LOUDON, N.H. -- It's been a long time since Rusty Wallace
had a legitimate shot at a championship, and the longtime NASCAR
star is excited by the prospect.
Sure, this season is "Rusty's Last Call," his final year as a
driver, but the 1989 champ of what was then the Winston Cup Series,
is thinking more about another title than his impending retirement.
"This is my final season as a driver and I want to go out being
remembered as a winner," Wallace said as the Penske Racing South
team prepared his No. 2 Dodge for Friday's opening practice at New
Hampshire International Speedway.
Wallace is one of the 10 drivers qualified for the second Chase
for the Nextel Cup championship, and the first event of the 10-race
playoff-style format is Sunday's Sylvania 300.
The 10 title contenders have had their points reset, with just
45 points separating leader Tony Stewart from 10th-place Ryan
Newman. Wallace is third, just 10 points behind Stewart.
It's been a fun season for the 49-year-old Wallace. He has been
competitive in nearly every race and comes to New Hampshire with
seven top-fives and 14 top-10s in the first 26 races. Just as
important, he is the only Cup regular who has been running at the
end of every race this season.
The one thing Wallace is missing in 2005 is a victory, as are
fellow contenders Mark Martin and Newman, Wallace's Penske
No driver in NASCAR's 56-year history has won a championship
without visiting Victory Lane at least once.
"You could win the title without winning a race, but that's not
the way I want to win it," said Wallace, who has 55 career wins,
but none in the last 54 races ago, dating to April 2004 in
Martinsville, Va. "Would I be disappointed to win the championship
and not win a race this year? That's not a real easy question to
A year ago, Kurt Busch, also is eligible to race for the title --
along with Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Jeremy Mayfield, Carl
Edwards and Matt Kenseth -- got off to a fast start in the inaugural
Chase by winning at New Hampshire. Busch went on to record nine top-10s in the final 10 races, holding on to win the title by eight
points despite Johnson's four wins in the last six races.
"That just shows how important consistency is and it's our
consistency that has gotten us this far," Wallace said. "There's
really no need to be looking for some other game plan.
"What we have to do is keep that top level of consistency
going. We have to be there at the end of all 10 races and get
everything we can out of each and every one of them."
Wallace noted he won six times in his championship season, but
failed to win the title in 1993 and 1994, when he won 10 and eight
"The truth is that some of the races this season were won by
drivers who didn't deserve to win and some guys who deserved to win
just didn't, for one reason or another," he said. "It's not like
some guy's out there stroking around [and] just so happens to come
out with the most points. That just can't happen out there as
competitive as our sport is today."
Wallace frowned, adding, "Let's not forget we've already had a
pretty incredible season, and that shouldn't go unnoticed. We still
have plenty of time to win a race or races, but our team deserves a
lot of credit for the consistency we've had."
Crew chief Larry Carter agreed.
"That's the goal every week, to win," Carter said. "I do feel
like, especially in the first 26 races, the drivers are a little
bit smarter when they get into a situation where 'Do I need to push
it now and potentially wreck the car or do I need to ride a little
bit?' I think you see guys err a little bit to the conservative
side trying to be more consistent.
"I think going into the last 10, you need to be consistent, but
you're also going to have to go for it, too. It's not going to be a
matter of just being consistent and finishing seventh or eighth or
fifth. You're going to have to try to finish first, second or third
to have enough points at the end."