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You might think the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - the IndyCar Series' first street-circuit event - would be the last place you'd find former NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace holding a microphone. Most of the turns on the course, after all, are right ones.
Wallace, the 1989 Cup series champion and 25-year veteran who retired after last season, is spending this season warming up for his new gig as an analyst during the 2007 Nextel Cup season. That deal marks ESPN's return to NASCAR after a nearly seven-year absence.
Meantime, he's cutting his teeth in broadcasting as a NASCAR analyst for ESPN's SportsCenter and at Indy Racing League events for ABC. He admits he has a lot to learn, and acknowledges that he will spend the early weeks in the IRL leaning on booth partners Marty Reid and analyst Scott Goodyear. But he said there are a lot of things that don't need translation.
"I'm a NASCAR guy, but I'm a racer at heart, and this is some awesome racing that's going on," Wallace said.
Wallace never drove an Indy car until March, when he took eight laps around the road course at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in a Penske Racing Honda-Dallara. Afterward, he told the Associated Press, "I never could have reported on the sport the way it needs to be reported without getting to drive this car," he said.
It's a trip he plans to repeat as often this season as possible, he said, but that's the extent of the driving he'll be doing. Wallace said while he still feels competitive, he is comfortable in retirement.
"It's something I prepared for," he said. "I announced my retirement in 2004 in Daytona Beach. I had all of 2005 to get ready for it. ... I'm at peace with what I'm doing right now. When I watch the cars run I may say, man I can do that (or) why is he doing that? But then I step back and say I'm glad I don't have 43 guys trying to beat me every week."
Wallace's son, Steve, is now the driver in the family. He made his Busch Series debut last week in Bristol, Tenn., a race his father had to miss as he prepared for the IndyCar Series opener, the Indy 300 in Homestead.
ABC would have "allowed Rusty to go to the race on Saturday and fly back Sunday morning," Reid said. "But he said, "This is too important. I've got to be in Homestead. I'll get the team ready, they'll be fine without me."'
It's fair to question his IndyCar knowledge, Wallace said, but not his commitment.
"We're trying to build a good team here," Wallace said. "We already respect each other. We're getting along fine. I'm a stock car guy, I've got to learn a lot about IRL. ... But, man, I'm getting a lot of great help. I'm all ears. This is fun to me. I love driving a car, but I don't miss all that practice.
"I'm looking forward to doing the TV stuff and trying to add to the sport and improve it."
CATCHING UP: This year, ABC and ESPN's IndyCar Series coverage is adapting a technology Fox and NBC have used for years with NASCAR racing. Starting Sunday at Homestead and continuing in St. Petersburg, race coverage will include the Sportvision tracking system that uses a global positioning system to track cars, calculate exact speeds and deliver a variety of visual effects.