Wallace Looks To Turn Tide

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CONCORD, N.C. - Rusty Wallace needed to do something different at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He hasn’t won there in 12 years, so whatever he and his Penske Racing team was doing wasn’t working.

Wallace needed a change in performance, perhaps in the form of a new racecar.

So perhaps a rejuvenated Wallace will be the guy to challenge all these young drivers in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

Wallace limps into the 600 after a hard crash in The Winston last Saturday that left his car damaged and left him with three broken toes on his left foot.

“It’s about as hard as I’ve ever hit, and that includes that head-on deal at Pocono a couple of years back,” Wallace said. “What made it worse was the fact that I saw the whole thing unfold right in front of me and couldn’t do anything about it. I saw the wall and knew it was going to be a hard hit – and it definitely was that.”

But those broken bones won’t hamper Wallace this weekend as he shoots for his first victory of the season and the first in over a year – and his first victory at LMS since 1990.

Yes, that’s 12 years, and 12 years too long for Wallace and his team. He’s come close more than once since then, finishing in the Top 10 nine times and leading 415 laps. But something always gets in the way of a return trip to victory lane, be it a stroke of bad luck or a bit of bad strategy, or whatever.

“We’ve been so close through the years to winning several of the races and have a lot of runner-up finishes in the record book,” said Wallace, who has four second-place finishes at the 1.5-mile track. “For a while there, it seemed like we’d be leading the thing until the very end and somebody would get only two tires and beat us, four tires and beat us – just seemed like whatever we did would backfire and we’d lose the thing in the final few laps.

“Hopefully, we’ll be in a position to win this time around and all the calls at the end of the race will be the right ones, and that’ll put us back in victory lane.”

If he does win the Coca-Cola 600, Wallace will do it in a new car, PC-43. The team has used an older car, PC-25 dubbed “Mad Max,” at LMS recently, but felt it was time for a switch.

Mad Max won at Michigan in 2000 and at California last year – Wallace’s last victory – but the team figured a new car might be what Wallace needs.

“Our record at Charlotte has really been a situation of many ‘woulda-coulda-shouldas’ through the years,” Wallace said. “We’ve been relying on the car we call ‘Mad Max’ for what seems like forever at Charlotte. We’ve had some strong runs with the car, and we know it can win because we’ve won races at Michigan and California with it.

“But the fact is that being close just isn’t good enough for our team so we’ve decided to roll out the new 43 car for this race. Hopefully, this new car will give us just the added ‘oomph’ we need to get back to winning these things.”

Two of Wallace’s biggest disappointments at Charlotte came in the late 1990s. In the 1997 Coca-Cola 600, Wallace led 45 laps and was out front until tire strategy played out in the waning laps. Jeff Gordon changed two tires, while Wallace changed four, and Gordon won the race.

A year later, Wallace led 51 laps, but Gordon slipped past late in the race to leave Wallace with another runner-up finish.

Wallace’s runs last year typified his history at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. In the fall race, he collided with Ricky Rudd on pit road and lost a lap. After working on the car, Wallace was able to make up the lap and charge into the Top 5.

But the final set of tires didn’t match up with the car’s setup, and Wallace slipped to seventh.

In the 600 last year, Wallace struggled with the changing conditions that teams face because the race starts in daylight and ends in darkness.

“We got up there and led the thing early in the spring race and it got really loose on me – so loose that I thought we had a right-front going flat,” Wallace said. “When the temperature started changing, the track changed just that much – just incredibly loose. We started adjusting and went a little too far. We got the car pretty good, but had to come back in for loose lugs on a late pit stop.

“It was a strange day for sure, but that’s so typical of the May race. When the thing starts in the daylight and moves on into the night, you’ve just gotta chase the track from start to finish.”

Maybe this time Wallace’s chase will be successful, and the other Winston Cup drivers will be chasing him.

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