Definitely No Respect

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Miller Lite Team Penske Dodge driver Rusty Wallace fondly recalls his win in the September 1994 race at Dover International Speedway as among his personal "top-five" of the 54 victories he has enjoyed entering this weekend's return to the track known as the "Monster Mile."

"Now that was racing excitement at its best, if you ask me," said Wallace, a three-time race winner and five-time pole winner on the one-mile high-banked concrete oval. "It was the utmost drama and it all happened out there on the race track. The spectacle that it was happened right out there on the track in front of all the fans and the live TV audience. It wasn't what we've been seeing lately -- with all the hullabaloo going on back in the garage area and out on pit road after the race -- getting the primary focus."

In the Sept. 18, 1994 race, the battle for the win came down to a three-way affair between Wallace, Mark Martin and the late Dale Earnhardt.

"It was one of those five-hour, 500-lap races like we used to have at Dover before they wised up and cut it back to 400 laps like it is today," said Wallace, whose latest Dover pole came in qualifying for last September's race when he turned in a fast lap of 156.822 mph (22.956 seconds). He maintains the track qualifying record of 159.964 mph (22.505 seconds) set in 1999. "Back then, we'd always have a middle of the race that was a yawner most of the time for the fans and not too much better for the drivers and teams. The crew chiefs would keep on reading lap times to keep the drivers at it for so long. It was just too long back then and we'd really just be logging laps out there and saving the good racing for the final hundred laps.

"The fans had been waiting all race long for some good, close competition and they really got their money's worth at the end of that one, I'll tell you that.

"We had a bunch of yellows early in the race, but we ran the last 150 laps or so going into the last few laps under green," recalled Wallace, who fought back from an engine change and 43rd-place start to finish a strong sixth Sunday at New Hampshire. "I remember Mark (Martin) was leading the thing as the laps wound down, but me and Earnhardt were chasing him down in a hurry. We were all three just racing our tails off out there. I'd really closed up on Mark and was only a few car lengths back. Dale was riding right on my (rear) end and pressuring me like you wouldn't believe.

"It was down to just a handful of laps (six laps remaining) and we all came barreling into (Turns) 3 and 4 and right there in the middle of Turn 4, Mark blew a right front tire and plowed into the outside wall. He hit so hard that it sent pieces of metal all over the place. We got on by and just barely nipped Dale at the yellow flag for the lead.

"We ran under the yellow for another lap and I'll be darned if my engine didn't start spitting and sputtering because we were running out of gas," Wallace continued. "Buddy Parrott was the crew chief back then and he was yelling on the radio to wiggle the car back and forth ­ to zig and zag as he said ­ to get the fuel pickup to suck up what fuel was left. On one of those zigs or zags I hit the apron and ran over some of the metal. Wouldn't you know it? We cut down a right rear.

"So there we are leading the race, riding around the track running out of gas and with a flat tire and riding on the rim ­ sparks flying and all. Buddy's down there on pit road yelling at the official that the track's still a mess and to keep the yellow out -- and R.C. (Richard Childress) and all of Earnhardt's team were screaming that everything was fine and we should get back to green.

"We were lucky that day in that the laps ran out and we didn't go back to green. We took the white flag and I was doing all I could to keep the thing moving and stay up close to the pace car. We were down on the apron all the way through (Turns) 1 and 2 and (Turns) 3 and 4 and the thing was totally out when we crossed the line for the checkers.

"So there we were being pushed by the crew into Victory Lane, with the gas tank bone dry and a flat right rear tire with all the rubber shredded completely off the wheel," Wallace said with a smile. "The fans were going wild and the media were right there in the middle clamoring all about it.

"What really put the icing on the cake was when I talked later to Dale about it," said Wallace. "He just flashed that big famous grin of his and said, ORubberhead, that was about the damnedest thing I ever saw. You didn't deserve to be that lucky."

And speaking of his late racing rival and close friend Earnhardt­ what would he think of the recent post-race antics that have actually overshadowed the media coverage given even to the winner of the race.

"I think he'd just have a blank stare and shake his head, pretty much in disbelief, if you ask me," Wallace offered. "Dale did all of his aggressiveness on the track, I knew that from first-hand experience. He wouldn't go for the punching after the race and he certainly wouldn't stand for wasting up racecars after the checkered flag had fallen. You gotta remember that he might have done a doughnut in the infield grass, but he looked down at all these burnout celebrations after the races. He didn't conjure up to damaging any of your stuff after the race was over. I think he had that kind of respect for all the guys back in the shop that worked on his cars and put them out there for him to race. After the fact, they sure brought them back to the shop all beat to hell after he'd won so many races, but it was stuff all done in winning the races and nothing he did senselessly after the race. That was just his style and he'll always be remembered for that, I think."

This Sunday's 400-lap, 400-mile race at Dover starts at 1:00 p.m. EDT and features live coverage by NBC-TV and MRN Radio.

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