Kansas Big Chance For Wallace

If it weren’t for a speeding penalty, all of this talk about a long winless streak for Rusty Wallace would most likely be a mute point.

Wallace dominated last year’s Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway, leading 117 of 267 laps. But, with 33 circuits remaining around the 1.5-mile oval, Wallace was called for speeding on pit road during his final pit stop, relegating him to 17th place on the re-start.

Because he had such a strong car that day, he wound up finishing fourth, but Wallace couldn’t help but think of what might have been that day. As a result, Wallace wound up with only one victory last year (California) and he hasn’t won since.

“Yeah, it (last year’s race) was mine to win,” Wallace said. “I led just about all day long, but when I left pit road they said I sped a little bit too much. Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. I remember that whole incident. I was passing Mark Martin coming out of the pits and I had to drive off in the grass to get around him.

“I guess when you’re up there looking down and you see a car go past somebody in the grass, it looks like you sped. So they busted me on that, but I’m not gonna argue. It was frustrating to dominate all day long and then not win, but just to show you how strong it was, they put me back to the tail end of the longest line and we went from there all the way up to fourth. We literally drove through the field and that was really cool. I want to do that again.”

Jeff Gordon wound up winning last year’s inaugural event at Kansas. Ironically, Gordon didn’t win after that until last month’s Sharpie 500 at Bristol, when Gordon bumped Wallace from behind in the final laps and passed him for the win, denying Wallace once again.

Wallace will start Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway from the 11th position, the same spot he started last year’s event. And he’s looking for the same strong run from himself and his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team, despite some early problems this weekend.

“We’ve got a really good car this time around, too,” Wallace said. “I feel really optimistic about the race (Sunday) even though we had a big setback in our first practice. It took us quite a while to get a swaybar and some stuff changed.

“It cost us about 20 minutes of practice but we got through that and then turned that into some time to scuff some tires. We’ve gotten that all straightened out right now and hopefully we’ll have a smooth race.”

Wallace has endured a few setbacks this season, and despite not winning a race, he remains with an outside shot at winning the Winston Cup championship. The 1989 Winston Cup titlist, Wallace is sixth in the standings, 198 points behind Mark Martin with eight races to go.

In a year where it seems like nobody wants to run away with the championship, Wallace’s chances are still as good as just about anybody’s in the Top 6.

“You’ve just got to keep going. We have screwed up a lot this year, like last weekend. I lost a tire. I had no idea. All I know is I hit the wall and I figure the tire is trying to blow the right-front fender off. All hell is breaking loose in the car and I’m thinking, ‘Hey, my day is done.’ But the steering wheel is pretty straight and the car is kind of going straight. Billy (Wilburn) is saying, ‘Stay on the track. Stay on the track.’ I’m like, ‘Man, this thing is too torn up. I’ll rip the fender off if I stay on the track,’ so I hit pit road and when I looked up the leader wasn’t even off turn four yet. If I would have stayed on the race track, I wouldn’t have gone down a lap. And when I went back out, the car was pretty good. I was gonna finish fifth in that race, but, instead, I finished 15th. So I threw a bunch of points away.

“And then you look at the deal at Richmond, where I was running second and then had that problem (tire problem in the closing laps while running second; finished 15th). At Darlington, we were third to sixth all day long and decided to make a change and went back to 20th or something (22nd). We’ve really made some big mistakes that cost us a lot of points, but the fortunate thing is that just about the time we’re having these dumb mistakes, everybody else is too. So that’s what's kept us alive. Thank God everybody is making mistakes, but I’ve got to get our mistakes to stop.

“Championships are just points. If you’ve got enough points, you’re gonna win. You don’t have to win a race. I would not want to win a championship without winning a race, but if it worked out that way, I wouldn’t care because I’ve had years where I’ve won all the races and that didn’t win me a championship. So I don’t have a problem with that. I just have to quit messing up.”

Like speeding on pit road.

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