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NASCAR

Have Sprint Cup questions? Rusty Wallace has some answers

  • Rusty Wallace speaks before the start of the NASCAR Truck Series auto race, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

    Rusty Wallace speaks before the start of the NASCAR Truck Series auto race, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Rusty Wallace speaks before the start of the NASCAR Truck Series auto race, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

    Rusty Wallace speaks before the start of the NASCAR Truck Series auto race, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Rusty Wallace speaks before the start of the NASCAR Truck Series auto race, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • Rusty Wallace speaks before the start of the NASCAR Truck Series auto race, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In mid-October, Granite State race fans with disposable income and a desire for speed will have the chance to ride along, or even turn some laps themselves, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. One of the former NASCAR champion’s post-driving business ventures, it’s called the “Rusty Wallace Racing Experience.”

But the real Rusty Wallace experience includes a quarter century behind the wheel at the highest level of stock car racing, 55 Sprint Cup victories, the 1989 Cup title, 36 poles, more than $49 million in career earnings, induction into the NASCAR Hall

of Fame and now a successful second career as one of the lead analysts on the ESPN team that’ll telecast Sunday’s Sylvania 300 from Loudon – so in advance of that race, there are probably few better brains to pick about the state of the sport, the status of its playoff Chase, and what to look for this weekend.

Ever-opinionated and informed, here’s what Wallace had to say on a variety of topics when reached this week – including the sanctioning body’s response to the point-manipulating scandal in the final pre-Chase race:

On how badly NASCAR needs a good show this week after the controversies coming out of Richmond:

“Yeah, they do. Everybody needs a good, clean, competitive show – but they’re not in trouble by any means. I really think that what Brian France has done needs to be commended. Whether you agree or disagree with what he did, he really laid the gauntlet down.

“Whether it was the right change or the wrong change, he made a change. People said I wouldn’t have done this, or I wouldn’t have done that – and in order to protect the integrity of the sport he did something. He sure wasn’t going to mess with any of that (expletive) whatsoever. I really like what Brian did.”

On whether, as a Hall of Famer, he thinks protecting the integrity of the sport should be a priority for France:

“It is very, very important. People that really don’t know about NASCAR might’ve rolled their eyes and said, ‘What is that all about?’ but they figured it out. It’s unfortunate that a couple of guys pressed the system and caused this massive reaction, but I’ll guarantee you that none of the guys that caused this to start would ever have done this if they knew what the outcome was.

“I think they thought they were just helping their teammates, but they never realized how bad of an impact this was going to have. The way I look at it is that we all learned a huge lesson. I’ve seen this stuff done in the past and people get away with it. The problem is it was condensed; it was seven laps to go, and the same organization (Michael Waltrip Racing) did two things wrong. If you take those individual things and place them at different times in the race, you say, ‘So what? It’s happened before.’

“It was extreme pressure. None of them are bad guys. It was just a bad deal.”

On NASCAR’s new restart procedures, which allow the second-place car to beat the leader to the start/finish line:

“I thought that the old restart procedures were (expletive). I didn’t like them, where the second-place guy couldn’t beat the first-place guy to the start/finish line.

“I always hated it when I got a good restart and the leader spun his tires. What am I supposed to do? Back up to the guy? They threw that out. That’s good. As soon as somebody nails the throttle, the race is on, even if the leader spins his tires – and that could come into play at New Hampshire, because everybody spins tires on restarts.”

On his general impressions of the Chase for the Cup after last week’s rain-interrupted playoff opener:

“Because of all the strange conditions that happened in Chicago, it’s really hard to say what’s going to happen. All the rain. The race was supposed to run during the day; it was run at night.

“But I will tell you this: The super teams rise under super-extreme conditions. There were extreme conditions at Chicago because of rules changes and all the crazy stuff that came along from Richmond, and the big thing performance-wise was the rain, and the cool track temperatures, the night racing, and the change in conditions that you had to adjust to – and Joe Gibbs Racing did. They adjusted real well. Not only did one guy win, but they both had top-two finishes. They really threw the gauntlet down and said, ‘We’re serious.’

“I tell you, this really could be the year for Kyle Busch. The kid has really matured, he’s really a changed person. He really has faith in his life right now, which probably hasn’t been in his life that much in the past, but I think Joe Gibbs has probably helped him with that. He’s really focused. He always had problems, but this time he didn’t.”

On why New Hampshire is important:

“The thing that makes New Hampshire key is that even though it’s a one-mile racetrack, you have to lay a great foundation down right off the bat. You’ve got to run good at Chicago. You’ve got to run good at Loudon. You’ve got to run good at the next track after that, Dover. And if you don’t, it is almost impossible to catch back up.”

On how much he looks at July in previewing this race:

“I looked at July’s race quite a bit, and one thing I looked at in July’s race is who was really good throughout the day, it was Kurt Busch. He dominated the damn race. He led 102 laps. He was really getting it done at that particular racetrack – but realize this is only the second race with the Gen-6 car at this racetrack, and now all those teams have a notebook of what happened.

“Bad for (winner) Brian Vickers, and bad for Kurt Busch; the rest of them know what they did wrong, now they’ll make those adjustments. I think when we go back this weekend the race is going to look completely different. It’s going to be a huge track when it comes to track position, so the strategy, there might be two-tire calls, there might be let’s stay out or let’s stay early. There may be more strategy going on than at most racetracks.

“And I think there’s one thing that’s going to be a lot of banging going on. I think there’s going to be some wrecks, there’s going to be some excitement, because we’re back to short-track racing.”

On who might be a sleeper as a contender:

“I think Jeff Gordon. He’s been up and down, but he’s got some damn good momentum right now. That kid is jacked up – I call him a kid still, how about that? – but he’s smiling like crazy, he’s got more fight in him than I’ve seen in a long time.”

On if he’s sticking with his prediction that Jimmie Johnson would win the Chase:

“Well, I’m not backing off of him right yet. He’s just so damn strong. Right off the bat he comes out of his slump. He had a great run, he was fast throughout the day at Chicago, and he brought her home. Kasey Kahne, his teammate, gets in a wreck off pit road. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. gets in a wreck off pit road and blows up. Jimmie Johnson just goes through totally unscathed.”

On his prediction for Sunday:

“Let me see practice, let me see what’s going on, let me see who feels comfortable and who doesn’t feel comfortable. But that little team of Kurt Busch, man, that son of a gun, that baby is really getting it done.”

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