February 24, 2008 | 5:30 A.M. EST
Now a broadcaster for ESPN, the 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, who drove for Penske in 1980 and from 1991 to 2005, not many were any happier to see Ryan Newman take the checkered flag last Sunday to give team owner Roger Penske his first Daytona 500 victory.
“Roger has won 14 Indianapolis 500s, he’s won IndyCar Series championships and he’s won Champ Car championships,” Wallace said. “Now he’s got himself a Daytona 500 winner. I told him after the race how proud I was of him.
“In reality, I still feel like I’m extension of that team. Roger and I spent so many years together, and I know it was a lifelong dream of his to win the Daytona 500. I’m really very pleased that he was able to win one of those things.”
Wallace owned 20 percent of Penske Racing. When he retired as a driver, he sold his interest to Penske.
“When I retired, I knew I couldn’t put my heart and soul into it anymore,” Wallace said. “I cashed out, and Roger’s now the 100 percent owner. I still walk into the shop, however, and there are pictures of me everywhere. It still feels like my career is still there sometimes.”
Wallace won 37 races for Penske, but never tasted victory in NASCAR’s biggest race. He finished 0 for 23 in the Daytona 500, with his best finish of third coming in 2001 behind Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In his final Daytona 500 in 2005, Wallace finished 10th.
“There has always been a sense of emptiness not winning at Daytona,” Wallace said. “I had my shots at winning it, but we just didn’t get it done. I’ll tell ya, though, it was gratifying last weekend to see my partner (Penske) win that thing. He really deserves it.”
Newman won the 50th running of the Daytona 500 with the help of teammate Kurt Busch. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge — Wallace’s old ride — pushed Newman past Tony Stewart on the backstretch, allowing Newman to take the checkered flag while Busch finished second. Busch had several options of who to draft with, and decided to push his teammate to the victory instead of trying to get past Stewart himself and go for the victory.
“Kurt was the ultimate teammate,” Newman said. “He had plenty of opportunity to dive to the inside and go on his own and he stuck with me. It goes back to Talladega last year and the great experience we had there when I at least finished in the top five. We stuck to our guns, we stuck with the plan and drafted and worked well together. I was in the right place at the right time.”
When the two were teammates at Penske Racing, the animosity between Wallace and Newman was highly publicized. Their differences came to light most notably at Martinsville Speedway in October 2004. Both Wallace and Newman were driving for a victory in the final laps of the Sprint Cup Series race when they bumped on a restart following a caution period. Wallace lost track position — a valuable commodity at Martinsville — and wound up 10th.
Newman finished third. When the two drove onto pit road after the race, Wallace slammed his front bumper into Newman’s car. NASCAR fined Wallace $10,000 for the incident, and he and Newman didn’t speak for a long period of time. The ill feelings between the two have dissipated. Wallace interviewed Newman following his victory at Daytona.
“Everybody knew that Newman and I had our problems throughout our career,” Wallace said. “That’s all behind us now. I told Ryan how happy I was for him and for the team. As for Kurt, I thought it was a very smart decision he made to take the high lane behind Newman. I don’t think he could have pulled down low and won. You never know what you’ll do in that situation until it’s presented to you, but it was a good move for Kurt.”
With all of Penske’s racing accomplishments, Wallace said there is still one thing missing.
“The only thing left for him is a Sprint Cup Series championship,” Wallace said. “If he can accomplish that, I know how happy and satisfied that will make him. I hope he’s able to get one soon.”