- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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To suggest Rusty Wallace will be wound up this weekend is a bit of an understatement. And who can blame him?
When the green flag flies at Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday afternoon, it will be the 706th, and barring a change down the road, final race of a legendary Cup career.
With 55 victories and 202 top-five finishes, the 1989 Winston Cup champion has nothing left to accomplish -- except writing an ending they'll talk about for years.
He'd hoped to go out with the championship, but those chances are gone now. So all that's left is Homestead -- 400 miles before he steps out of his Penske Racing South Dodge for good.
"I've got one more shot. I went down to Homestead, Fla. I tested. I was quick," Wallace says. "I felt really good. I did an extensive two-day test because I want my last race ever to be a good one. I feel real confident. I've got one more shot to get into Victory Lane, and I'm going for it, but the championship is really gone.
"That was one thing that was drawing a lot of excitement and a lot of hope. It had me really excited. The air is kinda out of my saddle when it comes to victory. It looks like I'm going to end up eighth in the points. That's the way it's looking. I sure thought I'd be a lot higher than that."
The finality of the situation is starting to dawn on Wallace, who on occasion earlier this year wondered if he'd set his "Last Call" season a year too early. Now, though, he knows it's time to move to the next phase of a career that will undoubtedly include broadcasting and helping son Steven build his career.
"When I start that race and get out of that car around 7:30 at night, it's going to be, 'OK, what's next? You're not going to get back in the car,'" Wallace says. "A new chapter in my life is going to start. A lot of things are going to be different, and I'm excited by them. It's a little bit sad. I've been doing this my whole life. I got to meet a lot of [people] and had a lot of fun and I'll continue to have fun, continue to see [friends], just not behind the wheel of a car.
"It's going to be an adjustment. I've talked to a lot of people [including retired General Motors executive Herb Fishel]. He said it took him about two years to realize he wasn't the big dog at Chevy no more, that he was retired. I talked to my buddy [drag racing legend] Don Prudhomme. He says some of the same things. There will be a little bit of adjustment, but I've got a lot of things going on. I've got a lot of things happening, so I hope it'll keep me going. You can plan all you want, but until it happens that's when reality sets in."
In order to end on as strong a note as possible, Wallace isn't even running the Busch race, as had been the plan for Saturday. Brother Mike will drive that car, with Wallace focusing on his final 24 hours as an active Cup driver.
He's going to spend the weekend on team owner Roger Penske's boat and has only a limited number of appearances the day of the race.
"I'll wake up and have my breakfast, get ready and my mind will be on the car, how it's going to handle because it's the last shot at doing really, really good," Wallace says. "I'll be really focused and be ready for the game. We had a great test down there the other day, so I'll be in the car until the race is over and then it'll be time for tears in your beers or enjoyment.
"Hopefully I'll be saying, 'This is awesome, isn't this the greatest time in the world to win my last race?' Then, if I don't, one thing I can say [is that] it's been a great year. I went out on the top of my game. I made The Chase for the championship. I made a lot of money. I made a lot of fans and everybody treated me really, really good and it was a great last year.
"At least I won't be saying it was the [sorriest] year of my life and I looked like crap out there and it's over now. The misery stops. I won't be saying that. I went into the Chase feeling really good about it. I'm in the top 10, and I'm going to New York [for the year-end awards ceremony]."
Wallace won't step completely away from driving; he'd like to run the 24 Hours of Daytona come February. He'll also likely hop behind the wheel of the Busch Series cars he owns now and then to shake them down. And he's talked in the past of testing cars with his son to help speed up his learning curve.
But whether or not he ever turns another lap after Sunday, Wallace's legacy is secure.
"I'm definitely most proud of my only championship [in 1989], which I thought I'd have plenty more after that one," Wallace says. "The driver of the year awards were nice because I was voted in by the media and other drivers. The IROC championship was awesome and 55 wins is a lot of wins. To have that many wins [is special].
"And I feel like I'm going out respected, at the top of my game. I just wanted to be remembered as one of the competitors who quit at the top of his game. [And] when they talk about [great drivers like] Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, I want my name to be mentioned with those guys."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.
Out of the title picture, Rusty Wallace has only one goal for Homestead -- to end his legendary career in Victory Lane.