Wallace surges in standings

Third-place Dover finish has retiring driver second in points

September 26, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

DOVER, DEL. -- Third place in a race isn't usually the happiest finish for a competitive racer. But when veteran Nextel Cup driver Rusty Wallace climbed from his No. 2 Dodge yesterday at the end of the MBNA RacePoints 400, he could have been mistaken for the Cheshire Cat.

"Man, for my last race at Dover, that's pretty respectable," Wallace said, the grin spreading. "I want to go out of this sport on top of my game, and to be second in points - just seven points out [of first] - this is pretty strong."

Wallace, in his 25th Cup season, has said every year since winning the 1989 Cup championship that he was going to win another one. And now, with just eight races left in The Chase for the Championship, this has turned into his best chance.

And, as luck would have it, it is his last season.

"I'm driving better than I ever have in my life," said Wallace, 49. "It makes you think twice about stopping. It makes you think maybe the last thing I should be doing is hanging up my helmet now. But I said I would."

Yesterday, when eight drivers in the Nextel Cup's top 10 points standings changed places, Wallace's third-place finish allowed him to leap from fourth to second, behind only race-winner Jimmie Johnson, who climbed five places to reach the top.

Wallace's longtime friend and competitor, Mark Martin, 46, and the second-oldest driver in The Chase, finished fourth and climbed from seventh to fourth in the standings.

"I wouldn't say they would have been my least likely choices to challenge for the championship," Johnson said. "I have so much respect for those two guys. Today, I chased the No. 6 much of the afternoon before I passed him for the lead, and then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw Rusty's blue hood coming on.

"At their ages, they know what they're doing, and I think they are a serious threat."

Wallace, too, is thinking big. Noting the refined working relationship he has developed with crew chief Larry Carter, the Roger Penske driver indicated the sky appears to be the limit.

"It seems like every time we're on the racetrack we're top five or top six at worst. ... It does make you think twice," Wallace said. "But, on the other hand, I've made the right decision."

Wallace is on record as saying this is his final season, and negotiations are under way to get Kurt Busch, the 2004 series champion currently in 10th place, out of the remaining year of his contract with Jack Roush to take the seat Wallace has ridden in so long.

So Wallace is heading toward his own finish line. Everywhere he goes now he is feted. Here, before the start of the race, Delaware's governor and Dover's mayor said this was "Rusty Wallace Day" in the state and in the city, pronouncements he accepted with grace.

"Dover is one of my favorite cities on the tour," he said. "And it's amazing to have a day made in my honor."

To celebrate, he got in his race car and drove as he hadn't driven in years. He hung around the top 10 most of the day and then put on a strong effort over the final 72 laps to climb from fifth to third, passing Martin on Lap 397 for his third-place finish.

"The hardest part of my day was getting in and out of the pits," he said. "I had to back up six times just to get out of the pit. It was really amazing how much time I was losing in the pits. It was getting pretty frustrating to say the least. Driving me crazy. But finally, at the very end, I was able to stop short enough to barely clear the No. 38 [Elliott Sadler] car and pull out."

And then he was on his way.

smm2me@aol.com

Nextel Cup

Points leaders

Driver (Prev. Pos.) Points Wins Top 5 Top 10

Jimmie Johnson (6) 5,362 3 10 17

Rusty Wallace (4) 5,355 0 8 16

Ryan Newman (3) 5,350 1 7 12

Mark Martin (7) 5,341 0 7 14

Tony Stewart (1) 5,339 5 13 19

Greg Biffle (2) 5,339 5 11 16

Jeremy Mayfield (8) 5,281 1 4 8

Carl Edwards (9) 5,259 2 8 11

Matt Kenseth (5) 5,238 1 7 12

Kurt Busch (10) 5,192 3 8 14

NASCAR

Nextel Cup

Dover 400

At Dover, Del. Lap length: 1 mile (Start position in parentheses)

1. (5) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy, 404, $296,641, 115.054 mph.

2. (3) Kyle Busch, Chevy, 404, $164,275.

3. (6) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, 404, $157,858.

4. (7) Mark Martin, Ford, 404, $126,550.

5. (1) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 404, $155,616.

6. (22) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 404, $129,541.

7. (12) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 404, $114,020.

8. (34) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 404, $100,808.

9. (32) Carl Edwards, Ford, 404, $93,850.

10. (23) Casey Mears, Dodge, 404, $105,858.

11. (36) Jeff Burton, Chevy, 404, $102,895.

12. (20) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 403, $101,764.

13. (18) Greg Biffle, Ford, 403, $87,875.

14. (26) Brian Vickers, Chevy, 403, $79,625.

15. (15) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 403, $105,583.

16. (2) Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 403, $113,200.

17. (9) Joe Nemechek, Chevy, 403, $91,783.

18. (31) Tony Stewart, Chevy, 402, $114,136.

19. (17) Kevin Harvick, Chevy, 402, $112,561.

20. (24) Dave Blaney, Chevy, 402, $79,025.

21. (13) Travis Kvapil, Dodge, 402, $76,725.

22. (38) Mike Wallace, Chevy, 402, $68,475.

23. (10) Kurt Busch, Ford, 401, $133,500.

24. (29) Scott Riggs, Chevy, 401, $87,733.

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