Wallace also wants to leave in his prime

Updated: September 3, 2004, 9:10 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Rusty Wallace
Wallace

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace officially announced Monday that he will retire at the end of the 2005 season, saying he is concerned about getting hurt and wants to leave at the top of his game.

ESPN's Mike Massaro broke the news Aug. 22 that Wallace had decided to bow out after '05.

Wallace's decision was influenced by the death of rival Dale Earnhardt in a Daytona 500 crash in 2001.

"It kind of got to me," Wallace said Monday at a news conference at the Daytona International Speedway complex. "It made me feel nervous. It made me think hard about it."

Wallace, 48, has won 55 races. The St. Louis native made his NASCAR debut in 1980 and has won almost every major race except the Daytona 500.

"This is my last shot at the Daytona 500," Wallace said. "The Daytona 500 is still the granddaddy of them all. It's the race I haven't won, and I'm going to try my darnedest to win it."

Wallace, who drives for Penske Racing South, intends to stay in racing as a team owner and mentor for younger drivers after he retires. His brothers Mike and Kenny and 17-year-old son Stephen are drivers. He also plans to do TV commercials tied to his corporate sponsorships with Miller Brewing Co. and other companies.

"It's hard for a great driver to say, 'Look, it's time,'" said Roger Penske, majority owner of Penske Racing South. "But I think that's the position of a great driver to say 'I know when it's time for me to move on.'"

Wallace became a full-time competitor on the circuit in 1984, when he was rookie of the year. He claimed the series national driving title in 1989 and finished runner-up for the championship in 1988 and 1993. His most recent victory was in April in Martinsville, Va.

"It's time. I feel it," Wallace said, referring to his retirement decision. "I know I'm doing the right thing, and I feel good about it."

Wallace is the first veteran driver to announce such plans, but others probably aren't too far behind. Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte all were born the same year as Wallace. Bill Elliott, 48, ran his last full season in 2003 and is competing on a partial schedule. Sterling Marlin and Jimmy Spencer are 47, Mark Martin is 45, and Kyle Petty is 44. Martin has indicated that, like Wallace, 2005 will be his last season.

"I'm trying to talk him out of it," car owner Jack Roush said. "The way he's driving and the way the team is, I'd like to have two more years after next year."

Wallace brought an enthusiasm and intensity to racing that helped spread NASCAR's popularity the past 20 years, said Brian France, chairman and chief executive of NASCAR.

"Whenever we needed Rusty to help us win the people over ... he would jump on an airplane and do whatever it takes to help us grow the sport," France said.

Bill France Jr., co-vice chairman of NASCAR, who handed control of NASCAR over to son Brian last year, said he would miss Wallace's outspokenness "despite all the times he has given us hell about one thing or another."

"Whatever his feelings about a particular issue, Rusty always has been interested in the betterment of the sport," France said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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