Wallace Heads Home Again
March 21, 2003 | 1:18 A.M. EST
"We're needing a boost right now and we think we can get it at Bristol this weekend," said Wallace, a nine-time winner on the lightning fast .533-mile oval who is currently 20th in the Winston Cup point standings. "The thing about it is that we've been running great all year long so far, but just don't have the record to show for it. We just haven't had the luck and I think maybe I've been a bit too aggressive in some instances.
"It's just been a lot of stuff happening that has overshadowed the overall performance of the car," said Wallace, who has won the spring Bristol race six times. "Stuff like when we were running seventh at Daytona and I get oil all over the windshield. I make the call to pit, the rain comes and we wind up finishing 25th. At Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, we're sitting there running fourth and had a car that capable and I get up to high and into the junk and smack the wall.
"Then at Darlington last weekend, we had a top-five or at worst top-10 hot rod. We're out there having a good run, hit pit road for a scheduled stop and the caution flag falls the very next lap. It's just been a lot of bad luck and stuff - some of it out of our control - and some of it being a little over-aggressive on my part.
"The bottom line is that we need something right now to jump start our season; we need a shot in the arm," said Wallace. "We're bringing a brand new little hot rod there this weekend, we're all jacked up like always going into Bristol and we're looking for big things."
While Wallace boasts that his team is "jacked up" going into this weekend at Bristol, he is quick to comment about getting jacked around in the last race there, the Sharpie 500 last August.
The scenario for that race saw both Wallace and Jeff Gordon enter the weekend with unusually long winless streaks. In the closing laps, Wallace moved around Jimmy Spencer for fourth on lap 455 and around Kurt Busch for third on lap 464. He moved to the inside and around Matt Kenseth on lap 479 for second and made another inside move around Kevin Harvick for the lead on lap 482.
With 10 laps to go, Wallace was leading and holding off Gordon. But the two approached the Joe Nemechek car and that held them up. They finally cleared that car with four laps to go. Working lap 498, Gordon applied a "love tap" to the rear of Wallace's Ford and made the pass for the lead. He led the final two laps as Wallace tried in vain to catch the No. 24 car.
At the checkered flag, it was Gordon taking the win, with Wallace second, Dale Earhanrdt Jr. third, Harvick fourth and Kenseth fifth.
"I'm going to go to Bristol and try to win my 10th race at Bristol and try to get myself back up in the points," Wallace said when asked about the run-in with Gordon last Auguust. " I'm sure Jeff will be right in the middle of that hunt somewhere. He's always up front at Bristol, so hopefully we'll race hard and you never know, I might encounter him along the way.
"Yeah, I did (get tired of seeing it (the Bristol replay of the encounter with Gordon)," said Wallace. " It was amazing. I look at that right there, and that was a key race that we really tested hard for. We went to that race track and tested. In fact, we had a test scheduled for Bristol this time and we couldn't because the track has got so much construction outside the facility that they didn't allow anybody to go out there and test. I wanted to go. That's the reason we decided to come to Texas, but I did get tired of seeing it over and over. On the other hand it was kinda cool, but man if I had won that race it would have been 10 times at Bristol and 17 consecutive years of winning. I get along with the kid pretty good, but I tell you that boy has cost me a lot of money. He cost me a lot of problems, no doubt about that."
A career statistical breakdown in 38 races for Wallace at Bristol sports nine wins, 20 top-fives, 27 top-10s, seven poles and $1,700,315 in career winnings. His six spring race wins came in 1986, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1988 and 2000. His five spring poles came in 1991, 1993, 1997, 1998 and 1999.
"Bristol's always been like a home track to me," said Wallace, driver of the Miller Lite Dodge. "I know that I've said that many times before, but I'll say it again. The fact that I won my first race there back in 1986, the fact that we've always had so much success there, the fact that we have such a big following of race fans in the area and having the auto dealerships just down the road from the place...all add up to making it like a homecoming every time we go to Bristol. It has always been a special place for us and always will be."
Bristol Motor Speedway certainly does hold many highlights for Rusty Wallace through the years. Here is a quick look back:
1) Apr. 6, 1986 -- Wallace started 14th and led three times for a total of 174 laps en route to his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory. It came in his 72nd series start and only his fifth at Bristol.
2) Aug. 26, 1988 -- Wallace involved in one of the most horrendous crashes of his career. In practice, he blew a right front tire and launched off the fourth-turn wall, flipping wildly down the frontstretch. Miraculously, he started the race the next evening, turning the driving duties over to Larry Pearson at his first opportunity. The performance was good enough for a ninth-place finish and kept Wallace in the thick of the season's points battle.
3) Apr. 9, 1989 -- Wallace started eighth and dominated to win his third of six races during the season. Wallace would go on to win three more races in his run to the season's points championship.
4) Apr. 14, 1991 -- Wallace took his Penske Racing South Pontiac entry from the pole to Victory Lane in only the sixth start for the new team.
5) Apr. 4, 1993 -- Wallace won the pole the day after driving friend Alan Kulwicki perished in plane crash while attempting to land at an area airport. Pitting in the spot reserved for the absent defending series champion, Wallace recorded his fourth Bristol win. He paid tribute to the fallen champion by performing Kulwicki's patented "Polish Victory Lap" after taking the checkered flag.
6) Aug. 26, 1995 -- An early race "punt" by Dale Earnhardt put Wallace into the wall and out of action for 46 laps before he returned to the race. Wallace retaliated after the race with some harsh words for Earnhardt and by throwing and connecting with a plastic water bottle.
7) Aug. 24, 1996 -- Wearing a "neon yellow" driving suit for the first, last and only time in his career, Wallace started fifth and dominated to post his sixth career Bristol win. With his Miller-sponsored "teammates" from Don Prudhomme's NHRA team joining in the Victory Lane celebration, Wallace named his winning ride "Snake" in honor of his legendary drag racing friend.
8) Apr. 13, 1997 -- The first famous 'love tap' episode with Jeff Gordon. Wallace had won the pole and led the most laps (4 times for 240 laps) leading up to the incident that has been forever used in the sport's video highlights. Wallace had taken the lead for the final time on lap 415 and led the race until the last turn of the last lap when contact from the rear applied by Gordon got Wallace out of shape enough to allow Gordon to pass for the win.
9) Apr. 11, 1999 -- Wallace started from the pole and gave his own lecture on the term "dominance." Leading 425 of the 500 laps, Wallace named the car 'Banker' in Victory Lane because of the Bristol high banks and the team taking the big money to the bank. "It doesn't get any cooler than this," Wallace said in the press box after the win.
10) Apr. 26, 2000 -- Wallace started sixth and led three times for 86 laps, including the final 76 circuits en route to the win, his second spring Bristol race victory in as many years and most importantly -- his 50th career win that had been so elusive.
11) Aug. 26, 2000 -- Wallace started from the pole in race record fashion and led five times for a total of 279 laps en route to his 53rd career win overall and his ninth at Bristol. It marked the first time he won both Bristol races in the same season.
12) Aug. 24, 2002 - A "bump and run" by Gordon with only a couple of laps remaining saw Gordon pass Wallace and go on to win and end his winless streak, while Wallace's own winless streak continued. Wallace debuted the new PC-54 in the race. It was Wallace's sixth career runner-up finish at Bristol.