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NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura-Lube 500 Preview: #2, Rusty Wallace

29 October 1997

 #2 Rusty Wallace, Miller Lite Ford Thunderbird 
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 Dura-Lube 500 Presented by Kmart Advance
 Phoenix International Raceway

        After "Martinsville Mayhem," Race Offers Another Chance 
                    For "Ronnie" To Exit As A Winner

PHOENIX - Life's strangest mysteries...

The Great Pyramids. Stonehenge. The Dead Sea Scrolls. The Holy Shroud of
Turin. The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The Bermuda Triangle. Rusty
Wallace still being winless at Phoenix International Raceway.

Inasmuch as the first half-dozen of these enigmas continue to boggle minds,
the fact that Wallace, NASCAR racing's preeminent "flat track master," has 
yet to win on the flat one-mile Phoenix oval is almost equally puzzling.

Simply put, Wallace's career boasts "steep grades" on flat tracks. PIR is the
lone exception.

>From his early racing career when he was recording win after win on most every
flat short track in the nation in USAC Stock Car and then ASA (American Speed
Association) competition, Wallace has since honed his penchant on the
big-league flat tracks.  

It came as no surprise that Wallace claimed victory in the inaugural Winston
Cup race held on the flat (12-degree banked) New Hampshire International
Speedway back in 1993. (That he won it from the 33rd starting spot was a bit
amazing.) The track has become a stronghold for him since that win.

But, puzzling as it is, Wallace enters Sunday's Dura-Lube 500, his 10th start
on the flat (turns 1 & 2 banked 11 degrees, turns 3 & 4 banked 9 degrees)
Phoenix track, still looking for his initial win. In the nine prior races, he
has recorded three top five finishes and two pole positions,

"I've never been one to categorize my style (finesse) in racing because we've
had success on just about every shape and size of race track," said Wallace,
driver of the Miller Lite Team Penske Ford Thunderbird. "But, the fact that 
we have been to Phoenix nine times and haven't been able to take the winner's
trophy home yet is pretty surprising to say the least.

"We've seen so much success on tracks like Phoenix through the years. We 
really had the program dialed in at the flat Milwaukee Mile back during the
USAC and ASA days. Heck, we even kicked butt on the flat one-mile dirt track
at DuQuoin, Ill., years ago. When they added the Loudon (New Hampshire
International Speedway) track to the schedule back in '93, that proved to be a
big bonus for me personally and especially our team from a performance view.
So, I guess you could say that going this long without taking a Phoenix win
could be considered somewhat a mystery."

But, just as quick as Wallace was to label his record a Phoenix phenomenon, he
was equally fast in pointing out the potential wins that slipped through his

"I guess all you have to do is look at the statistics and you see that it's
been a strange deal," said Wallace. "When you see that we've started on the
pole twice, that says something in itself. I'm not known as a great
qualifier...I'm the first to admit it...but the fact is that we've never
qualified out of the top 10 at Phoenix should say something. Then, when you
see that we've run in the top five three times with no other top-10 finishes,
that tells you that it's either been pretty good or real bad for us in the
Phoenix races.  

"What it amounts to is that we've had so many strong runs there only to have
all kinds of crap kill our chances for winning. We've led a ton of races and
led a ton of laps. But, just when it looks like we have everybody covered,
something comes around to bite us. Man, the first race that comes to mind as
an example of that was when we brought a brand new car out there several years
ago (1992, with the car that was to become "Midnight Rider"), led the most
laps (161, after sitting on the pole), had a half-lap lead on the entire
field...and then had an electrical problem that put us behind the wall for
several laps fixing it. That was a real heart-breaker, I'll tell you that.

"We had a good car there last year and a shot at winning the thing, only to
have the oil pump quit on us just about half way through (started ninth and 
exited after 151 laps, finishing 40th). That's what I'm talking about. Through
the years, we've been so close. We're looking for this to be the year that we
finally break on through."

Giving Wallace and his Robin Pemberton-led team an extra dose of confidence
and desire for this weekend's Phoenix action is the fact that they will again
be using the car known as "Ronnie."

"The original plan was to retire the car after the race last month at
Martinsville," explained Pemberton. "The fact that the race ended in such a
fiasco (Wallace was black-flagged while leading with some 20 laps remaining
for jumping a restart and relegated to a 15th-place finish) plus that the car
has performed so well on the flat tracks...we only had to take another look at
the car when we got it back to the shop from Martinsville when we decided to
run it again at Phoenix. It would be great if we could retire it in Victory
Lane. It's been a real workhorse for us and deserves to go out in style,
that's for sure."

Qualifying sessions for Sunday's Dura-Lube 500 are set for Friday at 1:30 p.m.
(positions 1-25) and Saturday at 11:00 a.m. (completing potential 43-car
starting field). Sunday's 500-kilometer, 312-lap race has a scheduled 12:00
noon (MST) starting time and will feature live coverage by TNN and MRN Radio.

This weekend's racing action will indeed be the last time Wallace, Pemberton,
and crew roll out their "PR-16" race car, the racer named "Ronnie" in honor of
late chassis builder Ronnie Hopkins. (Note the car's race history below.)

               HISTORY OF THE PR-16 RACE CAR ("RONNIE")

The PR-16 was built originally with the intentions of racing it at Indy in
1994. It was not used there. The car was reworked for a Phoenix tire test in
1994, but not raced there. The car was not used in actual Winston Cup
competition until Rusty raced it in the spring race at North Wilkesboro during
the 1995 season. Here is the car's race record:

  4/9/95   N. Wilkesboro/400 laps   11      4              2/56
  4/23/95  Martinsville/500 laps    15      1#             3/175*
  7/9/95   New Hampshire/300 laps   20      6              1/1
  9/9/95   Richmond/400 laps         7      1              4/254*
  9/24/95  Martinsville/500 laps     6      3              3/53
  10/1/95  N. Wilkesboro/400 laps   18      2              0/0
  3/3/96   Richmond/400 laps        14      7              2/26
  4/14/96  N. Wilkesboro/400 laps   12     33@             3/119
  4/23/96  Martinsville/500 laps     5      1              4/164
  9/22/96  Martinsville/500 laps     2     36%             1/35
  9/29/96  N. Wilkesboro/400 laps    9     10              3/43
  4/20/97  Martinsville/500         15      5              0/0
  9/28/97  Martinsville/500          7     15?             3/220*

  Totals: 13 races, 3 wins, 7 top-5 finishes, 10 top-10 finishes

 # In Penske tradition, car was named after its first win. Rusty named the car
   "Ronnie" in the Victory Lane ceremony in honor of chassis builder Ronnie 
   Hopkins. Hopkins had succumbed to cancer on the Friday before the race.

 * Car led most laps in these races.

 @ Crashed while leading race with 30 laps remaining. Car was repaired
   enough to re-enter race. New "clips" put on after this race.

 % Broken water pump caused car's first and only DNF.

 ? After leading most laps, AS LEADER, black-flagged for "jumping restart"
   with some 20 laps to go.

By Tom Roberts Public Relations