TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 22, 1998) Rusty Wallace enters this weekend's DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway with unparalleled confidence. After all, he is coming off his career's best restrictor-plate racing finish of fifth in the ...
TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 22, 1998)
Rusty Wallace enters this weekend's DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway with unparalleled confidence. After all, he is coming off his career's best restrictor-plate racing finish of fifth in the season-opening Daytona 500.
It is now a situation of "plate power" for Wallace and his Miller Lite Team Penske as they enter the Talladega weekend with three straight top-10s in points-paying restrictor-plate races and a win in February's non-points Bud Pole Shootout at Daytona.
"I guess you could say that we have us a streak going in the 'plate' races and that may surprise some people, but not me," said Wallace, who finished sixth in Monday's race at Martinsville to extend his lead in the standings. "We've always been confident that we could run up front and have good finishes as long as we were on an even basis. It's just taken us until the last year or so to finally get what we needed to be competitive.
"We went through a real tough period several years ago when we'd qualify back in the back and then get caught up in all the big crashes. The media guys, they'd say 'ol Rusty's up for more doom and gloom when we'd race at Talladega or Daytona. He's gonna' crash or blow up, they'd say. And for a while there, they were probably right. They thought that I was horrified and hated racing at those places.
"The fact was that I hated having to compete at such a disadvantage. I love racing at all the tracks when we're on the same playing field. Now that that's the case, I really enjoy racing at Daytona and Talladega.
"With all the gains we've made over the last several races, I think that we've proven that we can be super competitive when we have the right stuff. The horsepower we've been able to massage out of the restricted motors and the good aero features of the Ford Taurus have made us competitive and finally have us in a position where we can win one of these things (restrictor-plate races). Our big day could come Sunday at Talladega and we're really looking forward to it."
Wallace's 'plate' racing turnaround has been impressive to say the least. During the 16 restrictor-plate races held from 1993 through 1996, he experienced seven official DNFs (not running at the finish). But that number doesn't show that in several other races he returned to the track after getting swept up in accidents. Even during his previous career-best 'plate' race finish of sixth in May 1993 at Talladega, his car was airborne as it crossed the finish line. He found out that he finished sixth from his Birmingham hospital bed. His average finish during the eight races of 1994-1995 was a dismal 32nd-place (31.625) average finish.
Wallace enters Sunday's Talladega race sporting a 7.0 average finish during the last three 'big-track' races.
"We started getting our act together toward the end of 1996," Wallace said. "We finished 10th at Talladega that August, even though we still qualified way back in the pack (started 32nd). I really thought that we had all our ducks in a row going into Daytona last year. We ran second in the 'Clash and finished sixth or so in our 125 (-mile qualifying race).
"We ran strong in the (Daytona) 500, too, but the motor let go and we finished way back there (in 41st position). We qualified fourth and led at Talladega last May before we had more engine-related problems. Then at Daytona last July we finally put together a good qualifying run (started 6th) and a strong race finish (finished 6th).
"We had a great Daytona Speedweeks back in February. We won the Shootout and seemed to be hovering in the top-five in qualifying and racing in everything else down there. We ran up front all day in the Daytona 500. Having Jeremy (Mayfield, driver of the Penske-Kranefuss Mobil 1 Ford) as a partner was a big help. It seemed like it was the '3-car' (race winner Dale Earnhardt), the '12' (Mayfield) and the '2' (Wallace) running up front all day long. For a while there, it looked like everybody was faced with making green-flag stops and if that had happened, it'd been either Jeremy or us winning the thing and the other finishing second. But, as it turned out that wasn't the case and we fought for that fifth-place finish. We're planning on teaming up again this weekend and looking for an even stronger finish in the race."
Friday's 3 p.m. EDT Bud Pole Qualifying will allocate the first 25 starting positions for Sunday's 188-lap, 500-mile battle around the 2.66-mile track. Saturday's final round of time trials at 11 a.m. EDT will complete the 43-car starting field.
Sunday's DieHard 500 has a 1 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by ABC-TV and MRN Radio. Source: NASCAR Online