Wallace making most of 'Last Call'
But a 10th-place finish in the Daytona 500 was a sign of things to come. The veteran has posted 10 more such finishes and prompted questions from the gallery such as, "Are you sure you don't want to keep doing this?"
"That's the biggest compliment, I think, when people say you could do it for another year," Wallace said after his latest hot run, a second-place finish Sunday at Pocono Raceway. " I think I could still do it, but that's my last time."
Last call for Rusty at Pocono, and it sure was a good drink.
Wallace hasn't won a race this year -- in fact, the driver of the No. 2 Dodge hasn't won in 48 tries. But he doesn't care. Even falling just short of a victory didn't elicit any bitterness.
The Penske racer says he wants to win, but he's focused more on a bigger trophy -- one that requires only consistent top-fives and top-10s to nab.
"Right now I'm just trying to keep it strong and in the top 10 and get good finishes," he said. "That's my main goal right now."
And he was happy with his effort Sunday in that regard.
"That was a really important run in the Chase [for the Nextel Cup] because I keep approaching every single race like it's the last race," he said. "We had a great run today and didn't tear the car up. This is a good shakedown for [the All-State 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway]. This place is real close to Indy and I learned a lot today."
He wasn't the only one, either. As much fun as it was for longtime race fans to see Wallace re-emerge as a contender and give eventual race-winner Kurt Busch a handful, it was even more fun to observe Wallace battle a longtime foe and friend, Mark Martin, over the closing laps. Martin finished third, but said he wished he would've had more green-flag laps to take a shot at his fellow veteran.
"We could have done a little bit more [racing], but they had all those cautions," Martin said.
Busch had a great view of the veterans going at it. He was just ahead, which meant that not only did he get to see two of the sport's greats duke it out, but he had the comfort of knowing that as long as they were racing each other it would be tough for either to catch up to him.
"It's really neat to race against guys like that -- to challenge their knowledge and to be able to come out on top," Busch said. "I'm just beside myself. Especially with Rusty there and Mark. I mean, what two better competitors?"
After his runner-up performance, those flattering questions came once again: Why not give it another go next season, Rusty?
"Maybe Mark can come back," joked Wallace, soon to be 49 and openly worn out by the grind of a 36-race season. "He's younger than I am."
The 46-year-old Martin didn't miss a beat in response: "But I've got more miles on me."
On Sunday, both of them looked good as new -- and on pace to achieve every athlete's dream: retiring from his sport leaving the fans wanting more.
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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