Wallace has plans to take family team Cup racing
By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM
The union of two families with passionate racing backgrounds has led Rusty Wallace to seriously consider a 2009 Cup Series debut with his own team, and a possible full-time venture in the near future.
Rusty Wallace Racing started in NASCAR's second division in 2004, ran complete schedules with a single car from 2005-2007 and fielded two cars in 2008. Wallace's younger son Steve, 21, made his series debut in 2005 and started his third full season Saturday.
In the offseason Wallace did a deal with Las Vegas businessman Michael Gaughan, whose family excelled in off-road and Truck Series racing. The deal put his son Brendan Gaughan, 33 -- an eight-time Truck Series winner and Wallace's former Cup teammate at Penske Racing -- in RWR's re-numbered 62 car.
That partnership, along with signing a new sponsor that secured full-season backing for Steve Wallace's car, forged an idea for the elder Wallace, he said at Daytona International Speedway before Saturday's race.
"We put the deal together because of what [Brendan and I] did with Team Penske," Rusty Wallace said, "from me knowing I needed a second car, knowing I needed to do a lot for my son and me thinking I've got all the components -- the pieces and parts and all the trick [stuff] -- just as good as most teams', to take this team to another level. I do have aspirations of taking this team to Cup, I really do. I've never said that before. It really opened up for me last year when ESPN called me and said, 'If you want to be a car owner, we'll allow it.'
"So I do have aspirations. Do we have it ready to do that? No, not right now -- but I do have aspirations. I don't want to have my Nationwide team just stall out, and I think Stephen's going to be a lot better than people think. I would do some Cup races this year. I personally have to do everything right to make it happen. We've got a nice, long-term contract with [sponsor] US Fidelis ... and I'm very comfortable with that relationship.
"Now, [Saturday] is only the first race and I've got to get out of this box and see how it goes. I do want to run some Cup races with Stephen this year, I do. And probably my best avenue to do something with that would be with Richard Childress. I'm a Chevy team; Richard builds all our motors [Earnhardt Childress Racing Technologies] -- it just kind of makes sense."
Wallace can make more sense now out of a gradual transition that he says began while he was still driving for Roger Penske earlier this decade, when he decided he wanted to have a race team "to give me a reason to come to the race track, which I still wanted to do."
The transition evolved from a part-time team in 2004, for which Jamie McMurray scored the organization's only victory to date. It went to a full-time schedule using multiple drivers in 2005 and 2006, then became a full-blown labor of love for Steve Wallace's career.
That's led to Rusty Wallace and his drivers highly anticipating a year they hope will build on the foundation Steve Wallace and his 2008 teammate, David Stremme, built.
Stremme's car (which is now the No. 62) finished 10th in the owners' standings while Stremme, despite starting only 32 of 35 races, was 11th in the drivers' standings with five top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.
Since starting with a 17-race schedule in 2005, Steve Wallace has improved in leaps and bounds in his two full seasons. He had two pole positions in 2007 but, troubled by wrecks and other DNFs, was only 30th in the standings, without a top-10 finish. In 2008 he improved 10 positions to 20th and had a pair of top-fives and seven top-10s.
Leading up to Daytona's opener, Rusty Wallace had seen evidence of the same things he experienced when Gaughan was his teammate at Penske's in 2004.
"I had a great time when Brendan was my teammate at Team Penske -- we got along wonderful, we laughed and at test sessions we'd swap cars and he couldn't believe I'd do that," Wallace said. "But I always liked Brendan, his enthusiasm, his honesty and his upbeat attitude about everything. He and I always hit it off.
"I think because I was really honest with Brendan all the time and I tried to help him all I could, I think his father, Michael, said, 'Hey, Rusty's treating my kid with respect and treating him good.' Then, when I called Mr. Gaughan and told him the other car was available, to make a long story short, Mr. Gaughan said, 'I really like you, I trust what you're doing and Brendan likes you so we'd love to be your teammate.'
"I think having Michael involved will help us with organization and business contacts and creating a business plan, so there are a lot of positives there. And the guys from US Fidelis are the same way. They're young guys with a young company and they want to go Cup racing, too. And I think we're going to be close and at the right time to move this team on up.
"Mr. Gaughan has always loved the Cup Series and [company president] Darain Atkinson from US Fidelis wants to go to the Cup Series, too, with our team. Mr. Gaughan isn't saying he wants to run this season and then go to Cup, but I think he'd like to see Brendan get back there. Right now he [Michael Gaughan] is pretty content.
"It was pretty gratifying to me to watch the final practice with my two cars out there running together and working well drafting together and when practice was over, Brendan was in P1."
It's indicative of what the team owner has seen so far this year.
"Brendan and Stephen are really getting along fantastic, I like the way they hang out together, like when Brendan told him, 'When we get out to Las Vegas, you're coming out in the desert with me on my sand buggy,'" Wallace said. "That's what I want out of Steve -- I want him to have a big brother partner that they hang together all the time. That's what Steve and David Stremme did a lot."
"Brendan's got a lot of experience, and he'll have my team from last year, with his Truck Series crew chief Bryan Berry, so I think he'll run good and that will help my team, too," Steve Wallace said. "I've had two seasons here, we had some good runs last year and I think I can offer Brendan some insight about what to expect here, and maybe some things to avoid."
Wallace said he loved Stremme and, "I'm glad that the performance he showed in our car last year got him that ride in the 12 car with Penske. We weren't going to be able to find a sponsor to run that 64 car ...
"When this opportunity with Mr. Gaughan happened I was elated, because I know that Brendan can get the job done, just like I know David Stremme could get the job done. And I really, really love the [Gaughan] family, so there isn't going to be any controversy between the drivers, I don't think.
"That's the camaraderie I want to build that unfortunately I either didn't have the talent to do, or didn't know how to do or it just wasn't going to happen with my previous teammates I've had in the past. But the snapshot that I did get was that when Brendan was with us at Team Penske him and I hit it off the whole year, perfect -- we had no problems. And by God it's starting right back up over here, and I'm excited."
Wallace said the family aspect of his operation should make that easy.
"I'll tell you what, there are a lot of dads that do a lot for their kids," Wallace said. "My whole family works for me -- [older son] Greg, Stephen, my daughter Katie -- we're all one big family at our place. I'm proud of what I've got and I think I've got the parts to move it up to Cup, I really do."
Brendan Gaughan agrees and, based on a 15th-place finish in the season opener, he's eager to see what this season brings.
"I never had a whole lot of desire to drive in the Nationwide Series," Gaughan said. "I liked the Camping World Trucks, and I wanted to get back to Sprint Cup, but on my own terms, and Rusty really has me excited about this. Doing this with Rusty is probably the only way I'd be this excited. He brings that out of me and out of all his guys.
"I'm looking at this and saying, 'Yeah, I want to get back to Sprint Cup one day, on my terms, but I know that Rusty wants to maybe go Sprint Cup racing one day on his terms, with his team so if I can do well and me and [Steve] can work together and get it to where we both can run, then maybe I've found my home on my terms with a family organization that likes me, wants me and we can make a long future with.
"That would be like Nirvana. I would love to be able to say that I went Sprint Cup racing with Rusty on his own team with me and Stephen and have a [good] time doing it."