Wallace focused on title, not retirement

Updated: September 16, 2005, 6:58 PM ET
Associated Press

Rusty Wallace
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 teammate.

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 answer."

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 races, respectively.

"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."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press