Not Rusty On Changing

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Rusty Wallace is old-school.

He’s a driver who knows all about his race car. He knows what works and what doesn’t. He knows as much about chassis setup as any driver in the Winston Cup garage area.

So it puzzles Wallace when some of the same setups he’s used for years gets his doors blown off. And it puzzles him even more with the setups other drivers are using successfully.

“My real consistent runs this year, but my conservative finishes – basically all top-10 finishes this year – is because I haven’t been near as aggressive with some of the new things going on,” Wallace said. “Now some of the guys are running super, super soft front springs. They’re running tons of front swaybar. They’re running real gigantic rear springs, and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s just too far off the beaten path for me.’ If I tried that, I’d have a big handling problem and I don’t want to chance that.

“Because of that, I’ve kind of taken a conservative approach that has been netting me those sixth- through 10th-place finishes. Now that the year is half over, I would have never thought that stuff would work. But now that I see it working, I’m more apt to start the second half of the season by getting on the aggressive side of things.”

Wallace is sixth in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings heading into Sunday’s Dodge/Save mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. Interestingly, he’s the only driver in the Top 10 – heck, the only one in the Top 16 – without a top-five finish.

But that could change, Wallace said, as he’s changed his opinion on the aggressive chassis setups so prevalent these days. One of the reasons he’s change is his young rookie teammate, Ryan Newman.

“Ryan has been real aggressive in his thought process,” Wallace said. “I’d basically say, ‘Bah-humbug to that,’ but then I see it work, and I say, ‘Well, now I feel more comfortable trying some of that stuff.’ So we’re gonna step it up the second half with a real aggressive setup, and I think the wins will come and the Top 5s will should start coming, but, man, it really has changed.

“You just cannot believe that what you never thought would work starts working. I’ve talked to Mark Martin and I’ve talked to Jeff (Burton) and all those guys, even (Jeff) Gordon, that I can’t believe this stuff is working.”

It isn’t that Wallace has his head stuck in the ground and isn’t one to change. No, it’s that some of the new setups just shouldn’t work.

“In your mind you know it shouldn’t work,” Wallace said. “There are guys out there running so soft a springs that they’re purposely coil-binding them, so when you go in the corner the spring locks up and the car can’t go down any farther. When they disallowed the bump stops last year, they were using the bump stops to do that. To me, I was like, ‘Man, this is just a punch of hocus-pocus. I’m staying away from all that, and I’m gonna stay with more of what I know works and gives me consistent finishes.’

“There were some guys last week that had springs so soft that as soon as the car would pull out on the race track, it would just fall to the ground, but then it couldn’t go any farther because the little soft spring they had was bound up -- it was locked up. But they would run the whole race and the car would run good the whole race. I was like, ‘Man, I would have thought they would have torn the tires off the car or something,’ but it didn’t.”

Like just about everything else in NASCAR these days, it’s all about aerodynamics. It’s all about getting downforce.

But that’s the problem, Wallace said. Downforce dictates too much, and it’s time for that to change.

“I’m politicking real hard right now, and a lot of drivers are, to get the rear spoilers downsized on the cars because the biggest problem we’ve got with this aero-push is that all the cars have so much downforce in the back that when you get behind a car, you can’t pass them,” Wallace said. “But the other problem, which is the main reason, is that we’ve got so much downforce that Goodyear had to harden the tire up. Goodyear’s got the tire real durable, a great tire, and the Goodyear people have told me that if we can get NASCAR to take rear spoiler off these cars and get the downforce off, that they’ll soften the tires back up. When they soften the tires back up, then the tires will wear, and we’ll see the passing come back and it’ll be a lot better.”

How much spoiler? Perhaps as much as an inch should come off.

“That air dam needs to be real low to the ground so the front end sticks, and then you’ve got to take some of the back off so you can’t charge into the corner so hard,” Wallace said. “They were 5 inches back then, and now we’re 6 ¼. I think the cars should probably have 5 ¾- or 5 ½-inch spoilers somewhere to start.”

NASCAR has tested a bigger “greenhouse” car with less rear spoiler, and Jimmy Spencer told Wallace “it was so nice to drive a car like that with softer tires and the spoiler knocked off.”

That’s the direction Wallace would like to see NASCAR take the rules.

“The key is to get the tire softened back up so they’ll wear,” Wallace said. “We’ve got to do whatever it takes to get the tire softened up and get rid of this stupid aero-push we’ve got.”

When that happens, maybe some of the crazy setups won’t work any more, and Wallace can go back into his old notebook and pull out a few of his old-school chassis setups. And maybe some of those will get him back to victory lane.

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