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Wallace, "Ronnie" Ready for Martinsville

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Wallace, "Ronnie" Ready for Martinsville
Apr 15, 1998, 12:19 PM

Rusty and "Ronnie" ready for Martinsville MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 15, 1998) If the original plan had gone accordingly, it could have possibly now been found among a scrap heap in a local junkyard. At best it would have been spending its golden ...

Rusty and "Ronnie" ready for Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 15, 1998) If the original plan had gone accordingly, it could have possibly now been found among a scrap heap in a local junkyard. At best it would have been spending its golden years as a show car on display at the local grocery store. But instead, it has refused retirement and has been refurbished as the race-ready Miller Lite Ford Taurus that Rusty Wallace will drive in Sunday's Goody's Headache Powder 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

"It" is Wallace's "PR-16" chassis that is better know as "Ronnie."

"We seriously looked at removing the car from action after the spring Martinsville race last year," said crew chief Robin Pemberton. "That was the plan at the time. Rusty was going for his fifth straight spring race win there and it would have been a heck of a way to retire the thing had he won. But, we finished fifth and he wanted to give the car another shot at Martinsville last fall. In that race, we led the most laps and looked to be headed toward a win. But while leading with about 30 laps to go, NASCAR officials said that Rusty jumped a restart and they brought him in for a stop-and-go penalty. Instead of winning the race, it was all we could do to stay on the lead lap and finish 15th.

"Rusty decided that we'd race the car again at Phoenix because it was such a good flat-track race car and he was leaning back toward the Hopkins stuff over what we'd been building in-house. At Phoenix, the car was the class of the show until the 88 car (Dale arrett) pulled off a miracle run to beat us. We led the most laps and had a winning car, but the last 175 laps were run caution-free and the 88 car just burned the track up under that long of a stretch of green. It was a great run for us, but we still finished second.

"After what happened at Martinsville and what happened at Phoenix, there was no way that Rusty would let us take the '16 car' out of action. We checked the frame out on the 'jig' and put a new Ford Taurus body on. It's race-ready for Martinsville once again."

The car has a much-celebrated history behind it. The "PR-16" chassis was readied in early 1994 as a Ford Thunderbird with the hopes of racing it at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Brickyard 400. After a three-car comparison Indy test, Wallace decided to race the "PR-04F," a car he used in winning in June at Michigan where he named the car "Captain" in honor of team owner Roger Penske.

The car was used during a tire test at Phoenix, but parked for the remainder of the year.

Wallace opted to race his famous "Midnight Rider" car at Phoenix instead.

The "PR-16" finally made its racing debut at North Wilkesboro on April 9, 1995. After starting 11th and running up front all day, a jammed lugnut during the final pit stop ended the team's chances to win and relegated Wallace to a fourth-place finish.

In the following race two weeks later at Martinsville, Wallace started 15th, dominated the race by leading half the laps and put the car in Victory Lane for the first time.

In the post-race celebration, Wallace named the car "Ronnie" in honor of chassis-builder Ronnie Hopkins whose life had been taken by cancer on Friday of that race weekend. "Ronnie" went on to win again at Richmond that September. During the car's six races in 1995, it won twice, finished in the top-five five times and in the top-10 six times.

"Ronnie" was raced five times in 1996 and won again at Martinsville that spring. The car saw action only three times last year, racing in both Martinsville races and the Phoenix race. Its overall record sports three wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s in 14 races. It has led the most laps in four races and has led more than 25 percent (1,263 of 4,968 = 25.422 percent) of all its laps.

Wallace's take on the situation?

"They were calling the Bristol race a return to the 'scene of the crime' because of our race with (Jeff) Gordon there last spring," Wallace said.. "But, this Martinsville race is the real return to the scene of the crime. I mean it was a crime that we ran so strong all day and had the thing won before NASCAR slapped us with the penalty. There we were ... leading the race with about 20 laps to go and they say that I jumped the restart ...

"We're coming in there looking for a win. Call it revenge, call it a get-even deal, or call it what you like. The bottom line is that it's been four races now since we've won at Martinsville and that's way too long. We're taking the points lead into the race. We have a car that's a proven winner. We're expecting big things this weekend to say the least."

In his 28 career starts on the .526-mile Martinsville track, Wallace has recorded six wins, 14 top-five finishes and 16 top-10 finishes. He has two career Martinsville poles.

Qualifying sessions for this weekend's Martinsville race are set for Friday at 3 p.m. EDT (for positions 1-25 -- featuring live coverage by ESPN2 & MRN Radio) and Saturday at 1:15 p.m. EDT (to fill the remainder of the 43-car starting field). Saturday's 4:30 p.m. "Happy Hour" final practice session will feature delayed coverage by ESPN beginning at 5:30 p.m. EDT. Sunday's Goody's Headache Powders 500 begins at 1 p.m. EDT and features live coverage by ESPN and MRN Radio.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Roger Penske , Rusty Wallace