FORT WORTH, Texas — Though Rusty Wallace's career might have peaked with his only championship in 1989 on what was then known as the Winston Cup circuit, he spent more than two decades as one of the best drivers in NASCAR's top division.
He finished eighth in points in his final season of 2005, at age 48, before walking into the broadcast booth. This year, Wallace was inducted into both the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame; he was already in the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame.
Now, he serves as ESPN's lead studio analyst for its racing coverage. Here's what Wallace thinks about Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, and a few other things:
Q: How do you think things might play out at Texas on Sunday, with Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth tied for the points lead and battling for the title?
A: Those guys got out of Talladega and Martinsville clean — I couldn't believe both of them did, but they did — and now they're evenly matched heading to Texas, and they're both fantastic on this mile-and-a-half race track. It's gonna be an incredible thing to watch.
Explain the importance of succeeding on the 1.5-mile tracks in order to win a championship.
On the short tracks and the road courses, you can get away with not having the most horsepower, or the car that's not the best aerodynamically. On the mile-and-a-half, you've got to have the strongest power, the best aerodynamic program, everything. Because the cars are so fast on those tracks, that all those things matter big-time. They don't matter as much at other places. Aerodynamics didn't matter at Martinsville last week. You saw cars with fenders completely knocked off and still running fast. You know the car's gonna be quick at Texas. The new Gen-6 car is breaking track records everywhere.
Is this a two-man race, and do you see one driver with an advantage entering the final three races?
With the third- and fourth-place guys being just 20-some points back, there's still four guys in this thing. Honestly, it's probably just the top two, but right now, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick have to believe they still have a chance right now. I can start making predictions after Texas, but I can't even make one right now, because Jimmie and Matt have been bumper-to-bumper. They're so evenly matched going into Texas, it's incredible. You're just scratching your head. Which one's gonna falter. It's gonna have to be a mistake, because I think they'll both run real good.
How much is the current generation of car similar to what you drove, especially in the early part of your career?