Less May Be More At Penske

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Rusty Wallace sounded like a man who didn’t want to have two teammates in 2002 – unless one of them was his brother.

Since Jeremy Mayfield left Penske Racing’s No. 12 Ford earlier this month, doubts have surfaced whether the team would operate next season. Ryan Newman is moving up to Winston Cup next season in Penske’s No. 02, and the No. 12 team could be folded into Wallace’s No. 2 and Newman’s No. 02 teams.

But a monkey wrench in that plan is Mike Wallace, Rusty’s brother, and Mobil 1, sponsor of the No. 12.

“We’ve really had to sit back and to rethink whether this three-car team is the way to go,” Wallace said. “I personally don’t think three cars is the way to go, although I do like having my brother as my teammate because I know I’m not getting run around by anybody.

“If they want to keep the 12 car going, I’m all for it. But I would say right now, if Mike wasn’t in the car, let’s close the sucker down. I just don’t think the three-car team is the wave of the future like everybody thought it was.”

The Mobil 1 sponsorship is worth an estimated $10 million and can’t be easily swept away. Plus, there are the employees of the No. 12 team to consider.

“I don’t know what kind of decision (owners) Roger (Penske) and Walt Czarnecki are going to make because I have no ownership in that team,” Wallace said. “Although I have a lot of say. They’ve asked me what I think. I’ve thought about buying into the team. I’ll be happy to do whatever they want me to do.

“Roger’s a pretty smart guy. He’s thinking the way I am. I’m not seeing an advantage out of three cars. I do see an advantage out of two.”

If there were three cars, all would be using the same in-house Penske chassis. Mayfield liked his own kind of cars, making information sharing difficult at best. If Mike Wallace does drive the No. 12, he would use the same chassis as Rusty and Newman.

“I could see it, all of us on the same chassis,” Wallace said. “But I don’t know what the plan is for the 12. I really honestly don’t.”

Five teams forced to backup cars
Rusty Wallace was one of five drivers who went to a backup car after a multi-car crash in Saturday’s Happy Hour. Wallace, John Andretti, Ken Schrader, Terry Labonte and Jeff Purvis all went to backup cars, while Ward Burton, Buckshot Jones, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton repaired minor sheet-metal damage.

Burton was trying to pass Purvis in Turn1 when the two made contact, sending Purvis up the track in front of several cars. Wallace and Andretti piled in, while other cars spun in the melee.

“I just sat in there with (NASCAR president) Mike Helton and Bill France and watched the replay of the accident about six times,” Ward Burton said. “(Purvis) didn’t have anybody on the outside of him, so I thought he had room to go up. He did. He just didn’t know I was there. I had the left front on the apron. I just couldn’t hold it down any more basically.

“He better get a rear-view mirror so he can see a little better. At the same time, it takes two to tangle. I’m sorry it happened for everybody. Nobody is blaming anybody.”

Melling Racing in trouble?
In addition to Penske’s No. 12, another team with a cloudy future is the pole winning team of Stacy Compton. Melling Racing, the lone single-car Dodge team, is without a sponsor for 2002. Team owner Mark Melling said he wants to keep Compton and the team together full-time next season, but without a sponsor, that would be impossible.

“Everybody has us shutting out doors, and that’s ridiculous,” Melling said. “This must be seven out of 10 years that we’re shutting our doors at the end of the season. I’m getting a little tired of that.

“If Stacy got offered a ride tomorrow in the 31 car or one of the other cars that are open, I wouldn’t begrudge him anything for taking it. We can run some races without a sponsor, but we can’t run a full season. That’s a real tall order. Melling Racing would be forced to be the guy who shows up at the big-money races and ruins somebody else’s day. That’s just the facts.”

Melling said it would take $8.5 million to “put together a good program,” with $7.5 million of that from a primary sponsor. He said he hasn’t thought about how many races the team would be able to run if a sponsor isn’t found.

A team spokesman said Melling is talking to two or three companies, but of course nothing has been signed. And Melling isn’t giving up.

“If a pitcher has a no-hitter going through seven innings, do the hitters give up?” Melling said. “We’re not giving up. We’re still swinging away.”

Friday’s pole didn’t hurt attracting potential sponsors.

“For my career and for Melling Racing, a pole is as good as a win,” Compton said. “We needed this to show people that we can compete. I feel like we’ve done a decent job all year. We’ve stumbled a time or two, but we’ve also run good a time or two.”

Who’s going to be in the No. 31?
The same could be said for Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Chevy. With the injury to Mike Skinner and the inexperience of Robby Gordon, consistency has been a problem. Skinner had two finishes in the Top 10, but Gordon has none. And Gordon even failed to qualify for the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway earlier this month.

“We’re having to do a lot of work with that race team,” Childress said. “We were struggling with Mike getting hurt, not having a lot of consistency in it. We’ve got more work to do than just worry about the driver. We’ve got to get our race team back to the level it needs to be.”

Gordon seems to be the logical choice for the No. 31 for 2002, as new sponsor Cingular Wireless apparently likes him. But nothing has been confirmed.

“It’s not an audition,” Childress said of Gordon’s current status. “We asked him to help us out. We did the deal at (the) Indy (500) with him, and I saw some things I liked – not just in his driving, but in his attitude. I said, ‘Hey let’s give him a chance.’ When Mike got hurt and had to get out of the car, he was the first person I thought of. He’s got a lot of potential. He’s great with the sponsors. He’s got some talent. He’s got a tremendous amount of talent. You don’t do what he does with a race car and not have talent.”

Gordon is in the car the rest of the season, except for the Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He’ll be driving in the Baja 1000 off-road race, and Childress confirmed that Jeff Green will drive the No. 31 at Homestead. Green joins RCR in the No. 30 next year.

Hamilton doesn’t mind missing Budweiser Shootout
Compton’s pole run knocked Bobby Hamilton out of the Budweiser Shootout, but Hamilton didn’t seem to mind.

“It ain’t that I don’t enjoy it – I want to watch it,” Hamilton said. “It’s a hell of a race. Most of the time, it’s a balls-out race, and you usually tear up something. Iit’s just a heck of a race to watch. I’ve run the Budweiser Shootout three or four times, and I’ve made a hell of a lot more money betting on it than I have racing in it.”

Hamilton, Harvick made up?
Hamilton and Harvick created quite a stir late in the Old Dominion 500 last week at Martinsville Speedway when they exchanged nudges. Hamilton struck first, getting Harvick sideways off Turn 2. Harvick retaliated in Turn 4, sending Hamilton spinning. Harvick was penalized, but Hamilton wasn’t pleased after the race.

Hamilton and Harvick exchanged insults through the media but avoided one another. Friday after qualifying at Talladega, they were forced to sit next to each other for a press conference.

Asked if they had patched things up, Hamilton said, “Uh, no.”

Sterling Marlin tried to lighten the mood by saying, “I don’t know if I need to get in the middle or not.”

Later, the two were generally cordial. When Hamilton talked about making head-and-neck restraints mandatory was a good idea, he poked fun at Harvick.

“I’m concerned about all these guys,” Hamilton said. “I’m even concerned about Kevin.”

Hey, Darby!
John Darby, who was announced Saturday as Gary Nelson’s replacement as Winston Cup director next year, was strolling through the garage area when someone started shouting, “Hey, Gary! Nelson! Hey!”

Darby tried to ignore the joke, but the yelling persisted. Finally, Darby acknowledged the jester. It was A.J. Foyt, positioned atop his team’s transporter.

Dodge, Save Mart renew for Sears Point race
Dodge and Save Mart Supermarkets have agreed to a two-year contract that renews both sponsors of the Winston Cup race at Sears Point Raceway. The event will be called the Dodge/Save Mart 350 through the 2003 season.

“We’ve worked with both Save Mart and the local Dodge dealers for a number of years and knew what terrific promotional partners they were individually,” Sears Point president and general manager Steve Page said. “It’s been wonderful to see the evolution of this joint promotional relationship, and we’re delighted that it will continue.”

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