One Last Round for Wallace
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on January 10, 2014 | 6:00 P.M. EST
"It was great. The very first lap I was up to speed and that felt good." (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace returned behind the wheel of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for "one last round" on Friday during NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway.
Wallace, who last drove the No. 2 for Team Penske in 2005, took over the reins of Brad Keselowski's car for a little over two hours during the afternoon. Keselowski completed seven laps to start the test - which was delayed by rain until 11:45 a.m. ET - and was 13th fastest on the board (190.263 mph) at the time he handed over his ride. At 2:02 p.m., Wallace took to the high banks of Daytona and got up to speed quickly, posting a lap of 190.537 mph on his third circuit.
"It was great," Wallace said after climbing out of the car. "The very first lap I was up to speed and that felt good. But what really felt good is we kept making a lot of changes and I was feeling all the changes. I felt I was really adding to this program so it was nice. He wanted to keep me in all day long, plus up to 4:30 so I stayed in the car. It was a fun day."
In Wallace's final run, the team put in a qualifying setup and he wound up fourth on the chart with a lap of 192.102 mph. When Wallace exited the car he took photos with Keselowski and the team before the Penske team began an engine change.
Mark Martin, who is testing for Tony Stewart, had some fun with Wallace on pit road on their way out to the track when he bumped the back of the No. 2 Ford with the No. 14 Chevrolet.
"Mark said it brought back memories of 1977 at the Fort Smith Arkansas racetrack we use to race at," Wallace said. "I don't really remember that far back, but he does."
Wallace wore a retro firesuit for the test and the car carried the retro logos for Miller Lite along with decals on the back of the car that said #TheOriginal #RustyWallace. Keselowski will wear a retro firesuit and drive a commemorative white paint scheme starting next month at Daytona to help promote the return of Miller Lite's original can design.
"I had a little bit of butterflies," Wallace said about putting on the firesuit. "I felt a little strange walking around in a uniform instead of street clothes. Then when I got in the car and started sweating like hell we started running fast out there I said, 'Ah yeah this is the mojo back, this is what I remember.' To run faster and faster laps and those guys be happy with me and talk about wanting me to test more at different places - maybe on the speedways."
As for testing with the No. 2 team again, Wallace would love to but only on the superspeedways for now ... unless it's at two of his favorite short tracks where he scored a combined 16 wins.
"I would need a lot more reps and a lot more seat time to go to a place like Charlotte and Vegas and hold it wide open and be a daredevil. But these places here are fairly easy to drive so maybe testing here and Talladega I wouldn’t be opposed to that ... or Martinsville or Bristol," Wallace said with a smile.
Keselowski, who texted Wallace during the offseason to see if he would be interested in participating in the test, gave Wallace a specially painted Miller Lite helmet to wear.
"I'll take that back and display that," Wallace said. "Brad made that helmet for me as a trophy and remembrance of the day's events out here. I didn’t expect that. That was cool. The whole team is really class guys and Brad was really nice to me, and I really appreciate that. He showed a lot of respect."
The opportunity for Wallace to test stemmed off a conversation he had with the team last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"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," Wallace said. "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 Penske and he 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."
Miller Lite and Penske have partnered on over a two decade long relationship. Wallace scored 37 of his 55 career victories when he drove the No. 2 for the team.