Wallace still searching for answers

Winless streak
reaches 84 races for Cup veteran

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com
BRISTOL -- With each passing race, it becomes a bigger deal to Rusty Wallace. If it weren't for Jeff Gordon's bump and run at the end of last year's Sharpie 500, Wallace wouldn't have to be talking about a career worst 84-race winless streak and the end to 16 consecutive seasons of scoring at least one Winston Cup victory.
"I've won nine times here and should have won 13 or 14, easy," said the driver of the No. 2 Dodge while testing Tuesday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "Some of them have slipped away with just a few laps to go. I hope I win this race. That's what I'm here testing for."
When asked specifically what will happen if he is near Gordon at the end of this year's race, Wallace replied: "It depends on how close he is. If he's real close, he's going to get a bump. Fans love seeing beating and banging, where they can scream and holler."
For Wallace, BMS has always been a magical place with nine of his career 54 victories coming on the high banks. If he were to win next Saturday night's Sharpie 500, Wallace would join an elite group of drivers to have double digits wins at one race track. That group currently only consists of four drivers, Richard Petty at three tracks, Darrell Waltrip at Bristol and Martinsville, David Pearson at Darlington and Dale Earnhardt at Talladega.
"This is an important test," said Wallace about coming to BMS. "If I didn't like this track so much and need to get myself back into victory lane, I wouldn't be testing. We're always good when we come here, I want to be really, really good. We are working on the shock absorbers, the geometry of the car and it's a good day for testing.
"I enjoy this place. I like coming to Bristol. I have all the car dealerships down in Morristown and next to Knoxville. I go there visit all the guys and come up to the race track and have a good time."
For Wallace, who has scored the most wins in a season four times in his career, his struggles have been magnified by the fact that his younger Penske Racing teammate, Ryan Newman, leads the Winston Cup Series with four wins this season.
One of Newman's wins came three weeks ago at Pocono, a race Wallace feels his team would have won if not for blown pit strategy.
"We're having a problem with the strategy racing," said Wallace, still winless in 58 tries with crew chief Billy Wilburn. "It's killing the racing and a lot of the networks and fans are complaining about it. NASCAR needs to do something about it fast.
"The tires are way too hard and the cars have too much rear spoiler. It's messing the racing up bad. The fans are starting to say bad things about it and I hope NASCAR will listen."
Another race earlier in the season at Rockingham, where Rusty led the most laps in, has been a symbol of missed opportunities for the Miller Lite team. "It's been so long at Rockingham, I've almost forgot about it," said Wallace, whose car will sport a special paint scheme commemorating his 1989 NASCAR championship at BMS. "That was one where we had a huge lead and had a problem where we got loose. Then, we've had some races where there have been stupid problems, whether it was out on the race track or a bad pit call or whatever."
Very few will question the former champ's desire or his talent. He and retired champion Benny Parsons are the only drivers to win stock car racing titles for three major sanctioning bodies. The first Winston Cup race he entered was a second place finish at Atlanta in 1980.
Rusty's 54 career wins are eighth on the all-time win list, ranking him second among active drivers behind Gordon. In addition, Wallace, who will turn 47 on Thursday, has racked up 36 pole positions and has the second longest streak of consecutive starts among active drivers.
"It's been very frustrating having the year we are having," admitted Wallace, who ranks 11th in the point standings. "I'm just drudging through it and trying to learn something and get into victory lane. This has been one of the toughest years I've had."