Friday, January 10, 2014

Nostalgia at Daytona: Wallace back in the driver’s seat, No. 3 back in Cup

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Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
In 2005 Rusty Wallace had his last call. In the years since his final stint behind the wheel, Wallace moved to the broadcast booth, providing commentary and analysis for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.

On Friday afternoon Wallace climbed behind the wheel of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford during Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway. For a moment, those of us who grew up in the Wallace/Earnhardt era felt joy and even a little bit of sadness for the rivalries of yesterday.

The conversation began at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November during a walk through the garage before the final race of the season.

“I came by to see other cars, and the 48 and the 2 were parked side by side. I talked to the 2 car guys, and they said, I wish you'd get back in the car every now and then and do some testing with us. I said, well, we'll see about it,” Wallace told reporters during a press conference Thursday.

He didn’t initially give the chance much thought, but after receiving a text from Brad Keselowski, current driver of the Blue Deuce, and talking it over with both NASCAR and Roger Penske, Wallace decided to give it a shot. Daytona seemed like an obvious choice.

Daytona is one of a few tracks on the schedule Wallace was unable to master during his tenure. In 45 starts, the 1989 Winston Cup Champion failed to finish nine events including the 1993 Daytona 500. It was on that day Wallace went for a wild ride through the infield in one of the most violent crashes in NASCAR’s history.

Despite his troubles, Wallace felt Daytona was one track where he’d need the least refreshing to get up to speed with the Gen-6 car.

“... if this was Charlotte or this was Michigan or something like that, I'd have probably declined because I would have much rather do it here because I think I can be more useful here and affect a team in a positive way and not in a negative way,” Wallace said.

Brad Keselowski knows his job at Penske is owed in part to Wallace, who helped build the organization.

“Like Rusty said, he's the reason that Penske Racing is probably still in NASCAR and even made it in NASCAR. So I look at him in a lot of ways and think it's part of why I'm here and I've had the opportunity I've had to drive the 2 car for Miller Lite and for Roger. You can't help but look around and wonder what would have happened if he didn't make it happen himself."

It took Wallace all of three laps to get up to speed and show he still had a lead foot. His third lap, which charted at 190.537 mph, was the fastest turned by the No. 2 team up to that point in testing.

Nostalgia at Daytona doesn’t stop with Wallace. The return of the No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series began as Austin Dillon made the jump to the top tier of NASCAR competition. For the first time since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001, the black No. 3 turned laps. Although many fans have voiced their displeasure in the number’s return, there are a lot who feel it’s time.

Back in the day, the No. 2 of Rusty Wallace and the No. 3 of Dale Earnhardt had a fierce rivalry. With Keselowski and Dillon behind the wheels and fighting for wins, who’s to say we won’t see these two iconic numbers going head to head once again? Both drivers are die-hard competitors. Keselowski is coming off a poor season on the heels of this 2012 Sprint Cup Series title and is ready to get things back on track. Dillon is coming off a title run in the Nationwide Series. A good rivalry is what we need. Maybe these two can get the party started next month at Daytona.

Until then, let’s remember those who paved the way for today’s drivers.
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Katy Lindamood credits Rusty Wallace for making her a NASCAR fan in 1993. In addition to her job in retail, Katy is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Skirts and Scuffs. Katy resides in Ashland, KY with her husband Ryan and their two dogs.

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