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Chase Elliott: Returning to the No. 9 is ‘getting back home to me’

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For Chase Elliott, the number on the side of his Cup car is a big deal.

But it’s still just a number.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver will once again compete under the banner of the No. 9. It’s the numeral his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, raced with for much of his Cup career and which Chase Elliott competed with for two years in the Xfinity Series, winning the 2014 title.

Chase Elliott returns to the number after two seasons in Cup driving the No. 24 made famous by Jeff Gordon.

Chase Elliott during the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. (Chevrolet)

But the 22-year-old driver has no illusions about his car number leading to more success, including his elusive first Cup win.

“At the end of the day is it going to make me go any faster?  No, probably not,” Elliott said Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Do I think it looks better?  Yes, I do. Is it my favorite number? Yes, it is.  Has it always been my favorite number? Yes, it has been. So, all those things are great. I’m very lucky and honored to carry the number that I’ve carried for a number of years before this year, so it’s like getting back home to me from that sense.

“But no, I don’t think it’s going to make me go any faster or slower.  I wish it did make us go faster.  I would love that, but unfortunately numbers don’t.”

The native of Dawsonville, Georgia, will make his 78th Cup start with the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. Even though he made it to the third round of the Cup playoffs last season, it was despite not earning a win. He came close twice in the playoffs, at Dover and Martinsville.

At Dover, he was passed by Kyle Busch for the lead coming to the white flag. Martinsville was the site of the now infamous run-in with Denny Hamlin, who hit Elliott and sent him into the wall as he led with two laps to go in the scheduled distance.

It led to a heated confrontation between the drivers.

Elliott got a bit of revenge two races later at Phoenix, when an aggressive battle saw Elliott force Hamlin into the outside wall, which resulted in a cut tire for Hamlin and an impact with the wall.

How will Elliott choose his battles in the looming season? He reiterated his mantra from last season that he’ll “race guys as they race me.”

“I mean I think it’s circumstantial,” Elliott said. “I think in life in general you can’t let people run over you and let them get away with it otherwise they are just going to keep doing it. I think that is just a part of life.  If you let somebody control you too much they are probably going to take advantage of you as it goes on. That happens in work places every day.  It happens in racing, I’m sure it happens in football, baseball, basketball, the whole deal.

” … I want to beat people the right way because I think at the end of the day racing people the right way and doing it with respect is probably going to make them more mad than it would if you did something dirty to get by them.”

With the retirement of former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott is now in the position of possibly being voted NASCAR’s most popular driver. Whoever gets the nod, they’ll be first new driver to win the recognition since Earnhardt began his 15-year stretch in 2003.

Entering his third full-time Cup season, Elliott said he’s not planning on changing who he is for the sake of others, especially when it comes to his social media presence.

“I’m not as active as a lot of people are on Twitter,” said Elliott, who has the eighth-most followers among Cup drivers on Twitter. “I think that is just because that is the way my personality is. I’m not going to jump out of the box of my personality to appease other people, never have been that way and I’m not going to be that way.  I have been very lucky to have had some great supporters over the past couple of years. … Look, I want people to if they want to pull for me or like me … because of who I am and the person I am and the way I carry myself.  If I’m not the right guy for somebody, then hey, there are 39 other people to choose from and I think that is your choice, so I will respect it either way.”

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Jeff Gordon among seven to be inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

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Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on March 13.

Gordon, who retired from full-time competition after 2015, will be among seven men inducted into the Hall of Fame at the The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The 2018 class is the 30th induction class for the institution. Its first induction class was in 1989

The MSHFA is the only American motorsports hall of fame that acknowledges cars, motorcycles, off-road, powerboats and airplanes.

That’s how to best explain why Gordon will be inducted with aviation pioneer and billionaire Howard Hughes.

“Our inductee classes are always intriguing but this year is even more so,” MSHFA President Ron Watson said in a press release. “Howard Hughes and Jeff Gordon in the same class – that is probably the best example we’ve ever had to illustrate the breadth of our inductee roll.”

Also included in the class are drag racing car builder John Buttera, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl G. Fisher, motorcycle great Fred Merkel, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion owner U.E. Pat Patrick and sports car legend Bob Tullius.

Here’s a look at all seven inductees:

  • John Buttera   “Lil John” built championship-winning dragsters, funny cars and pro stocks for the biggest names in the sport in the 1960s and ‘70s, including Danny Ongais, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Don Schumacher. The late Kenosha, Wisconsin, native moved to California after a chance meeting with 1990 MSHFA inductee Mickey Thompson at the 1969 U.S. Nationals. Characteristics of a Buttera car were simplicity, elegant design, a wicked stance and flawless craftsmanship. His cars not only looked amazing, they won races and championships. Later, Buttera built award-winning street rods and motorcycles and helped pioneer billet wheels and components. In 1987, on a shoestring budget, he redesigned a castoff Eagle chassis which qualified on the third row at the Indy 500, winning him the prestigious Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. During the 80s and 90s, Buttera designed parts and components for Edelbrock, Harley-Davidson, Bonspeed and others. He was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Carl G. Fisher – The late Carl Graham Fisher is best known as the man who created the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Earlier, the Greensburg, Indiana, native helped popularize the automobile by competing against Barney Oldfield and others in a series of lucrative exhibitions on Midwest fairground tracks beginning in 1902. He repeatedly urged automakers to support plans for speedways, where they could prove the reliability of their products. When that failed, he persuaded three business associates to join him in the 1909 construction of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, serving as its president until 1923. Among his lesser-known activities were his leadership roles in the Prest-O-Lite company, which produced headlights for almost every early American automobile; the transcontinental Lincoln and Dixie Highways; and the establishment of Miami Beach as a resort destination. Fisher was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1952.
  • Jeff Gordon  Jeff Gordon changed the face of NASCAR when he entered the sport in the 1990s. The Vallejo, California, native is third all-time in NASCAR Cup Series wins (93) behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Gordon is fourth all-time in Cup titles with four (1995, ‘97, ‘98, 2001), behind seven-time champions Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon won three Daytona 500 (1997, ‘99, 2005), five Brickyard 400s and six Southern 500. He also set an “Iron Man” record with 797 consecutive starts. Gordon began racing quarter midgets at the age of 5 and by age 6 had won 35 main events. He was 1990 USAC National Midget Series champion, 1991 USAC Silver Crown champ and Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year. He was the Cup Rookie of the Year in 1993. Gordon was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • Howard Hughes – One of the world’s richest men, the late Howard Robard Hughes Jr. formed Hughes Aircraft in 1932, set numerous records and built some of the world’s most advanced planes (Hughes H-1 Racer, H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” and XF-11). Born in Texas, Hughes showed mechanical aptitude early, building Houston’s first “wireless” radio transmitter as the age of 11. After dropping out of Rice University, he produced films, including the seminal flying film, Hell’s Angels(1930). In 1935, he flew his H-1 to a land plane speed record (352 mph). In 1937, he beat his own transcontinental record, (Los Angeles to New York), in 7:28:25. In 1938, he circled the globe in 91 hours, obliterating Wiley Post’s 1933 mark. His aviation awards included the Harmon Trophy (1936, ’38), Collier Trophy, FAI Bibesco Cup (1938), Octave Chanute Award (1940) and a 1939 Congressional Gold Medal “for achievements in advancing the science of aviation and thus bringing great credit to his country throughout the world.” He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973.
  • Fred Merkel  “Flying Fred” is an American road racing legend, winning two FIM Superbike World Championships (1988-89), three AMA Superbike Championships (1984-86) and setting multiple records along the way. The charismatic Stockton, California native started out riding on dirt but quickly moved to pavement. In 1983, he registered the first of his 20 AMA Superbike victories, a record that stood until 1998. In 1984 he won a record 10 Superbike races in a single season and his first of three straight AMA titles. That same year he teamed with fellow Honda rider Mike Baldwin to win the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race. In 1988, Merkel won the inaugural Superbike World Championship and successfully defended the crown the following year. Merkel returned to the U.S. in 1994 to ride for Kawasaki, then Suzuki – bikes considered past their primes but on which he nevertheless turned in scintillating performances. He retired at the end of the 1995 season after a crash at Firebird International Raceway. Merkel was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2001.
  • U.E. “Pat” Patrick  “Pat” Patrick made his fortune as a wildcat oilman and made his mark in open-wheel racing. His teams won three Indianapolis 500s and two IndyCar titles. Patrick began as a sponsor in 1967. By 1970 he was a partner in a team and by 1973 owned his own operation. His three Indy wins came with Gordon Johncock (1973, ‘82) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1989). The same duo brought him two championships, with Johncock in 1976 and Fittipaldi in 1989. Always looking for an edge, Patrick commissioned his own cars in the late 1970s, named Wildcats in deference to his roots. Patrick was also among the car owners who established the breakaway Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) sanctioning body. The directors, which included Hall of Famers A.J. Foyt, Jim Hall, Dan Gurney and Roger Penske, elected Patrick their first president. Patrick also led the effort to form the Indy Lights series in 1986. Today, Patrick still strives to innovate through alternative fuel-powered racing engines. He was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.
  • Bob Tullius  Tullius created the model for the modern American amateur sports car team and built Group 44 into one of the most successful ever. Group 44 was the first to combine manufacturer support (British Leyland), title sponsorship (Quaker State), immaculate preparation, ubiquitous branding (from transporter to cars to uniforms) and lots of speed. The two-time Trans-Am and four-time SCCA national champion began his career in the early 60s driving white Triumph TR4s wearing No. 44. Over the next 25-plus years, green-and-white Group 44 cars would net more than 300 victories in club racing, Trans-Am and IMSA GTP competition, plus capture 14 national titles and three Trans-Am championships, many of them with Tullius behind the wheel. The team’s self-built Jaguar GTP car won four races in 1983 against the dominant Porsche 935s — with Tullius finishing second in points — and the ‘86 season finale at Daytona. In 1988, the team ran Audi’s Trans-Am program, taking eight out of 13 races and the drivers’ championship for Hurley Haywood. Tullius was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2014.

Racing full-time in World of Outlaws remains Kyle Larson’s ultimate career goal

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Kyle Larson wanted to race with his NASCAR racing heroes, but he didn’t need to.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver discussed what his auto racing career goals were last week on the official World of Outlaws podcast, “Open Red.”

The 25-year-old driver was a guest on the show prior to his trip to New Zealand for a six race sprint car tour, which began with proposing to his girlfriend.

Early in the one-hour show, Larson was asked if competing in NASCAR had been always been the ultimate goal for the dirt racer from Elk Grove, California.

He gave an honest answer.

“As everybody knows, there’s a lot of money in the sport (NASCAR), and you know you can make a good living,” Larson said. “So yeah, I wanted to make it to NASCAR. So throughout the 2011 season I had opportunities to go Indy Lights racing and stuff like that, but I just wasn’t into that. I grew up watching Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and you wanted to race with them.”

Larson did get to do that, making his Cup debut in 2013. He’ll head to Daytona in February to start his fifth full-time season in the series.

“NASCAR is where I wanted to make it, but I would have been perfectly fine if I didn’t make it either,” Larson continued. “I’d probably be on the Outlaw (sprint car) tour probably right now, racing and loving life … I would say racing on the World of Outlaws tour full-time is my main goal; NASCAR’s just the step to get there.”

As part of his deal with Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson is permitted to compete in 25 dirt races a year. While he won a career-best four Cup races in 2017, he also won multiple times in sprint cars, including six in a row at one point.

While the topic of Larson potentially competing in the Indianapolis 500 has come up multiple times in the last year, it wasn’t Larson’s answer when asked on “Open Red” what forms of racing he’s still eager to give a try.

“I would say a dirt late model is probably at the top of my list of cars I have not yet raced,” Larson said. “There’s plenty of stuff. But then like I said, I only got 25 (sprint car) races. So I’ve got people who approach me asking if I want to run their car and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but I can’t because I want to race the sprint car more.’ It stinks that I have to pick and choose a lot.”

Earlier this month Larson announced he was taking over full ownership of the World of Outlaws team he had co-owned with Justin Marks.

With Matt Kenseth retirement, Jamie McMurray knows his time in NASCAR is limited

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Jamie McMurray knows his time is coming.

At some point in the not too distant future, the book will close on his NASCAR career.

It took the somewhat-forced retirement of Matt Kenseth, who McMurray raced against beginning in Late Models in 1994, for him to come to terms with that.

Kenseth’s career ended after 18 full-time seasons in the Cup Series, the first coming in 2000. His last start, in the 2017 finale, came at the age of 45 and with him as the oldest full-time driver on the circuit.

Paired with the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr., it was the latest in long line of departures from the sport in the last three years, including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick and the surprise retirement of Carl Edwards last January.

“With Matt this year, it probably hit home the most, just because I’m such good friends with Matt,” McMurray said last month during Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. “I know how much he loved racing. It was awesome he was able to win at Phoenix this year in his last year. It’s kind of sad, honestly. I came in not long after those guys, so your days are somewhat numbered.”

The driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 Chevrolet has a rough target date he has in mind for exiting the spotlight he stepped into in 2002. That year he won his second Cup start while driving for an injured Sterling Marlin.

“My goal is to be able to race for maybe four more years, maybe a little bit more,” McMurray said.

If McMurray get his wish, that would have him exiting the Cup Series by at least the end of 2021, 19 years after his first start. Having turned 41 last June, he would be 45 at the end of that season.

Of the recently retired, Biffle came into the Cup Series full-time in 2003 with McMurray. Edwards made 13 starts in 2004 before his full rookie season in 2005. Like Kenseth, Earnhardt’s rookie year came in 2000.

McMurray, who has seven Cup wins, is one of five drivers remaining in Cup who competed full-time in 2003.

Joining him are Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

Newman and Johnson enter their 17th full-time Cup seasons.

Busch and Harvick enter their 18th full-time seasons.

Elliott Sadler also raced full-time in 2003. He will again be driving for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

Four years may seem a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it. How does McMurray anticipate dealing with having to make the decision on when to walk away? He’ll be taking notes from the recently retired.

“I will watch them for the next few years,” McMurray said. “I watched Biffle this year with it being his first year out of the sport. You watch that transition, because there’s some unknowns there of, we are so busy. Everybody in our industry is so busy every single weekend. You hear everyone talk about how hard it is to step away because of how much time you all of a sudden have. You have time for things you didn’t used to. It’s sad in a way.”

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Catching up with Rusty Wallace: From Blue Deuce days to today

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When he retired from the rigors of more than a quarter century of NASCAR Cup racing at the end of 2005, Rusty Wallace envisioned a slower pace of life, less work, more time with his family and the ability to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Instead, Wallace is busier these days than he ever has been – and he’s loving every minute of it.

An average week is anything but average for the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. He might start Monday in Daytona performing board of director duties for the NASCAR Foundation.

The next day, Wallace, who has been in the car dealership business for the last 27 years, might be in Eastern Tennessee, checking on his seven auto dealerships that are on track to sell as many as 14,000 cars in 2017.

The following day, he could be on the West Coast, giving a speech, or checking in with the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience (RaceWithRusty.com). Thursday, he may be back home in his native Missouri, checking out a short tr

ack race. And Friday, he may make an appearance as an official ambassador for International Speedway Corporation then head back in his adopted home state of North Carolina.

Then, during the racing season, he’s likely to spend Saturday and Sunday at most ISC racetracks, serving as an analyst on Motor Racing Network broadcasts of NASCAR Cup races.

Heck, given all the things he’s doing, maybe Wallace should go back to racing to get some relaxation time.

Oh wait, he already is.

“I still feel like I can get in a car and run and give good feedback and be competitive at the age of 61,” Wallace told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “One of the most fun things I did was last year when I was asked to compete in the Ferrari Finali Mondiali, which is the big Ferrari race, for the first time at Daytona International Speedway.

“There were 123 cars show up and I finished 10th. I was pretty proud of that. The other fun thing I did was driving for Robby Gordon in the X Games. I literally got my ass kicked and had it handed to me. I ended up flipping the truck in the race, but I had so much damn fun that it was unreal. But I really learned to respect guys like Ken Block, Robby Gordon, some of those big names.”

WHAT LIFE IS LIKE TODAY

Wallace used to think he was living the good life when he was competing in NASCAR Cup, a career that saw him make 706 career starts, earn 55 wins, 202 top fives and 349 top 10s, earning nearly $50 million in winnings and capturing the 1989 Cup championship, the only time he ever did that.

But since stepping out of the legendary Blue Deuce after the 2005 season, Wallace’s plate keeps getting fuller and fuller. Yet he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I love doing all that,” he said. “I stay super busy and I’m real super happy. My personal life is better than it’s ever been. My wife Patty and I are having the greatest time.

“I was talking to Roger Penske the other day and I said ‘Everything is going great.’ He looked at his team guys and asked, ‘Why aren’t we doing great.’ That was pretty funny.

“I’ve found life after racing and I’ve got to meet a lot of real cool people and I’m having a great time.”

SO MANY MEMORIES, SO MANY STORIES

Wallace wasn’t only a great race car driver and fan favorite, he also is one of the sport’s most prolific storytellers. His memory is crystal clear, recalling things from 40 or more years ago when he was just starting to get into racing.

When asked what is his favorite story in racing, Wallace goes way back – nearly 35 years – to his pre-NASCAR days.

“I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all the help from the late Dick Trickle that got me into this sport,” Wallace said. “He taught me a ton about the car and never lied to me. He was an open book.

“Any time I learned about my ASA car on the short tracks, the bullrings of America, I always shared it with Dick.

“In 1983, I decided I was so fed up with what I was doing, I didn’t feel like I was building any credentials. My name was out there, everybody knew about it, ‘Rusty’s done this or done that, but Rusty never had a major title.’ I felt like I needed that major title.

The immortal Blue Deuce brought Wallace great success, including the final win of his Cup career in 2004 at Martinsville Speedway.

“I shared that with Trickle and said, ‘I want to get out there and kick ass.’ He said, ‘You’ll have to get past me first, but kid, I’ll help you.’ So in 1983, my mentor and teacher was going for the championship and I’m also going for it.

“When it was all said and done, he never lied to me one time. He told me every setup he had, and I told him every setup I had. And when it came down to it, I won the 1983 ASA championship, he finished second and I think I beat him like 10 points. It was one of the tightest margins around. He gave me a big, old hug and congratulated and said he never lied to me. Two weeks later, the phone rings and it was Cliff Stewart, wanting to give me a Cup ride (Wallace began his first full season in Cup racing in the No. 88 Gatorade Pontiac in 1984).

“That’s how it started. It all started with the late Dick Trickle taking me under his wings and winning that championship. He respected it, he actually loved it. He and I were pretty tight and he was a great guy, a man who won over 1,000 races. Just unbelievable.”

WALLACE’S LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH DALE EARNHARDT SR.

When asked who was his favorite and least favorite competitor in his NASCAR career, Wallace responded with somewhat of a curve ball – but one that is definitely entertaining.

“Is it possible to have the same guy for both?” Wallace said with a laugh. “My favorite competitor was the late Dale Sr., because if you beat him, you were recognized around the world that you have really done something, because he was always known as being the best.

“My least favorite competitor was Dale Sr., as well. When I looked in my rearview mirror and I’d say to myself, ‘Ah crap, I’m going to have to deal with this guy again. Here we go. It was like wrestling a bull. I never have, but it felt that way. I’ve had him all over me, trying to intimidate me. So, he was my favorite and my least favorite.”

For all the times Wallace and Earnhardt tangled at places like Daytona, Talladega, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, it was North Wilkesboro that the good friends wound up being anything but in one of the most memorable confrontations they had.

Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt back in 1996.

“The race was going on and I was coming off Turn 2, I was leading the race and he got close to me and kept hitting me, kept hitting me, trying to rattle me,” Wallace recalled. “So as we got to the back straightaway, I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m pissed. I don’t give a (expletive) if I win this race or not.’

“He was right on my ass, so I just locked the brakes down and brake-checked him. He hit me so hard that he actually tore the grill off his car, the front fenders were all torn to hell.

“So after the race, he comes up to me and says, ‘What in the hell did you do?’ I told him, ‘Dude, I’m sick of you beating my ass and if you keep doing that stuff, I’m going to do it again. I don’t think I won the race, and obviously, he didn’t.

“Then, the late Bill France Jr., came up to me and said, ‘What in the hell were you doing out there?’ Right before the race, Bill Jr., came up to me and Earnhardt and me and we were talking about how much the fans were liking our new-designed T-shirts and how popular they were.

“So Bill Jr., asks me again, ‘What in the hell were you doing out there, Wallace?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘Just selling T-shirts, sir.’ It was funny as all get out. We had a great time and it was a really neat deal.”

BETTER FRIENDS OFF-TRACK THAN ON-TRACK

Even though they could be bitter foes on the racetrack at times, Wallace and Earnhardt had mutual respect for each other. Earnhardt could be hard for some drivers to get along with both on and off the track, but Wallace wound up being one of his closer friends.

That extended to vacations and time away from the sport, where the two drivers and their families would oftentimes hang out with each other.

“We used to go to the Bahamas a lot, rent some boats and hang out a little,” Wallace said of Earnhardt. “As his wife and friends would tell you, one of his most favorite things was being on the water and his fishing boats.

“Back around the end of 2000, he ordered and still didn’t get his new ‘Sunday Monday,’ his new 100-foot Hatteras motor yacht. He was so looking forward to that, and then he passed away and didn’t get to enjoy it.

“We’d spend a lot of time together on our boats and Mr. France is the one who started us on all that. He was neat. Off the track, we had a fun time. He was the kind of guy I always looked up to.”

BACK BEHIND THE MICROPHONE

Shortly after retirement as a driver, Wallace joined ESPN as an analyst and remained in that role for several years until it lost its share of the NASCAR broadcast rights to NBC.

Even though he’d do occasional interviews after his ESPN days, Wallace missed being on the air regularly. An opportunity arose earlier this year when he was approached by MRN to reprise what he did on TV and convert it to the radio.

NASCAR Hall of Famers, left to right, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott and Bobby Allison

“It’s one of my favorite things right now, I love doing that,” Wallace said of his work with MRN. “I had the opportunity to go to work for MRN and that kept my name in the sport and kept me involved in the sport and it’s been fantastic. They treat me like a million bucks and we get along fantastically. I do almost all the ISC Cup races. You won’t hear me on a Truck race or an Xfinity race, but you’ll hear me on all ISC Cup races. There’s three or four I may not do, but I’ll be doing about 21 races for MRN.”

One thing Wallace won’t do now and likely never is get into owning a team again, particularly a NASCAR Cup team (he still maintains Rusty Wallace Racing that competes in Super Late Models and occasional ARCA races).

“No, that’s a real technical area and honestly I don’t think I’m real good at the management role of it,” he said. “There’s a lot more smarter people that have a lot more patience than I do. … When I’m promoting this sport or talking on the radio or owning car dealerships with the right partners, I feel comfortable. I don’t think I would be the same way if I got into team ownership.”

WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

Time has flown for Wallace since retiring as a Cup driver. It seems almost like yesterday, but his firesuit has been collecting dust for the last 11-plus years.

“It’s crazy how long it’s been, 11 years, but it doesn’t feel like that,” Wallace said. “I feel like just the other day, I was in Daytona in Brad Keselowski’s car, testing it for the Daytona 500 and like it just happened. I know I’m 61, but I sure as hell don’t feel it.”

Even though Wallace never won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award – which was monopolized during much of his Cup career by either Bill Elliott or Dale Earnhardt Jr. – he still was one of the sport’s most popular and recognizable drivers.

And he remains that way today. Be it on an airplane, in a store or at a restaurant, Wallace can’t seem to go very far without being recognized and engaged by race fans, particularly those who used to follow him in his racing days.

“It’s amazing when you get older how they treat you different, and also when you get in the Hall of Fame and the way they treat you different,” Wallace said. “In the past, they’d see you walking by and it usually was, ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’ Now, it’s always, ‘Hello, Mr. Wallace. How are you?’ Everybody now calls me Mr. Wallace, not ‘hey, man’ or ‘hey, Rusty’ or ‘what’s kicking?’ I’ll be on an airplane with a lot of crew guys and they’ll come down the aisle and say, ‘Hello, sir. Hello, Mr. Wallace.’”

Then, he added with a laugh, “They make me feel so much older!

Fans have loved Rusty Wallace for more than three decades.

“I really appreciate (how fans still show their appreciation of him). The sport is so competitive. It used to be people would walk by and think, ‘I hope that jerk dies. I can’t wait to kick his ass on Sunday. I hate it that he knocked my driver out of the way.’ Now, I don’t get any competitive comments anywhere. They’re just nice people.

“And I love it when people come up to me and ask questions. I love to educate them on the sport of NASCAR. We have a great time.”

REGRETS, HE’S HAD A FEW …

When asked if he has any regrets from his career, Wallace answered candidly.

“In 1988, I lost the championship by 24 points to Bill Elliott, and then I won in 1989,” Wallace said. “I was so close to winning in 1988 and then in 1993, I finished second to Earnhardt (by 80 points). That was the year I had the big crash at Talladega.

“I could easily be sitting here today with three championships, losing two by minuscule points. I think about that a lot and it bothers me. The other day, I was telling the story and wished I could say I was a three-time champion. But, I’m glad I was able to at least win one (championship).”

NASCAR’S FUTURE

In all his years in NASCAR, Wallace has seen countless young drivers come and go. Some have gone on to become champions, like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and others.

When asked his thoughts about the current crop of young drivers that are increasingly taking the place of former stars – guys like Chase Elliott (who Wallace believes will be the sport’s next Most Popular Driver), Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and others – Wallace said he’s a big fan of the young guns.

“I just think this sport is going to keep going, we never quit,” Wallace said. “Even though I’ve retired, Dale’s (Sr.) gone and Gordon and those guys are not around anymore, the sport’s got to keep going on.

“There’s going to be more Rusty Wallace’s among these young guys. The way a guy like Kyle Larson runs, it just blows me away how fast he is. And who would have thought that Chase Elliott would be the class of the field at Hendrick Motorsports this year? And I never thought I’d see the Ryan Blaney kid running this good, either, but they are.

“Gosh darn it, these young kids are really looking great there. So I’m proud of them and hope they get real aggressive and help build the sport like some the other guys over the years helped build this sport.”

RUSTY TO YOUNG DRIVERS: NEVER FORGET THE GIFT YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN

But Wallace also hopes the young up-and-coming drivers appreciate the sport in the same old school way he and many of his peers did over the course of their careers.

“I care for this sport and still want to see it grow and how I love trying to build it and educate people on it,” he said. “I just hope the young people do that, too.

“I hope they don’t just show up at the track, drive the car and just can’t wait to get out of there and go home.

“I hope every day they wake up and go, ‘Man, I am blessed, I can’t believe I got this opportunity, can’t believe I’m making the money I’m making, I can’t believe what I’m doing, I’m having fun and by God, I’m going to do everything I can to build this sport.’ That’s the approach I had, and I hope they do and that they continue to do that.”

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