ATLANTA -- Rusty Wallace's retirement tour has been far from ceremonial this season. Wallace sits fourth in the NASCAR Nextel Cup points standings after a second-place finish last Sunday at Pocono.
With the Cup Series taking this weekend off, Wallace will drive in his namesake race, the Wallace Family Tribute 250 at Gateway International Raceway near his hometown of St. Louis.
Wallace spoke with reporters Tuesday on a teleconference. Here are excerpts of that call:
Question: Has your success this year made this season that much sweeter?
Wallace: It really does. It's a heck of a compliment when people come up to you and say, "You know, why are you retiring? You got more years left in you." It's all more of me wanting to go out and top my game.I'm at the top of my game right now doing well.It was an honor to me the other day.I was listening to CNN.There was Lance Armstrong on there saying, "This is a cool time to retire.I'm retiring and NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace is retiring."I can't believe he mentioned it in the same sentence, but he did.
It's a fun time, but I'm going out at the top of my game.But one reason I think we're doing so well is this is my second year with my crew chief, Larry Carter.He and I got a lot of rhythm going on right now.We're working extremely hard on our chassis designs, our springs, our shocks, our sway bars, we're constantly opening new envelopes there.It feels good.
People told me that "you're probably going to put so much effort in this last year, you're probably going to perform better than you ever have."But I really think the performances come from the two years of working with the same crew chief, me really getting open-minded about some of the radical chassis setups we're running and things like that. There's a reason for it.Shorter spoiler, softer tires, all of that has kind of fit my driving style.
Question: If you win the championship, will you have any second thoughts about returning to defend your title?
Wallace: No, not at all. I made my decision.I'm sticking to it.In fact, I'm moving on right now getting things ready and set for life after that. But, no, I'm comfortable with what I'm doing right now.Hey, I tell you what, when it comes to this championship deal, I'm feeling really good about it. I've seen the Jimmie Johnson team struggle the last couple weeks with handling.The No. 16 car has been pretty game.But we beat them this week.These guys definitely are all beatable.I'm watching our handling package getting better and better and better. I'm going, "Hey, this is a realistic goal right now.Hey, feel good about it."
Queston: You and Mark Martin are both retiring this year. But whereas you are optimistic about your chances of winning a championship, Mark refused to hope or think he can win a title on his way out because of all his disappointments over the years. Can you pinpoint the difference in your outlooks?
Wallace: I really think you're reading too much into Mark when it comes to that.Mark, he's been like that forever.He's the type of guy, you go, "How you running for today's race?"
"My car handles like crap."He goes out and wins.
"I feel bad about the day, I don't have a chance in heck."He goes out and does good again.He's always been like that.I will tell you down deep I know he thinks he can win the championship this year.From his past experience, he probably doesn't want to be disappointed
On the other hand, I'm not a quitter.I'm very, very optimistic person.I'm the type of person that, "Let's make it happen.Don't tell me all the doggone reasons why we can't get it done.Make it happen."
Sometimes when it comes to doing contracts and negotiations, you know, lawyers want to sit there and give me every little reason in the world why we got chances of screwing this deal up.I say, "Let's make it happen, deal with the problems later."
Sometimes I screw up doing that.But that philosophy has worked for me. I don't like being around people that are lazy, that are not into it, don't believe in themselves, and that sometimes shut down and quit and lock it.I'm not that type of guy.
Question: As far as your Busch team, what are your plans for next year?
Wallace: I don't have all my plans, my driver line-up is put together where I want to have it for next year.I do know I want to start minimizing all that, though.I don't want to have that many drivers.It's tough on (crew chief) Blake (Bainbridge) and not fair on Blake to give him that many drivers and he can't build any rhythm with that.I mean, my ultimate goal would be to have one driver that we could have and do it.Although it's hard to get the money for these cars unless you put a Cup guy in there, get a big name to draw some attention.Top-Flite Golf has re-signed with us for next year. We're still talking to Miller guys.I feel comfortable with everything we got going on.
Question: What does this race and the events surrounding it this week mean to you?
Wallace: I grew up in St. Louis, guys.I moved from there in 1983 to come down and pursue my NASCAR Nextel Cup career, and I did that.It turned out real successful.But when the track was there, I just never had the opportunity to race on it.I tested there a couple times. When they called us up and said, "We'd like to honor you guys for what you've done, we want to call the race what it is." I'm just like blowed away. I said, "This is great."
Question: What is it that you took from your family that made you successful in life?
Wallace: My dad was always actively involved in working on his own cars, building his own cars, designing them, welding, doing all kinds of trick things.He was one of the most successful area racers in St. Louis and down in Springfield, Ill., and over at Granite City, Ill., on the dirt.Dad just won everything in the world.I think he got us brothers working on the cars and understanding how to work on them and being very mechanically inclined.A lot of the new guys, the fathers take them to the track and they learn to drive the cars.They really don't get involved in working on them and understanding that.I think that's one big thing dad did for us.
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