Rusty Wallace

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Police investigating vandalism, theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway

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The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a report of vandalism and theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the track, which last hosted a NASCAR Cup race in 1996, suffered damage of about $10,000 when several trespassers were on the grounds last weekend. No arrests have been made.

The report states that several windows were broken and other damage was done to the structures. Also, large amounts of electrical wire and circuit breakers were reported missing.

The investigation continues.

North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted NASCAR Cup races from 1949-96. Winners included Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Junior Johnson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon, who won the final race there.

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Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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Rusty Wallace pays tribute to former crew chief, close friend Barry Dodson

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Rusty Wallace is one of many mourning the passing of veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson, who died unexpectedly Wednesday morning at the age of 64.

When team owner Raymond Beadle paired Wallace and Dodson together in 1986, it was immediate magic. The duo had a chemistry that made them one of the most powerful forces within NASCAR’s premier series.

During their five-year tenure together, Wallace and Dodson combined for 18 of Rusty’s 55 career Cup wins, as well as the highest point of both of their careers: winning the 1989 Winston Cup championship in the No. 27 Pontiac Blue Max.

MORE: Veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson, led Rusty Wallace to 1989 Cup championship, dies at 64.

Rusty spoke exclusively with NBC Sports about the passing of his crew chief and longtime friend. Here are some excerpts from that interview.

Q) What was it like when you and Barry first got together for team owner Raymond Beadle?

WALLACE: “When I went to drive for Raymond Beadle and the Blue Max, Barry was just one of the legendary crew chiefs that everybody wanted to work for. He was aggressive, real good with the pit crew, just real good with everything.

“The whole time I was with Blue Max Racing, when we started in 1986, we just had a lot of success under his leadership, winning a couple races right off the bat in 1986, a couple more in ’87, six in ’88 and ’89 and the Coca-Cola 600 (and one other race) in 1990. We just had some real big wins under Barry’s leadership. He was just a real cool guy.”

Q) Barry was one of only a few crew chiefs who, back in the day, not only called a race from the pit box, he also served as a member of the pit crew on race day. Tell me about his doing double duty, so to speak?

WALLACE: “Barry was our crew chief and was also our jack man. He could do almost anything. He was really physically fit, real fast, a real nimble guy. He worked real well with the pit crew, including Jimmy Makar, Todd Parrott and the other guys. They were all real good at what they did.

“He was one of those guys that didn’t just have one title. A lot of teams have one title now, but Barry had multiple titles. He ran the team, he was the crew chief, he was the jackman, he did a lot of things.

“Back then, we didn’t have multiple crew guys. Our mechanic was our right front tire changer and Barry was jack man. I almost wish in different ways it would go back that way. I mean, on Sunday’s, Barry could make it happen. I’m really going to miss the guy.”

Q) Your relationship with Barry wasn’t just driver and crew chief. He also became one of your closest friends. You even hired him to work for you almost 15 years after your last season together in the Cup series.

WALLACE: “I really appreciated and trusted what he did so much, that when I started one of my Xfinity teams (in 2004), he came over and helped us out a lot, helped tutor Stephen (Rusty’s son) a lot and got him winning on short tracks. I really trusted him and he helped me keep going.”

Rusty Wallace, left, and Barry Dodson celebrate one of their 18 wins together. Dodson passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 64.

Q) What do you remember most of the 1989 championship series and Barry?

WALLACE: “The thing that bothered me, I remember we’d win all those (six) races and everyone would be so jubilant and so excited, and we’d go back to the shop the very next morning, be so excited, high-fiving each other, and Barry would be just walking around all stone-faced.

“I’d ask the guys why he was acting like that and one of the guys told me that’s just Barry. He doesn’t want to get so excited that he gets his eye off the ball.

“So he’d come in, say, ‘Ok, we won that, it’s done, it’s over and let’s get back to business, boys.’ That’s just how he was. We might linger and celebrate for two or three days after, but Barry, it was almost as if he was too serious, making us wonder there was something wrong rather than focusing on keeping our mind on the ball.

“Once we got to winning so many races, I knew him, I understood what was going to happen and what we were going to deal with.”

Q) Barry suffered an incomprehensible tragedy in 1994 when his two children were killed in a single-car crash in Darlington, South Carolina. How much do you remember of that tragic event and its impact on Barry?

WALLACE: “When he lost his children in 1994, it really tore Barry up big-time and I don’t think I ever saw him come from back that. He just wasn’t the same as he was when he was with me. The passing of his children really broke his heart and really changed him.”

Q) Any final thoughts about your crew chief and friend, Barry Dodson?

WALLACE: “In my opinion, he was one of the greatest crew chiefs ever in the history of NASCAR. He worked for Raymond Beadle, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and myself. One of the reasons I loved Barry so much is that Barry guided me personally to a lot of victories and to a championship. In ’89, it was such a magical year.

“He had a cool attitude which demanded you pay attention and you respect. When he said something, you listened to what he was saying. Just a wonderful crew chief. I miss him bad.”

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Crew chief Barry Dodson, led Rusty Wallace to 1989 Cup championship, dies at 64

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Veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson passed away Wednesday at the age of 64.

Barry Dodson’s brother, John Dodson, issued a family statement: “Barry’s passing leaves us all with heavy hearts. He left his mark in the NASCAR history books and he served the sport with a passion that few will ever match. We love him and we miss him.”

Dodson was crew chief for several drivers in NASCAR’s premier series, including the late Tim Richmond, NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip and Kyle Petty.

But it was with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace that Dodson enjoyed his greatest success.

Dodson and Wallace combined for 18 of Wallace’s 55 career Cup wins and earned nine poles during a five-season tenure from 1986 through 1990.

The highlight of their time together was 1989, when with Dodson aboard the pit box, Wallace won his lone Winston Cup championship.

Wallace and Dodson also recorded a second-place finish in 1988, a fifth-place showing in 1987 and sixth-place finishes in their first and final seasons together, 1986 and 1990.

Dodson was unique in that not only was he Wallace’s crew chief, he also spent much of his time serving as part of the over-the-wall pit crew that serviced the Raymond Beadle-owned No. 27 Pontiac that Wallace piloted.

Dodson’s other Cup win was with Kyle Petty. He also earned six wins with driver Mike Bliss in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (1995-98).

Sadly, two of Dodson’s children, 17-year-old son Trey and 16-year-old daughter Tia, were killed in a one-car accident in 1994 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Fellow NASCAR crew chief and stepson Trent Owens took to Twitter to memorialize Dodson.

Dodson also served as general manager when Wallace began a NASCAR Xfinity Series team in 2004.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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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