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Wallace answered critics' questions

4/18/2004

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Rusty Wallace spent the off-week
leading up to Sunday's race playing golf in Arizona and watching
the Masters.

The time to relax and watch Phil Mickelson win his first major
at Augusta inspired Wallace, who felt a kinship with the golfer.

"I'll tell you what, I got all caught up with Phil Mickelson,"
he said. "I really like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els -- those are
two of the favorite guys I pull for a lot. And everyone's also
asking Mickelson, `When are you going to win? When are you going to
win the big one?'

"When he won, I swear, I looked at my wife and I said, `I
swear. Mine's just around the corner. It's gotta be,'" he said.

"That was a neat deal. Seeing all the emotion of him finally
breaking into the winner's circle two weeks ago and me finally
winning this thing and getting into the winner's circle again, it's
a great feeling."

Wallace ended his 105-race winless streak Sunday, outrunning
Bobby Labonte over the last 30 laps for his 55th career victory.

Seeing red
While Jeff Gordon felt like the foot long by foot
wide hole that appeared in the track cost him a chance at winning,
the 77-minute red flag delay hurt other drivers whose cars
sustained no damage.

"We were junk after we went back after the red flag," Jamie McMurray said. "I don't know why. We were pretty good before the break."

McMurray started second and ran in the top 10 for much of the
race, but faded to seventh and wasn't a factor late in the race.

Ditto for Matt Kenseth, who finished eighth.

"My car didn't run at all after the red flag," he said. "I
just couldn't get going at all. After we put tires back on, I was
OK."

Rudd and the rookie
Kasey Kahne has gotten good reviews for
his solid results early in his rookie season, but he did little to
enhance his relationship with veteran Ricky Rudd in Sunday's race.

Running in the top 15 with what he said was a top-10 quality
car, Rudd had to make a green-flag pit stop after contact when Kahne
cut his tire.

"I don't know what he was doing," Rudd said. "He was racing
us really hard. He was a lap down and we were on the lead lap and
got together.

"He wouldn't get out of the way."

Rudd wound up 20th in his 50th start at Martinsville. Kahne was
21st.

"I learned a lot today. It was a real education," Kahne said.

Field fillers
Joe Ruttman and Andy Hillenburg became the
first of the so-called field fillers to visit the garage in
Sunday's race, and it happened early. Both were off the track by
the fifth lap.

Ruttman pulled into the garage on lap three with brake trouble
and didn't return. On the fifth lap, Hillenburg hit the first turn
wall.

"It was really a shame. We've been getting better every week
and this week we were finally able to keep up with the guys,"
Hillenburg said.

By the time 100 laps had been run, Ruttman was already 98 laps
off the pace, Hillenburg was 96 behind the leaders and Todd Bodine
was 47 down.

Pit stops
Jeff Burton qualified 27th but started at the back
of the field in a backup car after crashing in practice Saturday.
He finished 25th, extending his winless streak to 84 races. ... The
track gave Darrell Waltrip its H. Clay Earles Award, given for
honesty and hard work to people who are dedicated to racing. It's
named for the track's founder. Waltrip won 11 races at Martinsville
and a record eight poles.