Wallace needs win to prolong streak

Posted: Sunday, November 03, 2002

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Rusty Wallace is on edge. All his energy is channeled into just one thing: winning a race.

Wallace goes into Sunday's Pop Secret 400 on a 59-race winless streak. With just three events remaining this season, he's in serious jeopardy of not winning for the first time in 17 years.

He won't mask being close to panicking. Not winning this year would be devastating, in part because a victory would break Wallace's tie with Ricky Rudd for the Winston Cup record of at least one win in 16 consecutive seasons.

''I would be lying if I didn't say this is killing me,'' Wallace said Saturday. ''There's not a lax bone in my body anywhere.

"All I can do is think about winning a race.''

Wallace could hardly sit still will discussing his frustration, the words tumbling out of his mouth as he threw his hands up in the air in amazement.

''I don't know what I've got to do to make it happen,'' he said. ''I've got to win a race. I've just got to.''

Should he fail to reach Victory Lane at North Carolina Speedway, his final two chances will be at Phoenix International Raceway and in Homestead, Fla.

Wallace takes some comfort in that, knowing he was in the same position in 1998 heading to Phoenix.

He won there, earning the victory when the race was called because of rain after the halfway point.

''We're pulling out all the stops to get this win, and Rockingham and Phoenix are my best shots,'' Wallace said. ''And we are so focused on Phoenix ... we've got to take our best car because we've got to have the win.''

Even though he hasn't won, this is still a successful season for the 1989 series champion.

He's fifth in the standings, 227 points behind leader Tony Stewart, and he's come close to winning at least twice.

Wallace was the late-race leader in Indianapolis in August, only to finish second to Bill Elliott. Three weeks later, he was headed to victory at Bristol Motor Speedway when Jeff Gordon knocked him out the way with a lap to go, allowing Gordon to end his winless streak and sending Wallace home heartbroken.

''Bristol hurt, I had that one,'' Wallace said. ''But I got my rear knocked in and had it taken away from me.''

Wallace's current drought is not the longest of his career -- he didn't earn his first victory until his 72nd start and has won at least once a year every season since. His most recent victory was in April of last year at California Speedway.

''It seems like a lifetime ago,'' he said. ''It really, really, really can drag you down.''

Another issue Wallace has been facing this season is the tremendous success of rookie teammate Ryan Newman, who starts from the pole on Sunday. Wallace goes from the eighth spot on the grid.

Newman has won five poles this season, tying the series record for rookies set by the late Davey Allison. Newman also won the annual all-star race in May, earned his first points-race victory in September in New Hampshire and is fourth in the standings -- 24 points ahead of Wallace.

Newman knows how much Wallace wants to win, but offers no apologies for his success.

''No guilt, without a doubt,'' Newman said. ''It seems like a lot of times, things come in streaks. Rusty's time is coming and Rusty knows that.

''You can't just win that many races that many years in a row and just not win anymore.''

So Wallace will put everything he has into the race on Rockingham's 1.017-mile, D-shaped oval, where he leads all active drivers with five career victories. Wallace is second in victories among active drivers with 54, trailing only four-time series champion Gordon, who has 61.

Wallace loves the worn, abrasive Rockingham pavement, which gives the driver a chance to use his skill and not rely strictly on horsepower and setups.

''I like this track a lot,'' Wallace said. ''I think we have a good car and I think we have a good chance.

''We'll see what happens, but we're certainly going to try.''

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