Formula One
 Sunday, March 26
Wallace defends title, earns 50th career win
Associated Press

  • Listening to his teammate Jeremy Mayfield's set-up ideas helped. Learning every nuance of Bristol Motor Speedway over his 14 years helped. Leaning on both other's and his own car at the right time always helps on a short track. But Wallace won because he wins on short tracks. Of his 50 career wins, a remarkable 20 have come on ovals less than a mile long. In fact, his first Winston Cup win came at Bristol in 1986. His patience may have been running out over the past 350 days since victory No. 49 at Bristol. But on Sunday, he was patient, and let the milestone win come to him.
    For much of Sunday's race it appeared as though Team Penske would finish 1-2, as Jeremy Mayfield led four times for 124 laps, most of the time with Wallace on his bumper. But when Wallace passed his young teammate on lap 304, it would be the final time Mayfield led the race. Mayfield wound up fourth.
  • Labonte finished fifth, put increased his lead to 32 points over his closest pursuer -- Ward Burton -- who moved up two spots with his third-place run. Wallace moved to sixth, replacing Tony Stewart, who dropped to 12th. Oh, by the way, Jeff Gordon cracked the Top 10.
    1. Bobby Labonte, 944
    2. Ward Burton, 903
    3. Mark Martin, 900
    4. Dale Jarrett, 826
    5. Dale Earnhardt, 813
  • Through no fault of his own, Dale Earnhardt was taken out of Sunday's race while leading when he was clipped by a spinning Kenny Irwin. The incident came midway through the race, happened in Turn 4, and Terry Labonte was nowhere near the scene. But ... who could blame the No. 5 team if they cracked a few smiles at the time.
  • For the third week in a row, the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet ended up a mess, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., left Bristol battered and bruised. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth rolled to a steady 11th-place finish to widen his lead in the rookie of the year standings. Stacy Compton posted the next-best finish in 28th, while Dave Blaney (35th) and Jeff Fuller (37th) each joined Little E (38th) in and then behind the wall.
  • We've already mentioned Earnhardt's misfortunes. Both Bill Elliott (36th) and Tony Stewart (42nd) had engine woes as well. But Jeff Gordon's run of bad luck continued Sunday, as he saw his chances at victory end in the pits when he ran into Steve Park's tire leaving his pit box. Prior to his trouble, Gordon led five times for 225 laps. He managed to finish a season-best eight, but hasn't finished in the top-five now in 11 races dating back to last season.
  • Johnny Benson's Pontiac may have been the strongest car at the finish. He just ran out of laps trying to catch Wallace. Taking four tires under the final caution period, Benson charged from fifth to a career-best, second-place finish in a matter of 23 laps. He's currently 16th in the points despite missing the race in Atlanta.
  • Results

    BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Need to regain your short-track edge and reach a Winston Cup milestone? For Rusty Wallace, there's no better place than Bristol.

    "I really put a big bull's-eye on this place, it's one of my favorites," said Wallace, who defended his Food City 500 title Sunday and became only the 10th driver in NASCAR with at least 50 victories. "I worked hard to get this one and pointed here."

    And Wallace won't make the same mistake he did a year ago. He left here thinking he would win "five or six more times." Instead, his Ford Taurus was shut out the rest of the season, leaving him stuck on 49 career wins and answering question after question about when the next one would come.

    Wallace came close, including a fourth-place finish last month in the Daytona 500.

    "I thought maybe we were jinxed," said Wallace, who won $87,585.

    But Wallace knew where he would build his firewall. He tested here two weeks ago and told his crew "I don't want any excuses, I don't want anything to go wrong this week," he said.

    The crew took care of its part and Wallace did his, passing Dale Jarrett with 75 laps left and holding on to victory. He joins Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for eighth place on NASCAR's career victory list.

    "We kept talking about No. 50 and the wins just wouldn't come," he said. "It's an honor to be tied with those guys."

    Now, with the milestone win, Wallace won't let up again like last year.

    "I've got that mentality now of what it takes to win these things," Wallace said. "Of what you have to do to get off the pipe and make it happen."

    Wallace won for the eighth time at Bristol Motor Speedway, a dangerous 0.533-mile stretch that he's been able to master the past decade. His first Winston Cup victory was at Bristol on April 6, 1986.

    Wallace finished 2.622 seconds ahead of Johnny Benson, whose Pontiac picked its way through the 11 cautions and pounds of twisted metal to go from 33rd to second. Ward Burton, last week's 400 winner at Darlington Raceway, was next, placing two Pontiacs in the top three.

    Jeremy Mayfield, Wallace's teammate, was fourth, followed by Terry Labonte, the first top five for a Rick Hendrick driver this season.

    It helped Wallace that nine-time Bristol winner Dale Earnhardt got caught in a wreck while leading the race, and Jeff Gordon, who led 225 laps, hit a tire leaving the pits and fell from first to 17th.

    No one had enough for a recharged Wallace.

    Wallace practiced at Bristol and Martinsville, also less than a mile in length, the past two weeks, looking to rediscover the invincibility he used to feel at NASCAR circuits that require as much cunning as power.

    "Anybody who says we're not working hard is just not paying attention," Wallace said.

    Bristol's high sloping curves took their toll with 11 accidents. The most frightening came with 35 laps to go when Rick Mast slammed flush into the driver's side of John Andretti's sliding car. Mast walked to the ambulance holding his midsection. It took several minutes to free Andretti, who also headed to an ambulance under his own power.

    Both were checked out and released.

    Wallace was one of the few leaders who escaped problems.

    Earnhardt electrified the more than 155,000 fans, charging from 11th to pass Gordon for the lead on lap 206. But two laps later, while racing to the start-finish line under the caution flag, The Intimidator sliced the car of Kenny Irwin, whose wreck caused the stoppage.

    Rusty Wallace
    Rusty Wallace acknowledges the Bristol Motor Speedway crowd in Victory Lane after winning his 50th career Winston Cup race.

    Earnhardt spun back into the pits, a tire flying off his car. When he returned to racing, he was 153 laps down and out of the running.

    Earnhardt said if Irwin had held "the brakes on I would have been all right. I'd done committed myself to the low side, and that's all I could do."

    Gordon, the three-time Winston Cup champion whose winless streak grew to 11 races, had one of the strongest cars, leading the most laps of anyone in the 500-lap event. His revamped Rainbow Warriors got him out quickest of the leaders during a caution on lap 386. But Gordon couldn't avoid the tire from Steve Park's pit stall and needed three additional stops to fix things.

    "It was my fault, I blasted it pretty good," said Gordon, whose eighth place tied his season's best finish. "We had such a strong car, it's a shame that had to happen.

    Park, who smashed Wallace's Bristol qualifying mark Friday, couldn't hold his position and quickly fell back.

    Not even Mayfield, who read Wallace's notes from his Bristol testing session and led 124 laps, could hold off Wallace.

    "We needed to get this one today," Robin Pemberton, Wallace's crew chief, said. "This is one of our favorite race tracks. We wanted this."

    Wallace had an average speed of 88.018 mph.

    Notebook: Beamer happy Hokie in land of Volunteers

     Rusty Wallace earns his 50th career Winston Cup victory.
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     Dale Earnhardt runs into trouble while leading the race.
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     Rich Mast T-bones John Andretti's Pontiac late in the race.
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     Rusty Wallace gets his biggest win at his favorite track.
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     Crew chief Robin Pemberton is proud of his driver.
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     The day wasn't perfect, but Johnny Benson is happy.
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     Ward Burton thanks his Caterpillar team for a great day at the track.
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     Jeremy Mayfield is satisfied to make a good run at victory.
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