Over the past decade, Dale Earnhardt is the only NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver who rivals Rusty Wallace's extraordinary consistency year-in and year-out. During that 10-year span the duo has combined to post an astounding 79 victories - 40 by...
Over the past decade, Dale Earnhardt is the only NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver who rivals Rusty Wallace's extraordinary consistency year-in and year-out.
During that 10-year span the duo has combined to post an astounding 79 victories - 40 by Earnhardt, 39 by Wallace -- and 265 top-5 runs, not to mention each has finished among the top-10 in points nine times in the decade. Ironically, the only time the two missed the series banquet came in 1992, when they finished 12th and 13th, respectively.
This season, the two shared eerily similar numbers yet again, with Earnhardt winning three times to post a seventh-place finish in the point standings, and Wallace winning once to finish eighth.
By all counts, each had a fine season, but for Wallace, it wasn't enough.
"For some teams, that would be a season to dream for," said Wallace, who has finished among the top-10 in points in 13 of the past 14 seasons. "But for our team, it was quite honestly a bit of a letdown. Our expectations were not completely met, to say the least.
"But still, there were several different positives for our team this season. We kept the winning streak going and it means everything in the world to this organization and to me personally to continue to hold a spot in the elite group of winners. It's harder than ever to win in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. You pretty much have to be perfect on a given race day to put everything together that you need to win."
Fittingly, Wallace's perfect day came on his favorite track. On April 11, he led the most laps at the Bristol Motor Speedway bullring to win the Food City 500, his seventh career win there. However, he failed to win another race in 1999, leaving him stuck on 49 career victories heading into the new millennium, a position he doesn't plan on being in very long.
"If we're successful in putting together the championship formula, that 50th win is just around the corner," Wallace said. "And, so are the 51st and 52nd for that matter. I think we have a lot of positives to build on for the 2000 season and we're very optimistic about it all."
As he well should be. Wallace was strong at several venues on the series circuit in '99, posting seven top-5 and 16 top-10 finishes during the 34-race season. Aside from Bristol, his best run came at the Watkins Glen International road course, where he finished 3rd after starting on the Bud Pole. He started the season with three-straight top-10 runs, placing him second in the point race behind Mike Skinner.
However, he dropped outside the top-30 in the fourth and fifth events at Atlanta and Darlington, dropping him outside the top-10. Then, at Texas he returned to form, finishing fourth. The next week was his victory march at Bristol, which he followed with a seventh-place outing at Martinsville. He would go on to post top-5 runs at Richmond, Sears Point, The Glen, Rockingham and Martinsville before the close of the season.
Still, when reflecting on the season his thoughts are riddled with disappointment.
"To have won a race and finished in the top-10 in the points could be considered a minimum as far as our standards go in order for you to call it a successful season," Wallace said. "So, we can all keep our heads up and have a sense of pride about that."
One of the most impressive statistics of Wallace's '99 season is his lack of attrition. In 34 races, he failed to finish just three.
"We were able to continue a great level of consistency as far as the engine program goes," Wallace said. "My hat's off to Larry Wallace and all the guys at Penske Engines, Inc., for giving us a degree of reliability that's pretty much second to none. We only had three DNFs for the season and those were due to crashes. That kind of consistency is a requirement these days if you're making a serious run at the championship."
Wallace hopes to make a run at his second career title in 2000 (he won the 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship while driving Raymond Beadle's Pontiacs), but knows that to accomplish that feat, good luck must be smiling on the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.
"Like I said, the level of competition has grown to the point that you've got to be pretty much bullet-proof all the way around if you're going to have a shot at winning the championship these days," Wallace said. "You have to have virtually no DNFs, solid consistent work in the pits the entire race and continuously finishing there in the top-5 and top-10.
"That's the formula for championship seasons and it's what we're looking for in the 2000 season."
Wallace is certainly among the corps of drivers who have the capability of doing just that. He's Mr. Consistency for goodness' sake.
Rusty Wallace is the very definition of NASCAR consistency.