Wallace Faces One And Done

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It's do or die time for Rusty Wallace this weekend in Miami. The Miller Lite Team Penske driver enters Sunday's Ford 400 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway knowing just how much is on the line.

"It's our last shot at winning a race and keeping the streak alive and we have a great shot at finishing third in the points," said Wallace, who posted his fourth second-place finish of the 2002 season last Sunday at Phoenix, but is winless this year and for the last 61 races. "We're bringing the car we had at Phoenix (PC-51) and I think it's the best car we have right now. I told Larry (Wallace) and the guys in the engine shop that we want the best motor they can give us because there's just so much on the line.it's all on the line at Homestead."

Wallace has won at least one race for 16 consecutive seasons dating back to his first of 54 career wins, which came at Bristol, Tenn., on April 6, 1986. His streak, the longest active (Dale Jarrett's 10 consecutive years is now the closest) and third-longest in the history of the sport (Richard Petty won 18 consecutive seasons and David Pearson won for 17 years in a row), is in jeopardy with only this weekend's Ford 400 remaining on the schedule.

"Certainly the streak means so much to me," said Wallace, who had one win but no runner-up finishes during last year's schedule. "When you finally get ready to hang the helmet up, having things like that in the record book is a pretty cool deal. I know that I don't have too many more seasons ahead, so yeah it means a lot.

"But even if we can't win the thing, there's all that cash on the line
as far as the final point standings go," said Wallace, who has finished in the top 10 in points every season but one (1992) since 1986. "We're tied for fourth right now, but we can take third outright with a good run."

Wallace enters Homestead tied for fourth (with Jimmie Johnson) in the point standings with 4,453 points. Only 72 points currently separates third-place Kurt Busch (4,461) from eighth-place Matt Kenseth (4,389). In between, in addition to Wallace and Johnson, are Jeff Gordon (4,452) and Wallace's Penske teammate Ryan Newman (4,438).

Wallace and his Bill Wilburn-led Penske South team are again using their PC-51 Ford Taurus in the Homestead action. The car debuted at Indianapolis where it started 35th (provisional) and finished runner-up to Bill Elliott in the Aug. 4 Brickyard 400. It wasn't raced again until last weekend at Phoenix, where Wallace started 29th and drove to the second-place finish behind race winner Kenseth.

"That was our plan all along was to run the same car at Homestead that we raced at Phoenix," said Wallace, whose season winnings surpassed the $4 million mark with the Phoenix finish. "We said, 'Boy, if we get through this race clean without a scratch on it, we're gonna have to take it back home, clean it up and take it straight to Homestead.' It doesn't have a scratch on it, so I get my best bullet going to Homestead this weekend and
let's hope it'll work down there."

"There's no doubt about that -- there's a lot on the plate (this
weekend)," Wallace concluded. "It's gonna be a high intensity week. I'm gonna go down to Homestead on Wednesday and relax and get ready for the big race and work real hard on the chassis setup and try to get a good, solid qualifying run on Friday. Then we'll just go from there."

In the three Winston Cup races held to date at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Wallace's best start was sixth in last year's race. His best finishes were 12th-place finishes last year and in the 1999 inaugural event.

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