Last Call At Daytona

21651Jpg
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It would be a grand start to what Rusty Wallace hopes is looked back on years from now as a storybook finish. It would be the icing on the cake for what has been such a successful career that he is certainly destined to receive legendary status after the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season, his final year behind the wheel of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.

“Winning the Daytona 500 would be all of that and more,” says Wallace of the race win that has eluded him for almost 25 years entering his “ Rusty’s Last Call” farewell season as a driver. “It’s the biggest race of them all and right there on Feb. 20 will be our last shot at being able to finally pull it off and win the big one. We’ve been there for 22 Daytona 500s before and have come so close to winning it. Rest assured that we’re pulling out all the stops in trying to finally come home the winner this time around.

“I haven’t won the Daytona 500 and I doubt there’s not too many people out there who are not aware of that fact,” said Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR premier series champion and a 55-race winner entering his final season as the driver of the Miller Lite-sponsored Penske Racing South Dodge Charger. “I got close many, many times. I’d love to go into my final year knowing I’ve finally got a 500 victory under my belt when we leave Daytona. That would be a special feeling. What would be my ultimate thing this year would be to win the 500 and win the final race at Homestead. That would be pretty hot if I could pull it off. We’re certainly hoping for a lot of success this year, but right now finally winning the Daytona 500 is the biggest thing on my mind.”

After the recent pre-season Daytona testing was completed, Wallace came away feeling confident that he will have a car that is capable of winning.

“It was a bit frustrating at first, but we finally found the speed we were looking for down there and think we’ll be even stronger when we get back down there with the car,” Wallace said of his PRS-066 Dodge. “We unloaded on day 1 with two cars and one car ran a 49.70 and the other car came off the truck at a 49.50. We started working on both cars and made a decision that the faster car should be our car for the 500. We made many, many changes, a lot of aerodynamic changes, a lot of chassis setting, a lot of different things -- probably about 45 separate changes in all on the car, and finally ran a 48.56.

We put the drafting setup in the thing and it flew, so we’re confident that we have a sleek little hot rod that can get the job done. The guys assure me we’ve got some extra horsepower at the shop that we’ll be able to take back to the track. We think we should be able to work the car down to about a (48.) 35 in qualifying trim when we get back to Daytona. If we have that much speed in the car and it handles as well as it did, we’ll be in great shape for the 500 – probably the best shape we’ve ever been in coming into Daytona.”

Entering his 23rd edition of the Daytona 500 and 44th race overall on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and still looking for his first career Cup win on the track (he did claim a victory in the 1998 pole shootout), Wallace gets additional inspiration to win by looking back at the effort put forth by late friend Dale Earnhardt Sr.

“Even though we’re still looking for the first win, we’ve been close and I can’t help but think back about what all Dale ( Earnhardt) went through before he finally won the Daytona 500 back in ‘98,” said Wallace of his legendary racing friend who perished in a crash at the finish of the 2001 Daytona 500. “Man, for years before he finally pulled it off, he’d look like he had the thing all wrapped up and something would happen at the very end. I’ll always remember that race (1990 Daytona 500) when he led until the third turn on the very last lap and had the tire go down.

“But the bottom line is that he finally cashed in there in ’98 and that year at Daytona will always be special in my mind,” recalled Wallace. “I really felt like he and I had the best two cars down there. We wound up snookering them really good and pulled off the win in the “shootout” the weekend before the 500. Dale came back and won his 125-mile qualifier that Thursday and we finished sixth.

“In the 500 that year, we ran with Dale all day long until the very end and we got us a top-five finish that day,” said Wallace, who finished fifth that day for his first-ever top-five finish in the event. “Dale deserved the win and he finally got it as they threw him the checkered and the yellow at the same time because of a crash on the backstretch. The crowd went wild and everyone up and down pit road came out to congratulate Dale and the No. 3 car crew.

“Dale was riding a long winless streak going into that race and that really made his win all the more special,” Wallace said of the fact that Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 win snapped the longest victory drought of his illustrious career (59 races between wins, dating from March 10, 1996 until the Daytona win on Feb. 15, 1998).

“There were a lot of tears of joy shed at Daytona that day and it was certainly a race they’ll recall forever. I know I will.

“It’ll be a pretty emotional day for us, too, if and when we can finally pull it off,” said Wallace. “We had a great test in preparation for Speed Weeks and are as optimistic as ever about our chances. With everything we’ve had going for us at Daytona in recent years and with all the positive things happening with our team lately, we’re carrying some great momentum into Daytona this time around.”

As for that momentum, one only has to look at Wallace’s recent Daytona track record to deduce that he has certainly been close enough to be considered deserving of a win. In the 15 races held there since the 1997 Daytona 500, Wallace has recorded six top-five finishes and nine top-10 finishes, including his second-place finish in the July 2002 Pepsi 400, his best career Daytona finish to date.

“We’re certainly poised to finally win the thing, I’d say,” Wallace said of his Larry Carter-led Miller Lite Dodge Charger Team. “But it will remain the same as always this time around as for what you have to do to get the job done. The Thursday qualifier is always a good shakedown for the 500 and with the extra laps they’ve added this year, it should be very interesting.

You hope to get a good starting spot and stay up front with the lead pack to avoid the big crashes. You try to put yourself in a position to be there for the big crapshoot at the end. That’s always been the game plan and it’ll be the same story there on the 20th. We just hope we’re able to finally pull it off. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again -- there will be a helluva party going on if we do, I’ll guarantee you that.”

Photos

  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • NASCAR All-Star Moments
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400
  • SpongeBob SquarePants 400

Advertisement

You may unsubscribe at any time.
Motor Racing Network
555 MRN Drive
Concord, NC 28027
www.mrn.com/Footer/Contact-Us.aspx
(704)262-6700
feedback@mrn.com
  • © 2015 MRN. All Rights Reserved

    FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

    ISC Track Sites