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Retired driver is an open-wheel novice


Published: Fri, March 10, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


He'll work as a color analyst for ABC and ESPN's coverage of the IRL. He's also a Busch team owner.
DETROIT FREE PRESS
DETROIT -- You won't see retired NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace starting in this year's Indianapolis 500, but you might spot him turning more laps in an open-wheel race car.
Last week, Wallace drove the 2.1-mile road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Thanks to Roger Penske, his former Nextel Cup team owner, Wallace stepped into Sam Hornish Jr.'s Honda/Dallara and laid down some rubber.
"I feel like I'm going on my first roller-coaster ride," Wallace said before firing up the car.
Respectable times
Despite stalling on pit road, he managed some fairly respectable times for an open-wheel novice, running a best lap of 1:18, about seven seconds slower than Penske driver Helio Castroneves, who had the fastest lap of the day at 1.11.01.
"I was really impressed with the brakes," said Wallace, the 1989 Winston Cup champion. "They could stop on a dime. The acceleration was incredible. These are incredible hot rods."
This season, Wallace will work as a color analyst for ABC and ESPN's coverage of the IRL series. He's also a NASCAR Busch team owner, running cars driven by his son Steve and Jamie McMurray, who finished 10th Sunday at Mexico City. As a commentator for IRL races, Wallace thought he needed to experience open-wheel cars firsthand.
"I'll tell you, I never could have reported on this sport the way it needs to be reported without getting to drive this car," said Wallace, who finished eighth in points last year in his final Nextel Cup season.
Out of breath
Wallace, 49, was slightly out of breath after his open-wheel experience, but thought he could have done better with more track time.
"If I started off in the morning, I think by the end of the day, I would have been within a second and a half" of the fastest lap, Wallace said. "I knew in my mind where I gave up stuff. The biggest thing I needed was the car to fit me better and getting more seat time to build confidence that this car will stick.
"I don't know the operational envelop of these cars and how far you can take them."
Wallace said the drive did provide him a different view of Homestead, where he finished 13th in November in his last Cup race.
"I've been coming to Homestead forever and ever, always running the oval," Wallace said. "I've never seen the road course before today. It's a great road course. I can't believe how beautiful it is. Every time we came here, it was covered with motor homes."


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