They Call Him The Streak

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Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive major-league baseball games. Edwin Moses won 122 straight 400-meter hurdles races over a 10-year span. UCLA’s men’s basketball team won 88 straight games. North Carolina’s women’s soccer team won nine straight championships.

By comparison, Rusty Wallace’s streak of winning a NASCAR Winston Cup race in 16 straight seasons doesn’t seem all that impressive. Or is it?

Does anyone have longer streaks? Well, yes. Richard Petty won a race for 18 straight seasons, from 1960-77. And David Pearson’s streak is 17 straight seasons, from 1964 to 1980.

Granted, that was a long time ago, and the competition level was quite different.

What about the “modern era,” which began in 1972? There’s Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, who won in 15 straight years. And then there was Ricky Rudd, whose 16-year streak ended when he didn’t win in 1998.

That means Wallace is tied for third. Petty, Pearson, Wallace. His streak seems a little more impressive now, doesn’t it?

It almost came to a crashing halt this season, though. His only victory of the year came in the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway in April.

“I knew that the win kept our streak going,” Wallace said. “But I never thought it’d be so important because it turned out being the only victory of the season for us. Believe me, there should have been several more.”

Wallace’s streak is seven years longer than the next longest, Dale Jarrett’s nine years of winning. Shoot, Jeff Gordon’s is only half as long, eight years. Of course, when Wallace started his streak in 1986, Gordon was 15 years old.

“It’s pretty neat that we’ve been able to keep the streak going for so long,” Wallace said. “If you’d told me back in 1986 that we’d be able to keep winning from that time on, I don’t know what I would have said. I would have said that I planned on doing it, but really I’d known it would have been foolish to think that far ahead.”

Robin Pemberton has been a part of the streak for seven years now as Wallace’s crew chief, and he’s impressed by it.

“I think Rusty’s being a little too humble about that streak,” Pemberton said. “It’s something that even Dale Earnhardt never did. Only Richard Petty and David Pearson had longer streaks. When you think about how competitive it is out there today, like this season, when there were 19 different winners, Rusty’s streak is remarkable indeed.”

Wallace has won 54 times during the streak, good enough for eighth place all-time.

Wallace came to Winston Cup in 1984, winning the Rookie of the Year award. He won two races in 1986 to start the streak, scored two more in 1987, and six in 1988 and ’89. In 1989, Wallace also won something a tad more important, the Winston Cup championship.

Wallace won twice in 1990 and ’91, the season he joined Penske Racing. In 1992, Wallace barely kept it going by winning at Richmond, his only victory of the season. But the next two years, Wallace won a total of 18 races.

He won two more in 1995 and five in 1996. The next three seasons were somewhat lean, as he scored only one victory each: Richmond in ’97, Phoenix in ’98 and Bristol in ’99. But he did win.

Last year was a return to his winning ways, as he visited victory lane four times and won nine poles. That bode well for a good season in 2001, and in many ways it was.

“It was a year of what should have been, that’s for sure,” said Wallace, who had eight To p5s and 14 Top 10s and finished seventh in the points standings. “When I look back, I think about winning at California, but I think about all the ones that got away.”

And there were a few of those. He led the most laps in four races and led the second most laps in Winston Cup (Gordon, not surprisingly, was first).

“I think about both of the Richmond races, where we dominated by leading so many laps and then came up short at the end,” Wallace said. “I think about Kansas City, where we led the race all day long and got slapped with a speeding penalty on pit road while leading the thing. I think about Phoenix, where we had them all covered before having the rear tire go while leading. There were just so many situations where we should have won. In my heart, I really feel that we should have won a half dozen or so races.

“I mean we got out there and led all those laps during the season, second in laps led for the year. When you look at that figure, you’ve got to take some consolation in that we were strong enough to win a bunch of races.”

And a few poles, too. But Wallace came up short in that category, too. He started second four times and began nine races from within the Top 5.


“The qualifying deal for the year was another thing that kept us baffled,” Wallace said. “I don’t know how many times we’d lay the big numbers on the board only to see somebody go out at the last moment and kick us over to the outside-front-row spot. It seemed like there were a ton of races where we looked to have us a pole, and there would come Gordon at the very end and grab the thing away from us.”

Wallace will still be in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona in 2002 because he won that event in 1998.

But there are other things to look forward to in 2002.

“I think we have a lot to build on for next season, that’s for sure,” Wallace said. “The tire deal this season threw some kinks at us, but now that we have all those races under our belts and some good notes to go on, I look for big things for our team next season. The addition of Ryan (Newman) and his team running in every race will be beneficial in that we’ll have a ton more data and input that’ll help everybody involved.

“I’m extremely excited about the 2002 season and what it holds for us.”

It might hold another victory, extending an impressive streak. Should Petty and Pearson move over?

Photos

  • 1994 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 1995 Brickyard Winner: Dale Earnhardt
  • 1996 Brickyard Winner: Dale Jarrett
  • 1997 Brickyard Winner: Ricky Rudd
  • 1998 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 1999 Brickyard Winner: Dale Jarrett
  • 2000 Brickyard Winner: Bobby Labonte
  • 2001 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 2002 Brickyard Winner: Bill Elliott
  • 2003 Brickyard Winner: Kevin Harvick
  • 2004 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
  • 2005 Brickyard Winner: Tony Stewart
  • 2006 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2007 Brickyard Winner: Tony Stewart
  • 2008 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2009 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2010 Brickyard Winner: Jamie McMurray
  • 2011 Brickyard Winner: Paul Menard
  • 2012 Brickyard Winner: Jimmie Johnson
  • 2013 Brickyard Winner: Ryan Newman
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