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Wallace not a has-been

By wire services
Published April 3, 2005

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Nothing makes Rusty Wallace angrier than being written off as a has-been. In his final season as a driver, Wallace is determined to go out a winner.

So imagine his displeasure, after qualifying third for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, when a reporter told him very few people expected him to be in the top 10 of the points standings in his 22nd and final year of full-time NASCAR racing.

A pained look crossed his face for just a second. Then he composed himself and gracefully continued.

"I understand why they would think that based on last year's points and what happened," Wallace said. "I expect myself to be in the top five, top eight at least. I feel that good about our cars.

"That's a disturbing statement you just said, but hopefully we can change some peoples' minds. A lot of people have a lot of opinions."

The facts are Wallace has struggled the past two seasons. A former series champion, he finished in the top 10 in the standings for 10 consecutive years. But the streak was snapped in 2003 when he finished 14th.

Wallace was 16th last season but won a race to break a drought of 105 races without a victory. That skid was the longest of his career. Before that Wallace had scored at least one win in 16 consecutive seasons.

But Wallace heads into today's race in ninth place in the series. He opened the year with consecutive 10th-place finishes and was buoyed by his third-place qualifying run here.

He is looking for his 10th victory at Bristol on Sunday, which would prove his tank is still full.

"I feel like I could go this year, next year and another year," he said. "I feel like I'm as aggressive as heck behind the wheel, and I feel like we can win every single week, and that's how I feel about it."

Wallace will have a handful of drivers to contend with at the start of the race, including Elliott Sadler, who starts from the pole, and Jeff Gordon, who starts fourth.

Gordon once bumped Wallace out of the way with one lap to go to grab a Bristol win.

And Sadler, who scored his first victory here in 2001, was the most confident driver in the garage after qualifying.

"We're 100 percent in race trim," Sadler said.

That puts him at an advantage over some drivers because of NASCAR's new rule in which cars are impounded after certain qualifying sessions.

Before impounding began, teams tried different setups for qualifying. Then they would have to rework the car to get it ready to race.

But under impounding, teams can't touch the cars after their qualifying lap so they know they have to be ready. Sadler's Robert Yates Racing team put a piece of tape across the grill of his car to improve the downforce and sent him out to qualify.

Before today's race, they'll pull the tape off and send him on his way.

BUSCH SERIES: The Busch Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway was postponed because of rain. The Sharpie Professional 250 was moved to 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Officials waited all day to call the race at Bristol because the infield at the 0.533-mile is so small, the sanctioning body wanted the cars removed before today's Nextel Cup event. But a steady rain finally forced them to postpone the Busch event.

Qualifying was also rained out, so the field was set by points. Carl Edwards is on the pole, followed by Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Tony Raines.

FORMULA ONE: Fernando Alonso had the best time Saturday during the first qualifying session for the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, where he will attempt to win a second straight race. The Renault driver was timed in 1 minute, 29.848 seconds on the 3.367-mile circuit. Jarno Trulli of Toyota followed in 1:29.993. Michael Schumacher, racing Ferrari's new car for the first time this weekend, was next in 1:30.237.

[Last modified April 3, 2005, 00:10:19]

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