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NASCAR Winston Cup Series Mountain Dew 500 Preview: #2, Rusty Wallace

28 August 1997

 #2 Rusty Wallace, Miller Lite Ford Thunderbird 
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 Mountain Dew Southern 500 Advance
 Darlington Raceway

DARLINGTON, SC -It was an unusual conversation between Miller Lite Team 
Penske driver Rusty Wallace and crew chief Robin Pemberton last Friday.

"Hey a chameleon can change its colors, but it's still the same creature when 
it's all said and done," said Pemberton.

"Yeah, you might somewhere find a freaky skunk with the white stripe up his 
belly instead of down his back, but he'll still spray you, you can count on 
that," offered Wallace. "And you're gonna' stink just as bad, regardless of 
where his stripe is located."

What's this? Have driver and crew chief secretly enrolled in Zoology 101 
night courses at Davidson College, the institute of higher learning near 
their race shop?

No, actually it was part of the dialogue between the two as they discussed 
Darlington Raceway and the changes made there since the March NASCAR Winston 
Cup race. Immediately after the March 23 TranSouth 400 had concluded, track 
officials began the process of switching things around for this Sunday's
Mountain Dew Southern 500.  What was the backstretch is now the frontstretch 
and vice-versa.

Wallace's analogy between the track and the skunk was perhaps a bit unusual, 
but appropriate. The Darlington track, regardless of the placement of the 
start/finish stripe, most certainly will continue the notoriety of taking its 
toll on man and machine.

"No matter what they do, moving the frontstretch to the backstretch and 
moving the start/finish line over to what was the backstretch, it'll be the 
same old Darlington, I'll guarantee you that," said Wallace. "It's the 
treacherous old place that lives up to its reputation. You have to race the
track all day, 'cause one little slip and the place will bite you bad.

"About the only thing that'll be different will be guys will probably have a 
rough time explaining where a car picked up its famous 'Darlington Stripe,'" 
said Wallace. "They always used to talk about that treacherous turn four.  
Now they'll have to refer to it as the treacherous turn two. That may even
have a better ring to it, if you stop and think about it. Regardless, the 
bottom line is that it'll probably be confusing there for the first race 
since they changed the place around."

Another thing that won't be any different this time around is the fact that 
Wallace is eager for success there. Darlington is one of only a handful of 
tracks that he has yet to conquer on the Winston Cup tour.

"Yes, we're still looking for our first Winston Cup win at Darlington, but 
we've been awfully close," said Wallace. "We've had a bunch of top-fives and 
top-10s since this team was formed and we had a couple of runner-up finishes 
back during the Blue Max days."

In 27 career races on the historical 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval track, 
Wallace has the two runner-up finishes along with eight other top-10 finishes 
(10 top-fives total) and 15 top-10 finishes. He started 15th and finished 
sixth in the March TranSouth 500. His third-place finish in the 1995 Mountain 
Dew Southern 500 is his best performance to date since the team changed from 
Pontiac to Ford race cars entering the 1994 season.

"I really enjoy racing at Darlington, even though we've yet to put the big 
numbers up on the board," said Wallace, named the "Rookie of the Race" during 
his first Southern 500 in 1984 when he drove from an 18th-place start to a 
fourth-place finish. "The place is such a challenge. Before my driving days 
are through, I'm determined to win one of these things at Darlington. It's 
such a big part of the NASCAR history. It'd be a great thrill to take the 
checkered flag on Sunday and go down in the record books as being the first 
driver to win with the track's new deal."

Are there any changes in strategy for Sunday's Darlington race?

"We're using the same car that we raced at Darlington in the spring race," 
said Wallace of the PR-18, the car named "R.P." after winning the March race 
at Richmond, Va. "There may be a little different approach in the restarts, 
but I don't think anything will really change much. Like I said, Darlington
will always be Darlington...regardless. One thing we'll probably do 
differently, though, is have the spotter call out the turns during our pace 
laps leading up to the green flag. We'll have to for sure get everyone on the 
same page as far as referring to the new turn two as turn two and turn four 
as turn four and so on."

Qualifying for Sunday's 47th Annual Mountain Dew Southern 500 is set for 
sessions on Friday at 3:00 p.m. (for positions 1-20) and Saturday at 11:30 
a.m. (to complete the potential 43-car starting field) Sunday's 500-mile, 
367-lap race has a 1:00 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by
ESPN and MRN Radio.

By Tom Roberts Public Relations