Another What If For Wallace

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Rusty Wallace’s biggest enemy isn’t Ricky Rudd. Sure, they’ve had their disagreements recently, but Wallace has bigger things he needs to worry about.

Like Rusty Wallace.

For the second time in three races, Wallace took himself out of contention for victory. Two races ago, a decision to change air pressure made his car so loose at Richmond International Raceway that Wallace spun out of the lead.

Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Wallace was caught speeding on pit road and was penalized to the end of the lead lap. Wallace had led the most laps and was in front of eventual winner Jeff Gordon when the penalty was imposed.

There were 37 laps left in the Protection One 400 when Wallace was caught speeding, but the race was essentially over for him. Sure, he made a valiant comeback to finish fourth, but that paled in comparison to what might have been.

“That was a good comeback, it was just frustrating to get a penalty,” Wallace said. “We led the race out of the pits all day long, and all of a sudden, that stuff happens. But we got back up to fourth, and that was good.”

Wallace’s charge back to the front was impressive, though, after changing four tires following his penalty. He restarted 17th on Lap 234 of 267, and by the next restart 10 laps later, Wallace was 10th. He gained two more spots by the next yellow, and then passed three cars on a restart with 12 laps to go.

The race was red-flagged for Dale Jarrett’s hard crash, and Wallace was sitting in fifth place with six laps remaining when the green came out again. But one more spot was all he could get.

“Yeah, if I would have had more time I could have (caught Gordon),” Wallace said. “What killed me was the restart. I thought we were gonna get going, and Mark (Martin) tried to help me, but he just got stopped right there, and I had to stop. I couldn’t get any momentum going and that just killed me.”

The penalty didn’t help, either, of course. Track position was more crucial than ever Sunday, meaning that a car that had been slower while stuck in traffic might be fast when in clean air as the leader. Jerry Nadeau, in fact, held Wallace off for several laps after pit stops even though Nadeau didn’t change tires.

Wallace didn’t change tires as he was headed off pit road. Neither did Ricky Rudd, who was at the end of the pits when Wallace was nabbed.

“They dropped the jack and, about the time I got to the line I saw a bullet come by on the right side,” said Rudd, who nipped Wallace at the line to get the lead. “I guess that was Rusty. He was going. He wanted to be the first guy off pit road.”

He wasn’t. But he was the fastest.

“I hated to see it, but I wasn’t surprised,” Gordon said. “Rusty is always pushing the limits on pit road. You’d think a guy who has been caught for that many times would back down. But he had the car to beat, and he knew that. He was doing everything he could to win, so you can’t knock him for that. I know how disappointed he is that that call was made because it doesn’t seem like it’s real consistent.”

The speed limit on pit road is enforced from the start of the first pit box to the end of the last one, and NASCAR reminds drivers of that each week. NASCAR doesn’t, however, have a timing system in place to clock each driver individually.

“It’s not possible to time everybody,” said Robin Pemberton, Wallace’s crew chief. “With all this technology they have, I think you’ll eventually be able to police it a little bit better. In order to do it right, you’d have to have an inspector assigned to every car that goes down pit road.

“If they’ve put a man on the moon, they can probably time cars on a piece of asphalt…this definitely cost us a shot at winning the race.”

No, Wallace said, it did cost him the race.

“I should have won. I had the fastest car,” Wallace said. “But I sped out of pit road, I guess…I’ve never seen that contested before, so you’ve got to say OK and do the best job you can and try to get back to the front.

“I don’t know. I don’t have a stopwatch in my hand, and I can’t tell what’s going on. When it’s over, it’s over.”

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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