Wallace bounced back big in 1998 By Brett Borden NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 1998) If nothing else, 1998 will be remembered by Rusty Wallace and his fans as the year he regained consistency. The 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion hit a few bumps...
Wallace bounced back big in 1998 By Brett Borden
NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 1998) If nothing else, 1998 will be remembered by Rusty Wallace and his fans as the year he regained consistency. The 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion hit a few bumps in the road, but not enough to keep him from having statistically his best year since he won 18 races in a two-year span from 1993-94.
Wallace won only one official race (the Dura-Lube/Kmart 500 at Phoenix International Raceway) and one exhibition race (the Bud Shootout at Daytona), but his fourth-place finish in the final standings was his best showing since he placed third in 1994. His 15 top-five finishes were one below his total in that category from the two previous years combined. His 21 top-10s were his most since 1993. And most importantly, his DNFs went from 11 in 1997, when he finished a distant ninth in the points, to just two in 1998.
"The consistency was certainly there," Wallace said. "And, in those two DNF races, we had super strong runs going. We blew an engine at California with less than 10 laps remaining while running second. Then we had another engine failure at Pocono, where (teammate Jeremy Mayfield) won the thing. We had the same stuff as he did and should have been a contender in that race, too. I'm still in shock that we finished ninth in the points last year with that many DNFs. I still say that's gotta be some kind of record...for finishing in the top-10 in points with that many DNFs."
The biggest improvement for the No. 2 team came on the restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega. Wallace won the season-opening Bud Shootout at Daytona, then added top-five finishes in the Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400 for good measure. In the year of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Wallace stepped up to the plate races and got himself on base, instead of striking out like in years past. The 529 points he gathered in the four races at the circuit's two biggest tracks was the fifth-best of all competitors.
"We're headed in the right direction with the restrictor-plate program, that's for sure," Wallace said. "We finally have the right equipment and enough horsepower to run with them. I'm certainly proud of the progress we've made."
Wallace's win at Phoenix extended his streak to 13 consecutive seasons with at least one NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory. It was Wallace's first victory at the one-mile desert oval and his 48th overall. But mostly, it was a win that was long overdue. "That was personally important for me to keep that streak going," said Wallace. "But, the great thing about the whole deal was where it happened and the circumstances around the win. It marked our first career win at Phoenix. It was hard to believe that we had been racing there for a whole decade without winning before because my background holds so much success on other flat tracks like the Milwaukee Mile. The fact that we'd gone back to what had worked so well for us before, the straight-up Ronnie Hopkins (chassis) cars, and that it was a brand new race car there, all of that really added to making the win even more meaningful."
Wallace's 1998 season qualified as a success in more ways than one. He won four Bud Poles in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Taurus, and started on the outside of the front row three times. The last time Wallace won that many Bud Poles in a season was his 1989 championship season, when he also had four. He had an 8.91 average start, fourth-best in the series, and was one of only three competitors who did not have to resort to using a provisional starting spot during the season. He missed making the field in the first round in only one race.
"I've always said that I wasn't the best of qualifiers," said Wallace, who now has 22 career Bud Poles. "We really stepped it up after last season when we had to use way too many provisionals (five) and were tired of being embarrassed like that. I'm proud of what we did with our qualifying effort." He's proud of one other statistic from 1998, too. Wallace led the points standings early in the year for a stretch of eight races, the longest such stretch in his series career. It also marked the first time he held the top spot in five seasons.
"We all know that we had a very prosperous season and that's what really matters as far as the big picture is concerned," said Wallace. "This has always been a 'what have you done for me lately' sport, so the most important thing is to not get all wrapped up in what's already done, but rather concentrate on what you're hoping to do. What really has me excited right now isn't the success that we had in 1998, but having confidence that we can be even better in 1999. For a change, I didn't make any predictions about this season and we had the successful kind of season we had, so I'd be hard pressed to come out and make predictions about 1999. But we did finish fourth in the points and if we have confidence that we can do better next season, well there's not too many more spots ahead of that, is there?"
Source: NASCAR Online