MARTINSVILLE, Va. Now that Rusty Wallace is comfortable with his plans to retire at the conclusion of the 2005 season, he plans to go out on top. He's still trying to win races and wants to make his final season on the Nextel Cup Series circuit one of his best.
He talked about his career and what he has planned for the future as the sport gets ready to make its return to the Martinsville Speedway for Sunday's Subway 500.
Question: What advice would you give young drivers to build on a foundation you and some other veterans started?
Wallace: I think the biggest thing that I would keep in mind is respect for the sport. It was nothing at one point and we helped build it. When I started it was Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and then it moved on to Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte. Now it's going to Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and guys of that type. I just think it's real important not to lose sight of what it takes. You've got to be fan friendly. You've got to take care of these fans. You've got to be able to work hard. These cars are very expensive to run. You've got to spend a lot of time with the media. You've got to spend a lot of time with your sponsors, and you've got to spend a lot of time with the fans. If you just spend all your time saying you don't have time for that, I just want to drive my car, you're not going to be successful. You're not going to be good for the sport. That's one thing I've done my whole career. I've been one of the busiest guys on the circuit all over the country trying to take care of it. I've been a vocal one, too. If I don't like a rule that I think is wrong, I'll be the first to say it. That's what I'm trying to instill in the guys that are driving around me. Whether it's me trying to help Jamie (McMurray) make some personal decisions about how to treat people or what to do, or my son Steven or Brendan Gaughan or whatever."
Question: Is retiring the most personal decision you can make?
Wallace: It's definitely the most personal decision. I'm comfortable with my decision. I will tell you I'm accustomed to a style of life, and I don't want to have my style of life altered much. A lot of that income stops and you have to self-adjust. That's the thing I'm going to have to get used to. I love racing. I love driving a car and meeting people and being around different parts of the country. I really won't know what that's going to feel like until Homestead next year. As far as being a trend setter and who will be next, Mark Martin has already named his tour, but he's not going to quit racing. It's quite a bit different than what I'm doing. Terry Labonte has already said he's going to quit running full-time, but he's going to run partial, so that's not the same thing I'm doing, either. Richard Petty and my tour are real similar. When Dale Jarrett finally decides what he's going to do in 2006 or 2007, he could be the next candidate to do a retirement tour.
Question: What's your opinion of the Chase for the Championship?
Wallace: I've got to be careful about what I say because I don't want to get in trouble, but I will tell you I thought it was OK when it first started because I haven't been out of the top 10 for 16 or 17 years until last year and I thought that was a fluke. I never thought it would happen this year, so I was fine with the format. Then when I watched it unfold, the thing I was nervous about is happening. All I see in every newspaper and everything is only the top 10. I don't see anything about any other driver at all. If I do, somebody would have to really dig deep and prove to me it's out there. The only time you see anything about another driver is when he's doing something. I think NASCAR when the year is over will have to evaluate what they're going to do and I think some things will definitely have to be changed. No way in the world can you go next year with exactly the way it is this year.
Question: How would you change the Chase format?
Wallace: The one thing I did like a lot that NASCAR said early was, 'We think this is a cool format, and if it's not exactly right, we'll be open to adjust on it.' I'm sure that's where their thought process is. It looked like the popularity of it really spiked going into Richmond. A couple of races out of Richmond and right now it looks like it's flattened out for some reason. A lot of the drivers that are fan favorites Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, myself, Dale Jarrett, guys like that are out of it, and I think they lost a huge fan base by that happening. Maybe the top 10, instead of 400 points, it's going to have to go back farther. Maybe it's the top 15. There's going to have to be more room for everybody to get in. To be quite honest, there's a lot of drivers in it right now that some of them just don't have the popularity of some of the others I mentioned when it comes to the fans.
Question: Is broadcasting your new passion?
Wallace: I don't know if it's my new passion or not. I'm doing a little bit of it right now, just kind of testing the water. I would like to do it. I've hinted around to a couple of networks. Pretty soon I'll get to talking more about it. I think that's something in my life after racing. I still plan to pay a lot of attention to Team Penske. I plan on being actively involved in Team Penske, my Busch car, my car dealerships in East Tennessee and my son Steven and his career coming up right now. Television is definitely in line with what I'd like to do.
Question: How much say will you have in who takes your ride after you retire?
Wallace: I'll have a lot of say. I'm part owner of the team. We'll look for a driver around 25-30. That's what the Miller Brewing Co. would like to have. They've agreed to sponsor the car for an additional two years after I retire as long as we come up with a driver to fit their criteria, which is fair. We can do that. We'll look for a driver who's actively involved in the set up of the car, knows a lot about the chassis and somebody who knows what it takes to be successful in the sport. Somebody who has got to be willing to work with the fans and media well. Somebody who has got to be willing to sit in an airplane and fly around the country and service our sponsors.
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