This weekend, ESPN kicks off its coverage of the final 17 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. No better place to start than the Brickyard, right? Well, perhaps, there is no better person to talk about ESPN's coverage than Rusty Wallace.
Wallace, who climbed out of his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for the last time at the end of the 2005 NASCAR Cup Series season, was named auto racing analyst for ESPN in December 2005. He won 55 races in NASCAR's top series and was the 1989 NASCAR Cup champion.
In his last year on the NASCAR circuit, every race facility honored Wallace and nine race facilities offer permanent dedications to his career.
Trading Paint: So ESPN is back, are you ready?
Rusty Wallace: I am. I am really pumped up about it. We’re rested up and ready to go because now we do all of the NASCAR races and I’m pumped up about it. We’re all in position. The team is ready.
TP: You guys look like you have a good time during your broadcast. I know it's work, but it's fun too, isn't it?
RW: We have a good time, we are all friends. Brad Daugherty and I get a long so good it’s amazing. Allen Bestwick is great. I get upset when I see it written somewhere that Wallace doesn’t get a long with his partners. We're friends. We go to dinner a lot. They’d take a bullet for me and I would take a bullet for them.
TP: You return to the Brickyard. Talk about the atmosphere there.
RW: I finished second there three times, it’s an electric atmosphere. To me, it's one of the Big 3 -- Daytona 500, Coca Cola 600 and The Brickyard 400. Everyone who goes to the Brickyard brings their best stuff, their best car. Whoever wins that race gives you an indication of who is strong enough to go on and win the championship. If you win at Indy, that sets the tone.
TP: Who do you like in the race?
RW: I think my dark horse for the race is Jamie McMurray. He won the Daytona 500 and was second in the Coca Cola 600. The history, I think, is favoring team Penske and Kurt Busch. But, also, you can never count out Jimmie Johnson at that track.
TP: What about the championship, can Jimmie do it again?
RW: I am honestly looking at a race between Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch. I think those four teams are the teams in the best position to grab the title.
TP: In our state, we have Watkins Glen, can you talk about racing there.
RW: I’ve got many fantastic memories up there. When you get to go to that racetrack it’s like you are going to a resort. We meet different people. We see different things. We stay at nice little hotels up there. They have the museum with all the artifacts from motorsports world-wide in it. The Miller Lite No. 2 car is now in the museum. I love Watkins Glen.
TP: Let me ask you about another favorite track of ours, Darlington?
RW: Darlington, when I first got there, it's one of the toughest racetracks on the whole circuit. I would listen to the drivers like David Pearson, who used to say, every time we went to Darlington, 'You have to race the track.' You have to give that track so much focus. You can't worry so much about what the other drivers are doing. All of a sudden, you try to pass a car and you are going to hit the wall. I tell my son [Nationwide driver Steve Wallace] if you start over driving it, you'll hit the wall.
TP: It must be a lot of fun to travel the circuit as a broadcaster and have your son racing too.
RW: It really is. We travel a lot. But when I work for ESPN, when I am in that booth, I am not showing favoritism. I call what I see on racetrack. I don’t the let my ownership or fatherhood impact I what do. I really like being a car owner and being an announcer too.
TP: How do you feel the Danica Patrick experiment is working out?
RW: I think it's really good for the sport. I told Danica, you have to be ready for a three-year learning experience. Montoya is in his fourth season and now he’s getting it. I think when it's all said and done and if she's consistently in the top 20, that’s a great season for her. You can't expect her, in her very first season, to start beating everyone. You need a lot of patience.
TP: How hard is it to switch back and forth from IndyCar to NASCAR?
RW: It’s very, very difficult. I think at the end of the year, she needs to make her mind up and either run NASCAR or INDY. I think it’s too hard to do both. You can't part-time it. That’s a tough decision for her.