THERE WAS SOME BRACING IN ORDER TO ALLOW THE SUSPENSION PARTS TO WORK BETTER. "Yeah, and really it's in some local areas. It's not adding a lot of tubing. There are minimum tubing thicknesses that you can use and sometimes if you use the minimum, it may not be the best for your driveability of the car -- where the steering box is hooked up or your other steering linkages. The tubing can't flex and we've done some things. It's not a hidden secret because anybody that builds their own cars is looking at compliance and their steering components. Good chassis builders know what to do and it's small things that are done to take care of the details and keep a lot of the flex out. It's not adding a bunch of tubing just to make the car stiff." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHY TEAMS ARE HAVING TROUBLE WITH THIS NEW TIRE AND DO YOU SEE THAT CHANGING THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR? "Oh yeah. We have definitely had a problem and the problem stems from the fact when you come off a season where you feel like you were halfway successful, your goal is to go into the next year and build on that to be more consistent. Well, when they change the tire or there's a rule change -- whatever may happen -- the teams that were locked in and pretty set on what they were doing, it's pretty hard to change and get away from your setup and stuff like that. I know we've had trouble and the Joe Gibbs teams have struggled a little bit. I can see that the teams that were successful last year, probably by mid-year will get a pretty good handle on it and you'll see those teams running good again." WHAT WOULD YOUR THOUGHTS BE ABOUT HAVING THE WINSTON AND THE 600 ON THE SAME WEEK? "You think that would be total chaos and madness, but if you look at Daytona when we run the Shootout -- we're there for 10 days or whatever -- but we're allowed to use two different cars, one for the Shootout and one for the 500. A lot of teams do that for The Winston and the 600. I'd like to see 'em consolidate it a little bit, but I don't want to see them consolidate it and then go ahead and add another race because we're still trying to get all these extra cars done. You'd have to take three cars to the Charlotte week if you did it that way, so it's pretty hectic. To be honest with you, it's really difficult to maintain this schedule. This is the most races, obviously, that we've ever run and the fallout remains to be seen by the end of the year when we're running 20 in a row, and how everybody maintains a good, healthy attitude about the series. I think NASCAR and a lot of the promoters have gotten together to try to skinny the schedule up on our Fridays and Saturdays and that has helped considerably, but when we have to get ready to go to 20 races, it remains to be seen how everybody is gonna handle that." HOW MUCH DO YOU AND YOUR CREW GUYS LIKE HAVING THE WINSTON IN CHARLOTTE? WOULD YOU BE DISAPPOINTED IF IT MOVED? "It's hard to say. It's nice for us, but not all the teams are located in Charlotte, just the majority of them. If they moved it to another track, there are the logistics of getting all the teams. It would have to be a separate weekend. If they had it on a weekend that we had another race and the track was say Texas, we'd have to take two tractor trailers down there and we'd have to haul extra cars just to make sure that we got through the week okay. It remains to be seen. The logistics part of it is getting to be a minor nightmare right now, trying to do everything we're trying to do for the year. I'd hate to see them move it. It's pretty enjoyable to at least stay in your own bed for a couple of weeks. Charlotte is a great facility, it can hold a lot of people, and the weather is generally nice so I'd hate to see them move it." YOU AND RUSTY HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR A WHILE. ARE YOU SURPRISED OTHER TEAMS HAVEN'T BEEN TOGETHER AS LONG? "No, not really. I think everybody is surprised that him and I have been together this long knowing him and knowing myself, but we've got a great relationship. The question comes up periodically, but in this sport when drivers and sponsors are so tied in together, and a lot of times when you have a season or so that is bad, changes have to be made and it's obvious the driver rarely changes. It's always the crew chief or somebody that has to move on. You look at Jimmy Makar, he's been with Joe Gibbs for a while and there are some relationships that are being developed that I can foresee being together for a long time. I think Rusty's and mine, we've beaten the odds. We get along great together and I think a lot of people are surprised we've been together this long, but there are some good relationships that are being formed out there between drivers and crew chief, but right now I guess we're at the top of the list." DOES IT GET TO THE POINT WHERE YOU CAN'T IMAGINE WORKING FOR ANYONE ELSE? "Exactly. I mean, it takes a while to develop a relationship and a lot of times it's more than a year. I would say that as far as me and Rusty understanding each other and knowing that I was trying as hard for him and he for me and the team, it really took a couple years to really get in sync. To be honest with you, I can't foresee ever being anywhere else but Penske Racing and Rusty Wallace. If you race for a living, the tools and the equipment and the people that are here -- the relationship with all these people -- I just don't think I could do it anywhere else."
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