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Retirement talk on hold as Wallace settles in for shot at the Cup

By wire services
Published September 17, 2005

LOUDON, N.H. - It has 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, 49, 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.

OOPS: The No. 25 Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports brought to New Hampshire International Speedway as the primary Nextel Cup car for Brian Vickers was in NASCAR's possession Friday after it failed inspection five times.

"This was a brand new body that had never been raced," said Doug Duchardt, vice president of development for the Hendrick team. "We learned of a measurement issue during the inspection process and made attempts to correct it. But, after several tries, we decided to forfeit the car (to NASCAR) and go with our backup."

The frustrated Vickers missed the first practice and got in just five laps in the second session for Sunday's Sylvania 300.

"We made the decision to forfeit the car because we didn't feel it could be repaired in a reasonable amount of time," Duchardt said. "It was important to get out on the race track in the backup and prepare for Sunday."

STAYING PUT: Kevin Harvick will be back in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in 2006.

"(Kevin) and I have committed to moving forward together in fulfilling our current agreement, which runs through 2006, and we anticipate being together for many years beyond that," Childress said. "Our focus is on continuing to improve our performance this year and being a championship contender in 2006."

Harvick stepped up to NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series with RCR after seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500. He won top rookie honors that year and has totaled five victories, 30 top fives and 63 top 10s.

But Harvick has struggled since finishing fifth in the season points in 2003. He failed to win last year and wound up 14th in the standings. So far this year, Harvick has one win and just seven top 10s and is 14th in the points.

Harvick has openly complained at times this year that he was not getting competitive equipment and was not happy with the direction the team, which also fields Cup cars for Jeff Burton and Dave Blaney, was going. But the driver changed his tune Friday.

"Richard has made key additions to RCR that will benefit the organization," Harvick said. "We are both committed to make 2006 a successful season."

NHRA: Points leader Gary Scelzi was the fastest of Funny Car drivers at the Toyo Tires Nationals in Reading, Pa., with a 4.766-second performance at 322.11 mph.

Tony Schumacher, Kurt Johnson and Chip Ellis were the other provisional qualifying leaders at Maple Grove Raceway.

[Last modified September 17, 2005, 02:15:31]

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