NASCAR Preseason Thunder Testing
January 9, 2014
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
Q. Brad, talk a little bit about this season coming up and Rusty, talk about getting back in the car at Daytona.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure. Obviously ready to get the season back started very soon, and Daytona testing is a signal of that, everyone's efforts to turn the corner from that one month off that feels like it's one day and to a racing effort, to get that going. These are big machines of race teams. You look at them, Penske Racing has over 300 employees, and I think some other teams have just as much if not more, and they don't sleep well when they're not doing anything on the racetrack. We need to get them back to the racetrack before they wives all kick them out of the house.
They're ready to go, and I think we've got a lot of things for the sport going on, obviously, that have all of our attention and trying to get started and get kick‑started in the right way. We didn't really have the performance that we wanted, obviously not winning the championship last year. That's our goal every year, and will remain so. We didn't do that, so we're here to fire back up, and 2014 represents another opportunity to do that, and I think we'll have a great shot at it.
This is day one for 2014. I guess it's the same for everybody else and rainy, but we'll get through it.
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, for me I guess the big question is I've had a lot of people ask why you're here, why you're doing this; what's the deal with you testing? And it really stemmed from a conversation in Homestead when I came by to see the 2 car and I came by to see other cars, and the 48 and the 2 were parked side by side. I talked to the 2 car guys, and they said, I wish you'd get back in the car every now and then and do some testing with us. I said, well, we'll see about it.
I really kind of thought they were joking around, and when they heard about it, Ron Malec and his 48 guys were kind of egging him on, saying, hey, Rusty you ought to do that. About two weeks later I get a text from Brad, and he said, hey, I'd be all for that. I'd be okay with that. Why don't you try it.
So then I called, talked to Roger and Penske was real excited about it, and talked to NASCAR, they were all for it, and so we thought if there's ever a track that's going to be the right place to do it at, it would be here in Daytona, because Daytona, there's so much grip out there and the track is so smooth, and many people use alternate drivers to test down here in Daytona, and the proper thing about this place is it being so smooth, a driver needs to go out and hold a real pretty wheel I call it and give good feedback, and if this was Charlotte or this was Michigan or something like that, I'd have probably declined because I would have much rather do it here because I think I can be more useful here and affect a team in a positive way and not in a negative way.
I would need more reps to get up to speed anywhere else, but here I think I can go right out and get it done. I know there's probably people thinking, man, why would he do that and maybe would that hurt the chances of the 2 car winning the Daytona 500 with Rusty being in the car and stealing some car. I don't feel like that's the case, Brad doesn't feel like that's the car, neither does Roger, and I think it's going to be a chance for me to get back in. Many drivers and people have asked me to do it, and when Brad endorsed it and was okay with it, I'm excited about it.
This is a real fun day for me. I honestly think it's going to help my television stuff, being more active in a car and being more relevant when it comes to that.
I walk the garages a lot as everybody knows, I talk to a lot of the crew guys, and to actually get in the car and drive it, the new Gen‑6 car with the new updates, is something I'm real proud to do. I just wish the rain would stop so I could get out there and get it done.
Q. Rusty, I'm curious from walking through the garage, did you see the 3? Did you do a double‑take at all, and if you actually do get out there, would you want to‑‑ I know you're not supposed to draft, but maybe draft one lap with the 3 one more time?
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, that would be kind of fun. I have thought about going out there and when it was my last run of the day and I was supposed to get out of the car and turn it over to Brad, I thought with finding a car to draft up with and putting a big number up and do something like that.
I think probably the coolest thing for me was walking in the garage area and having all the crew guys come by and say, hey, we're glad you're here; it's going to be fun. They used to see me in the television end of it, but back to the racer end of it, I felt real good. My face has hurt all day long from smiling so hard, and I ain't even been on the damn racetrack yet. It's just a good feeling when your peers come by and the crew guys come by and they're nice.
Q. It's fun to see you get back in the car. It's fun to see your relationship. But it's also fun to see when you stop in the garage and talk with Brad through the season. What's your relationship like with what you share since Brad has become a champion and you are now getting back in the car? What do you share as a relationship anyway?
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, as far as performance stuff, there's really nothing to share, but you've got to remember that this was where my career got going. I remember driving up to Mooresville, North Carolina, looking at a vacant field and saying, hey, there's some land here we can get, and we got if from Bill Simpson. Bill sold us the land to Roger, me and Don Miller, and we Penske Racing and took off, so that's been my life. It's always got a major special part in my life.
So now obviously I've got to be impartial, but that 2 car is always special to me, it always is. Again, I like walking through the garage area, and when I go to the 2 car I feel, even though I'm not supposed to be partial, I feel like I'm more at home hanging over there, and I can always get free coffee and nobody stares at me and it's always easy, and the crew guys always spark up a good conversation, and some of those guys on his team, on Brad's team, worked for me in my Nationwide car over at Rusty Wallace, Inc., so it's good to see him over there working, also.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I've been accused a few times of maybe having an old soul, and in a lot of ways that means I have a lot of appreciation for the history of the sport specific to in this case a lot of things that Penske Racing stands for and how Rusty has helped build it. Like Rusty said, he's the reason that Penske Racing is probably still in NASCAR and even made it in NASCAR. So I look at him in a lot of ways and think it's part of why I'm here and I've had the opportunity I've had to drive the 2 car for Miller Lite and for Roger. You can't help but look around and wonder what would have happened if he didn't make it happen himself.
So I have an appreciation for that, and then obviously an appreciation for the on‑the‑racetrack success. There's a reason why‑‑ we were joking when he walked in here, he's got Hall of Fame on the placard, so that commands its own set of respect as it should, and I feel privileged to be a part of a program that has that storied tradition. So Rusty represents that for me, and I think there's a lot of respect.
I didn't tell you this, but actually my fourth grade picture I was wearing a Rusty Wallace shirt. I was just thinking about that when we were talking. I have to find that picture for you. I had my hair all slicked to the side. It was really good. You should see it. I've got to find that picture. You've got me thinking about it now. I never told you that.
I've got a lot of respect for him, obviously, growing up, the rivalry with him and Dale I always thought was really great. The tracks that I always liked were Bristol and Martinsville and things like that, and Rusty always won there. You know, just a lot of respect, and I think my team in general, we all carry that. We all have a lot of respect for the history and the tradition of what's gone on throughout the whole sport. It's not lost on us how significant Rusty has been to NASCAR.
Q. Both Brad and Rusty, over the years obviously you do a lot of sponsorship work, and fans don't always know how much you put into it. Can you talk a little bit about what's been fun over the years, including today?
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, for me Miller Brewing Company has done so much for me it's unreal. I had a contract with those guys for a long, long time. I don't any longer, but they're all still my friends, and they've enabled me to do a lot of visits to different parts of the country and meet a lot of different people. Tonight we're supposed to do a big function across the street at the go‑kart track, and they were just telling me they're blowing it off with leaf blowers right now, and I'm telling them I don't know if that's going to be dry enough.
But we're going to do a big Miller function over there tonight, and I'm excited about that. The folks from S.R. Perrott, they're good friends of mine here in Daytona, the distributors.
But I'm a people person. I love hanging out and doing stuff like this. I do a lot of public speaking. A nice one I did last year in Hawai'i and then I did some stuff up in Washington, D.C., and I'm going to continue doing that and I enjoy it. I'm not just a person that hides out. I like meeting new guys, I like hanging out, I like doing appearances, I like smiling, I like having fun. That's the way I am.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think, Rusty, you probably have better sponsor stories than I do just because in the real heyday there was a lot more you could get away with than you can now. I really wanted to hear you tell one of them stories.
RUSTY WALLACE: I've got some good stories. I mean, I'm going to share one right here real quick. My old crew chief Robin Pemberton probably remembers this one: The radio station in Charlotte decided we were going to have this world record attempt from one side of Charlotte to the other, and we didn't care about anything. Rick Hendrick gave us brand‑new Pontiac Trans Ams, and me and John Boy and Billy, his guys were in one car and I was in another car, and we took off and I was running through the streets at 140 miles an hour, and the cops were closing down the road and waving me by and cheering me on. It was live on radio, "here comes Rusty, just went by about 135. The cops got the road shut down. John Boy is a mile behind." We used to do stuff like that and get away with it. Nowadays they'd throw our ass in jail, no problem. But that was a lot of fun, it really was.
Pile of pennies was good, too. Leading Martinsville, had a big, big lead, 10 laps to go, I put four tires on, take off, NASCAR says I jumped the start. I don't think I did, and the came in and the radio come over interviewing me, and I said the word "damn," I think, and I said, "I don't give a damn about losing the race." I said, "I really feel bad that the team had to take the hit for this," so I said something. Mr.France fined me 5,000 bucks, and I said, all right, I'll turn this into something funny. I'm going to pay him in 5,000 pennies.
So I called a Brinks truck, they brought it into Charlotte, we unloaded 5,000 pennies, and he grabbed me by the ear and brought me behind the truck and he said, "I'll go for your stunt, Wallace, but get these damn pennies out of here or else I'm going to fine you $10,000." We used to get away with stuff like that, but it's changed. I've got to be a little more proper now.
Q. Brad, you won a championship and then struggled last year‑‑
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm booing you right now because you're stopping the good stories.
Q. I know, and I'm bringing up last year.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I want to hear the stories. It's raining outside, have you not noticed?
Q. I want to know from Rusty, you had similar struggles, ups and downs throughout your career. How did you deal with them, maybe winning a championship and then having an off year or vice versa?
RUSTY WALLACE: Gosh. You'll have years‑‑ I'll never forget winning my title back in '89 and leaving that last race with so much momentum and so pumped up and so excited and coming to Daytona, and I never believed how much of a massive reset it was. It's like I didn't do that. The competitors wanted to eat me up and chew me up and spit me away. They didn't care. That respect they had during the off season, when I showed up Daytona, I got it from the fans, but boy, the competitors, they didn't really like it. They wanted to beat you really bad, and right off the bat we had a problem. We didn't run good, and it was a tough year. It really was. My following year was tough.
So with Brad, to have so much momentum with the Dodge and switch to a Ford, which is a great car, and him having so much momentum built up and excitement, some of that has got to bleed back down. A lot of people think you end with momentum and you can carry that. I personally couldn't do that, but I'm not going to speak for Brad, that's for sure. But that's the stuff I experienced. You never go through a deal like this where you're always on top. There's so many peaks and valleys in this sport it's incredible.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You know, yeah, Rusty brought up some great points, and I think everyone's experience is probably a little bit different. But it's definitely tough to come back after a championship year. I think the sport works in cycles, and it should. It should work that way. You go through waves where you bring in a lot of talent and you kind of stock up, and once the year is over, there's a tendency for those that have worked so hard to become successful, or just be successful in general, that once they achieve that it's easy for them to either retire or move on or lose the hunger. We turned over a lot of people, I think, over the last year or so. This is not an excuse session by any means, but I'm just answering your question. And I think that's hard to see some of your best people kind of be like, yup, I finally got a championship, then just pick up and go home or go to another team for more money. That kind of stuff is probably the hardest part.
But it's your job to find a way to make it work in spite of that. That's got to be our continuous goal.
Q. Rusty, NASCAR is apparently talking about making some dramatic changes in race format, points distribution and so forth, trying to juice competition. As a former champion and Hall of Famer, how do you look at that with the possibility of the whole race format and so forth maybe changing?
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, I am all for change, as long as it builds excitement and it's something worth doing. Now, that's a little bit above my pay grade. I've got a lot of opinions and things, there's no doubt about that, and my opinions are mostly on the performance end because I've always been a nuts‑and‑bolts guy and I liked the cars and I like to really get involved in that. So I've always had ideas about how to make the cars race better, and I think they're heading in that direction.
I think one of the big directions that they did right away was making the cars lighter. I like that. NASCAR knows that some of the other changes that I would like to make, but hey, there's so many good engineers out there right now that are so current and know so many things and got so much history behind them.
But I know that we all got to work harder and harder to make this thing more popular. It's no secret that there used to be more people in the grandstands than there are right now, and it's no secret we've got to get these cars to run closer, and so if they've got to do anything to spice it up to make the fans happy with it, I'm all for it.
Q. Brad, your brother and Rusty's son have both struggled to find a full‑time sponsorship, even though they're affiliated with a couple of champions. Are we getting to the point where young drivers are going to have to bring a sackful of money with them or is there still an opportunity for young drivers to be discovered and be brought along?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I mean, in some ways the sport has always had some of those issues, but probably now more so than ever. My brother's situation and Rusty's family situations are similar in some ways and different in others. But I want to see them be successful. I think we all do, especially when it's family, and it's difficult to see, but sometimes you've just got to take a step back and try to help when you can and allow it to happen naturally if it's going to and not spend too much time worrying about things you can't really control.
But yes, funded drivers are part of the sport, but I think at the end of the day, at the very top there's always going to be your highest level of talent. I think you see that funded driver scenario plays out everywhere, even what's supposed to be the world phenomenon of F1 racing. They've got over half the field is that way. It's just part of it, and that's the story of modern‑day racing. It's just so expensive that it's going to take a lot of funding to execute.
RUSTY WALLACE: I tried to run my own team, and I really enjoy being a car owner, I really do. It keeps me at the racetrack. It keeps me involved in all the stuff.
But trying to keep up with some of the bigger Cup affiliated teams, the Nationwide guys, it was tough for me because there was just enough money there to race on, there wasn't a lot of money for development. Looking back at it, I definitely would have changed a lot. I felt as though I was putting pretty cars out there, nice, new, fresh stuff but I never could get the cars handling right and I had different style of drivers in them, and I used to look back, and I think I almost hurt my own son by giving him a car instead of giving him a winning car because I just didn't have the time or the resources to do all that development and all that work.
I thought we were getting pretty close, and then when 5‑hour decided to go Cup racing, that pretty well killed our team, and we had to shut it down at that point. It's a big rebuilding thing. Stephen is doing a lot of short track racing right now. He'll be here for eight days in New Smyrna racing. They're going to be out in Scottsdale, Arizona, with the big Barrett Jackson project going on right now which is to me everything in the world for me next week. We've been building a special car for four months now for the NASCAR Foundation. The car is amazing, and the whole family is going out there for that deal next week.
I feel like I almost hurt my own son because we couldn't put the effort. I wish I would have took that money looking back at it and just gave it to a super team and said go run instead of me building that whole entire mammoth organization that I had, a campus as I call it.
THE MODERATOR: Rusty, Brad, thank you very much for coming in.
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