Bring Back Competition

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BROOKLYN, Mich. - According to Miller Lite Team Penske Dodge driver Rusty Wallace and his feel of public opinion, perhaps "checkmate champs" such as a Borris Spassky or Bobby Fischer should consider donning a helmet and entering NASCAR Winston Cup races.

The circuit is heading back to the 2.0-mile Michigan International Speedway for Sunday's 400-mile, 200-lap GMS Marketplace 400 and it is a forgone conclusion that the winner will be determined by track position, fuel mileage or pit strategy - or a combination of those factors.

"But that's the way it has always been at Michigan and now it's that way everywhere we go, too," offered Wallace, a five-time race winner at MIS. "Through the years, you've come to expect that being the scenario at Michigan. I mean hell, even I have won a race at Michigan because of fuel mileage and Rusty Wallace winning on fuel mileage is about as likely to happen as a snowstorm in Honolulu.

"But the bottom line is that track position, pit strategy and fuel mileage are the most important factors in the sport today and it just can't stay that way. The feel that I'm getting is that folks are really getting tired of it. Yeah, you can just sit there and say, 'hey that's just Rusty moaning and groaning because he's not winning all the races like he used to,' but that's not the case at all.

"All you gotta do is just listen up to what the fans are saying," said Wallace, whose Saturday afternoon visits to his souvenir trailer to intermingle with fans are almost a weekly ritual. "They're getting tired of it. They'd occasionally like to see the guy with the strongest and fastest car win a race every once in a while.

"I was at an autograph session the other day when some of the fans made comments that really stuck in my head," Wallace continued. "They said that they really hoped that NASCAR would make changes to bring back some of the excitement there used to be. One particular fella' said that all his buddies feel the same way, too. They are getting sick and tired of the same old story - strategy, fuel mileage, and track position - winning all the races. They're all tired as hell of hearing about aero-push, clean air, dirty air and all.

"This one guy really caught my attention when he said - and he said it pretty damned straight-faced - 'You guys might as well get out there and run a few hot laps, then bring all the cars down pit road and park 'em. Then you guys can get out and play chess to see who they give the trophy to. It's gotten to be just about that bad.' Now if that doesn't get your attention, I don't know what would.

"I know that the guy wasn't being dead serious, but he certainly did a good job of making his point, didn't he? He said that he appreciated me trying to lobby NASCAR for changes - trying to push for the smaller rear spoilers, trying to get back to the softer tires and all. He said he was grateful for anybody who was trying to put more competition back into the sport.

"I told him that I know NASCAR is very much aware that there's a big problem out there and they're looking at it really hard. It may just look like they are only taking baby steps and they're not moving as fast as some of us would like to see 'em move.

"I've lobbied and played the politics about as long and hard as I can," Wallace said. "I've been very vocal about cutting these spoilers down and softening up the tires. But there's a limit to what I can do.

"When you get too vocal, some cats start claiming that I'm only whining and that I should just keep my big mouth shut and my thoughts to myself. I think the good thing now is that there are a ton of the fans that see what I've been talking about for almost two years now. They're beginning to get more and more vocal about it, too. They want to see better racing and they're all talking about it. They're sending letters and e-mails to NASCAR, to the different race tracks and to the racing papers and all.

"At least I think that now NASCAR knows something needs to be done to bring back better competition and they're hearing it from just about every direction they turn," said Wallace. "The fans and sponsors, the TV guys and other media, the track owners and promoters - they're all asking for better competition. NASCAR's smart enough to know that something has to be done and they'll figure it out. It may take some time, but they'll get it figured out."

The Michigan speedway has been the site of several "firsts" during Wallace's 20-year career on stock car racing's most elite tour. He claimed his first career Winston Cup pole in qualifying for the June 1987 race at MIS. His win in the June 1988 event marked his first oval track superspeedway victory. His win in the June 1996 race came after getting superb fuel mileage and rates as his lone "fuel mileage victory" to date.

Wallace's career record at MIS sports five wins, 15 top-five finishes and 20 top-10 finishes in 39 races. His first career Winston Cup pole also rates as his lone top qualifying spot earned at the Michigan track.

Wallace started 17th and finished 12th in the June race at MIS.

Sunday's GMS Marketplace 400 has a 1:30 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by TNT-TV and MRN Radio.

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