Wallace answered critics' questions

Updated: April 18, 2004, 10:08 PM ET
Associated Press

Rusty Wallace
Wallace
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.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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