By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 28, 2002
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Hoping to make a fast car faster, Rusty Wallace told his crew to make a few changes to the No. 2 Ford before Sunday's NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Not only did Wallace's changes backfire, but he lost ground to leader Tony Stewart in the championship battle and matched his careerlong winless streak of 59 races.
Wallace went a lap down early and finished 17th.
"The (changes) I asked the guys to do killed us," said Wallace, who fell to fifth in the standings, 227 behind Stewart. "It got me so loose, it was unreal. ... Doggone it, we lost more points than I wanted to."
Wallace pitted during an early caution to tighten up the chassis, then made more adjustments after a 2 1/2-hour rain delay. He was 40th for a restart on Lap 45. Slightly out of sequence with the leaders, he was lapped by eventual winner Kurt Busch on Lap 103.
Wallace has not won since April 29, 2001, at California Speedway, matching his streak from March 1997 to October 1998. He is the only driver in the top 12 without a victory. He has three races left to extend his streak of 16 consecutive seasons with at least one win.
BIG BLUE OVAL: Busch's victory gave Ford its third manufacturer's championship in the past four years, 15th overall. Ford leads the Winston Cup series with 12 wins. Chevrolet has 10, Dodge seven and Pontiac four.
MAKING HIS CASE: Joe Nemechek, a Lakeland native, hinted he might return next season in the No. 25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He was hired to finish 2002 after Jerry Nadeau was fired in May. Nemechek's runner-up finish was his best since joining the team.
"This is a good start; we'll see," Nemechek said. "There are some decisions that have to be made really quick. I don't want to speak on behalf of Hendrick Motorsports. I look forward to staying there if they want to have me."
HE'S NO FLUKE: Jamie McMurray continues to fill in admirably for injured Sterling Marlin in the No. 40 Dodge. Two weeks after winning at Charlotte in his second career Winston Cup start, the 26-year-old finished seventh at AMS.
"It's hard to back up a win, but seventh is awesome," McMurray said. "This is a really good race team, and I hope this proves a little bit that the win wasn't a fluke."
PIT STOPS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth, his fifth consecutive top 10. ... Busch moved past four-time champion Jeff Gordon to sixth in the standings with his 17th top 10.