Welcome To Rustys Place

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Rusty Wallace was born in Fenton, Mo. and lives in Lake Norman, N.C.

But if Wallace has a “home track,” it’s Bristol Motor Speedway. And why not? He’s right at home on the .533-mile high-banked track. Wallace has an incredible record here, winning nine NASCAR Winston Cup Series races and seven poles during his illustrious career.

Two of Wallace’s career highlights have come here, too: his first Winston Cup victory in 1986 and his 50th two years ago.

“It’s like a home track for us, and we’re always so pumped up for the Bristol races,” said Wallace, who starts 15th for Sunday’s 500-lap race. “We have so much history behind us at Bristol. It’s where I won my first and my 50th race. What else can I say about the place?”

Wallace’s love for Bristol certainly comes from his incredible success here. He’s led at least one lap in 23 of his 36 races at the “World’s Fastest Half Mile,” getting out front for an amazing 3,337 laps – more than twice any active driver.

Last year, though, was a bit of a struggle. He started fourth and finished seventh in the first race, while starting ninth and finishing fifth in the second event. Most drivers would drool to have numbers like that, but not Wallace. He’s a perfectionist, especially at Bristol.

“We’ve had so much success at Bristol that we always come there looking to qualify up front, lead the most laps and head to victory lane when the thing is over,” Wallace said. “In the spring race there last year, we didn’t lead any laps, but I think we were stronger than that seventh-place finished showed. We cut a tire down and got behind early in the race, and track position proved to be so important. It was pit strategy, with guys not pitting and all at the end.”

Elliott Sadler won the race by staying on the track late in the event when others pitted. Sadler’s tires lasted long enough, and he was able to beat John Andretti.

Wallace led twice for 123 laps in the Bristol night race, but his car didn’t handle as well as he would have liked down the stretch. And on the last lap, he lost a shoving match with Ricky Rudd.

“In the night race last summer, we got out front and led a ton of laps,” Wallace said. “We had the car to beat for much of the race, but it got a little too loose at the end. We were running fourth, but we got bumped up the track there in Turn 3 on the last lap and wound up finishing fifth.”

So Wallace is hoping for better fortunes this year, and that’s why the Penske Racing team scheduled a test here. But rain didn’t help.

“We certainly did want to get those two days of testing in last week, but the weather just didn’t cooperate with us,” Wallace said. “We thought we were just a tick off in the qualifying and in the races at Bristol last season and hoped to work on that. But the fact is that we’re carrying a ton of momentum going into Bristol and that means a whole lot.”

Wallace rallied to a seventh-place finish last week at Darlignton, his third Top 10 in four races.

But a Top 10 isn’t what Wallace wants. Not at Bristol. Not with his history here. And it’s been quite a history. Here are some of the highlights:

April 6, 1986: Wallace led 174 laps to win his first race in his 72nd career start.

Aug. 26, 1988: Wallace blew a tire and flipped wildly down the frontstretch during practice, prompting Dale Earnhardt to call him “Rubberhead.” Wallace started the race, but handed the car to Larry Pearson, who came home ninth.

April 9, 1989: Wallace wins his third of six victories of the season, helping him to the 1989 Winston Cup title.

April 4, 1993: On the weekend after Alan Kulwicki was killed, Wallace won the pole and the race, paying tribute to Kulwicki with a Polish victory lap – Kulwicki’s trademark.

Aug. 26, 1995: Wallace was knocked into the wall by Earnhardt, forcing Wallace to the garage for 46 laps. Afterward, Wallace hurled a water bottle at Earnhardt after the two exchanged words.

April 13, 1997: Wallace led 240 laps but was bumped out of the lead by Jeff Gordon on the last lap.

April 11, 1999: Wallace led an incredible 425 of 500 laps in a car renamed “Banker” because of Bristol’s high banks and the team taking the money to the bank.

April 26, 2000: Wallace defended the spring race title by leading the final 76 laps. The win was Wallace’s 50th in Winston Cup.

Aug. 26, 2000: Wallace led 279 laps to sweep the Bristol races for the first time.

Wallace can only hope for similar success this weekend, as he’ll start 15th in Sunday’s Food City 500. Welcome home.

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