ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb.18, 1999) Rusty Wallace is hoping that all his "deuces" will bring him a big numero uno finishing spot in this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400 at North Carolina Speedway. Once again, Wallace and...
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb.18, 1999) Rusty Wallace is hoping that all his "deuces" will bring him a big numero uno finishing spot in this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400 at North Carolina Speedway.
Once again, Wallace and crew will be calling on their blue No. 2 "PR-22" chassis Ford Taurus to get the job done at Rockingham. Wallace debuted the car at Phoenix International Raceway last October and named it "Streaker" in his Victory Lane celebration. The win advanced his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one victory to 13.
"We're bringing the exact same car with the exact same thing in mind as last fall and that's getting us another Rockingham winning streak going," said Wallace, who posted three consecutive wins on the 1.017-mile track during the 1993 and 1994 seasons. "We were so close to winning the thing there in the last race and just let it slip right through our fingers. Man, I thought we had that one. I guess we just had 10 laps too many to run there at the end.
"The car ran lightning fast and we had everybody covered for about 25 or 30 laps and then it just fell off drastically. With about 20 laps to go, they were reading me off the lap times and we were holding our own. Then, with 15 to go, they started closing in. My car just got looser and looser. With 10 to go, here they came and there was just nothing that we could do but try to hold on for what we could get out of it and unfortunately it wasn't a win or a second, but a third.
"We won the Rockingham 390 there back in the fall," crew chief Robin Pemberton joked. "The problem was that we needed to be there up front 10 laps later than we were. We'll try a few minor chassis changes this time that should address the situation in case we're in that position again."
Wallace started third in last November's ACDelco 400. He wasted no time in grabbing the lead, taking the point for the first time on the second lap. At day's end, he had held the lead on five occasions for a total of 153 laps.
Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt shook out as the main contenders as the race drew toward a conclusion. During an unusually long caution-free period of almost 120 laps, Earnhardt was the final driver to pit on lap 277. The running order cycled around to see Jarrett as the leader and Wallace in second.
Pemberton's strategy of "short-pitting" or bringing Wallace in some five to seven laps sooner than the other lead lap cars helped to keep Wallace up front. Fresh tires were considerably faster than old ones.
The third caution flew on lap 297 for debris in Turn 2 and all the leaders pitted for tires and fuel. During the lap-299 pit stops, Wallace took the lead, with Jarrett second, Martin third, Gordon fourth and Terry Labonte fifth. Jeff Burton, Earnhardt, Ward Burton, Ricky Rudd and Bobby Hamilton were also among the 10 cars on the lead lap.
Wallace and Jarrett jumped out to a significant lead over the rest of the field with Wallace leading laps 300 to 338. Jarrett passed on the high side on lap 339 and sent Wallace back to second.
Jimmy Spencer's spin in Turn 2 on lap 349 brought out the fourth caution. During the ensuing caution-flag stops, Wallace's team again won the battle in the pits, getting their Ford out in the lead.
A 40-lap dash to the checkered flag was the scenario when the race went back to green on lap 353 with Wallace leading, Gordon second, Jarrett third, Martin fourth and Jeff Burton fifth. Wallace was able to hang on to the lead until lap 384 when Gordon, running the high line compared to Wallace's low line, passed him coming out of Turn 4 for the lead. Jarrett, also running the high line, got around for second on the following lap, relegating Wallace to the third-place finish.
Wallace has sound reason to be confident that his team can win Sunday's 393-lap, 400-mile race at Rockingham. The track has been the site of much success for Wallace and he is coming off second- and third-place finishes there in '98.
"We've won a whole bunch of races at Rockingham through the years and had a ton of seconds and thirds," said Wallace, who in the last 13 races at the track has posted three wins, two runner-up finishes, six top-5 finishes and eight top-10's. "The spring race there last year is another of those wins that got away from us. We led the thing almost till the very end. We thought we had it won and probably would have had there not been a caution there with about 30 laps to go.
"We thought we had a better car than the 24 up until that last pit stop. My car was a little tight after that and the front end was pushing a little bit too much. Robin asked me about making adjustments during the stop, but I didn't want to take the chance on making it one way or the other, so we just stuck with what we had. We probably should have loosened up the thing. That was the big difference at the end and that's how the 24 car won it. But, it was still one of those great Rockingham races for us."
Wallace started seventh and led four times for a total of 74 laps en route to the runner-up finish in the spring, crossing the line 1.281 seconds behind winner Gordon. He led as late as lap 362 in the 393-lap race.
Wallace's overall career Rockingham record includes five wins, 10 top-5 finishes and 15 top-10s in 30 starts. He has one Bud Pole at the track, which came in the first race of his 1989 championship season.
Bud Pole Qualifying sessions for the Dura-Lube/BigKmart 400 is scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. ET, for positions 1-25. Bud Second-Round Qualifying is Saturday at 11:15 a.m. ET to complete the 43-car starting field.
Sunday's race has a scheduled 12:30 p.m. ET starting time and features live coverage by TNN and MRN Radio.
Source: NASCAR Online