The news came out recently that Ryan Newman and Penske Racing were parting ways after the 2008 season. Former driver, Nationwide team owner and ESPN color analyst Rusty Wallace stated the other day that Ryan Newman had been told by Roger Penske that his services were no longer needed or wanted next year.
When Newman heard what his former teammate said, he asked if Rusty was "conscious" when he made those remarks. Ryan also said that he was familiar with Wallace' "plural" personalities. Ouch!
Ryan Newman said that he and Penske had talked about the direction that his #12 Dodge team had been headed, and said that he and Roger mutually agreed that it was time for Ryan to seek other driving opportunities. Ryan said that it was in actuality mostly his decision not to drive for Penske next year.
A case of he said/ he said? Not quite. Roger Penske quickly came to Ryan's defense and stated that Rusty's suggestion that Newman had been fired was false. What exactly transpired between Newman and Penske will probably only be known by the driver and the owner, but it doesn't make Rusty Wallace look too good right now.
Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman were teammates for a few years, and never really got along. The two teams didn't seem to get along, and there were complaints by Rusty that Ryan's team would not share information on the car setups. The two drivers feuded on the track as well as off it would seem. When Rusty became a commentator for ESPN and ABC, I had hoped that he would be man enough to let bygones be bygones. Apparently that hasn't happened.
I may be making it too personal, but I've had a problem with Rusty as an analyst almost from the very beginning of his second career. It began for me last year when he began calling the Nationwide races for ESPN. Besides his broadcasting duties, he is the owner of Rusty Wallace Inc. who's premier driver has been none other than Rusty's son, Steven.
Steven has never won a race in Nationwide. In fact, he seems to have a definite talent for wrecking cars. Sure, not all the wrecks he's involved in are not his fault, but a lot of them are. Rusty doesn't mind expressing his opinions about the causes of some of the wrecks, and some of his opinions appear to be those of a team owner taking the side of his driver and son, rather than the opinions of a color analyst. I don't envy him the task of having to try to act impartial when he's seeing his own money literally go up on the track in front of him, but I've noticed that the rest of the broadcast crew tends to talk very lightly around Rusty when talking about the transgressions of Steven. I believe this has somewhat a chilling effect on the impartiality of the broadcasts.
Former drivers do not necessarily make bad color commentators for race broadcasts. Former driver Dale Jarrett is one of the highlights of the ESPN Cup broadcasts so far. Dale is very knowledgeable as a former driver, and his sense of humor adds something to the broadcasts in my opinion. Plus, Dale does not have a son in any of the races, but I doubt that it would matter much if he did. To me, Dale Jarrett's easy going personality compliments Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree. Rusty Wallace' somewhat confrontational and and competitive demeanor often leads to some uncomfortable silences in the booth.
This isn't a total hit piece on Rusty, and I don't mean it to be. Rusty was a great driver in his own right, and certainly is entitled to his opinions as such they are. I don't know where he got his information regarding the impending split between Roger Penske and Ryan Newman, but maybe he ought to talk to the parties involved before he makes statements that were so quickly refuted by both parties.