BRISTOL — Brad Keselowski will be going for a third straight Bristol Motor Speedway win in Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race in a car which will look awful familar to longtime race fans.
His No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge will have a special paint scheme just like Rusty Wallace drove to his 50th victory in the 2000 Food City 500 at BMS. It is to honor Wallace’s induction into the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.
“I love the car,” said Wallace, a nine-time Bristol winner. “That 50th win was so special to us. I thought I’d never see that paint job again. It’s a little pressure on you, Brad.”
Keselowski, currently second in the Sprint Cup point standings, has always talked about what an honor it is to drive the No. 2 car.
“Listening to Rusty talk, I think how lucky I am to get to drive a car which is an icon. Not many drivers can ever say that.”
Just like Wallace, the current driver of the blue deuce has found the magic formula for getting around Bristol’s high banks.
Keselowski has a Nationwide Series win at Bristol as well as victories in the last two Sprint Cup Series races at the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile.’ He and Wallace both said it’s no accident that Penske Racing has experienced so much success at Bristol.
It is Penske’s most successful NASCAR track with 10 wins (seven by Wallace, one by Kurt Busch and the two by Keselowski), and second overall in motorsports success behind the car owner’s 15 Indianapolis 500 wins.
“When you walk through the gates, you realize this place is a big deal,” Keselowski said. “You look up at all the grandstands and you can be intimidated. There aren’t many tracks so intimidating like this.
“You have to man up from a mental standpoint. You also have the physical challenge of 16-second laps around here for 500 laps. That’s why I say it’s a man’s race track.”
Wallace added it’s one of the marquee places which Penske so enjoys.
“Penske Racing loves the big events,” Wallace said. “Daytona, Indianapolis, Bristol, those are his kind of places. Every time we came here we built new cars. People would ask me why we would do that when we knew the car was going to be beat up. Any short track racer who can win at the biggest short track in NASCAR, it’s a huge deal for them.”
Keselowski pointed out with six wins he has a long ways to go to catch Wallace’s 55 career Cup Series wins. Former Wallace crew chief and current NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton explained why Wallace was so good, particularly on the short tracks where he won 25 races.
“Rusty was so detail-oriented,” Pemberton said. “He held you to a higher standard than anybody I had worked with. It was higher than the Pettys, Bobby Allison with DiGard or Roush. Bobby Allison, as good as he was, was second to Rusty.
“We felt we were going to win every time we came to Bristol. He made everyone around him better. He made you where you didn’t want the team down.”
Pemberton said he’s never seen a driver more determined, more focused than Wallace on the day of the 50th win. He said Wallace was so detail-oriented he had the crew clean the confetti and champagne off the car before pictures were taken in victory lane.
He saw Wallace race for the first time in 1980 and said he knew the driver from St. Louis was something special. Wallace driving a No. 16 Chevrolet for Penske finished second to race winner Dale Earnhardt.
“The first time I saw Rusty race, we were at Atlanta,” Pemberton recalled. “He impressed a lot of people that day. Little did I know, he was a guy we enjoyed competing against. He was second to none.”
One of his fans was Keselowski who admitted to having a Rusty Wallace t-shirt when he was growing up in Michigan.
“When Roger called me and said I want you to drive the 2 car, a lot of things when through my head,” Keselowski said. “I’m trying to do my best to represent the car. It makes me want to push harder to live up to that legacy.”