Wallace: No Paybacks But

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The media is hyping it up. The fans are expecting, nay, wanting it. But Rusty Wallace isn’t having any of it.

The Winston Cup Series is heading back to a short track – Richmond International Raceway – this weekend. With the “bumping” incident between Wallace and Jeff Gordon in the waning laps of the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago still fresh in everybody’s mind, the anticipation of a “payback” by Wallace has been building.

But Wallace doesn’t even want to hear about such talk. He just wants to go about his business in Saturday’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at RIR.

But if Gordon just happens to be in front of Wallace at a critical moment, well…

“I don’t know if we expect anything like that,” said Wallace, who appeared on the way to his first victory this season, at Bristol, when Gordon bumped him from behind and passed him in the last couple of laps to win. “A lot of people accused me of just going down to Richmond and wrecking him (a couple of years ago). We actually got together in that particular situation and he just spun and I went on. If I get close, he can expect a bump-and-run. I guess that’s some new terminology that’s just come out right now.”

Gordon said he wouldn’t blame Wallace a bit for “returning the favor” at Richmond this weekend. It’s short track racing, Gordon said, and he’d expect it from Wallace if the opportunity presented itself.

“I’ve made contact with a lot of guys over the years, and guys have made contact with me,” Gordon said. “I can’t predict how everyone else deals with it, but I deal with it in that I’m going to race the person hard and as clean as I possibly can. But when it comes down to a win, you can guarantee that I’m going to be aggressive and I’m going to do what I can to win. I expect the same thing from competitors.

“From what I understand, the team have handled it (the incident at Bristol) extremely well. My guys and Rusty’s guys have been really good, and I think that’s probably because if they were in the same position, they would have wanted Rusty to do the same thing. And I believe he would have. There’s a difference between bumping a guy, taking the air off a guy, or just flat-out wrecking him. I hope that can be recognized in that situation, and I think it was.”

The “bump and run,” Wallace said, is something that NASCAR doesn’t consider rough driving, but that drivers won’t tolerate.

If a driver does it just to get by in a certain situation, that’s one thing. But if a driver does it and put another driver in the wall, well, that’s something quite different.

“If they (NASCAR) thought that (the Bristol incident) was rough driving, they would have done something to Gordon,” Wallace said. “But it was just a deal where if you bump somebody and he wiggles and he slides up out of the groove and you go on and pass him for the win, I guess it’s that’s a legitimate bump and run we’re talking about.

“But if you bump him and he spins and three or four cars get past him, maybe that’s another situation. If you bump him and he loses it and he backs into the wall, it’s either his problem that he wasn’t able to hold on to the car or else that was rough driving. So, all of that goes down into NASCAR’s parts, but I can tell you that any driver won’t tolerate (the latter) and they’ll file that away in their memory bank.”

His tussles with Gordon aside, Wallace is still looking for his first trip to victory lane since California in late April of last year. Considering his competitive spirit and will to win, that alone has weighed more heavily on his mind than anything else.

Wallace’s crew chief, Bill Wilburn, said it’s been rough on the rest of the team as well.

“It definitely grinds on the driver, I know, because there’s a lot of stuff riding on us winning races,” Wilburn said. “It grinds on us, too, because we’re in here every day working on these things. Our cars have to be competitive. We’ve had some good runs this year. We’ve led some laps, probably not as many as we’d like to, but it definitely takes a toll.

“We’re capable of winning, we just haven’t gotten it done yet. We go every week with that in the back of our mind. We know as a team we can win and we know our driver is capable of winning, so we just keep going back and stuff is gonna fall our way and we’re gonna bust through. When we win a race, I’m thinking we’re gonna be like Jeff Gordon where we’re not gonna win one, we’re probably gonna win two or three.”

Richmond is a track where Wallace dominated in the early-to-mid-1990s. He has six career victories there, but none since the spring race of 1997.

He hasn’t done too badly at Richmond since 1997, with six top-five finishes in the last nine races.

“Last year, I led the most laps in both races, only to get passed by (Tony) Stewart right there at the very end of both of ‘em,” Wallace said. “This year, I messed the setup a little bit. I just missed guessing on that sealer they put down, but this race I feel much better about it.”

So, if Gordon and Wallace are around each other on Saturday night, can we anticipate some contact?

“I’m not gonna spin anybody out and wreck him for a payback,” Wallace said. “If it get close enough to bump him and get past him, I’ll absolutely do that, though. It’s gonna be fun. I know everybody is on the edge of their seats and if I do bump him and he does spin, they’re gonna say it’s a payback, when it really could not have been. It could have been just a racing accident that particular time.”

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