The Callahan Report: Rusty Wallace uses strategy and luck; Wins Pennsylvania 500
24 July 2000By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
LONG POND, PA: Rusty Wallace had a winning combination Sunday at the Pennsylvania 500. The combination consisted of strategy and luck. While Wallace made all the right moves Sunday, he also had to rely on the bad luck of his teammate, Jeremy Mayfield, in order to pull off his third win on the tri-oval at Pocono. Using that combination, Wallace captured his 51st career win in NASCAR Winston Cup racing.
Wallace learned an important lesson from recent mistakes. He and his team decided to take on four tires in the closing laps of a race a few weeks ago. The decision cost them valuable track position and a victory. It was a mistake that would not be made again. On the final pit stop Sunday, Wallace filled up with fuel and had two tires replaced. The move put him in a position to win.
"Last time we did four tires and everybody stayed out and just did two and we lost all of our track position," Wallace said after the race Sunday. "This time I hit pit road and we took on two (tires) and I looked over and I saw the 88 car (Dale Jarrett) taking on four and I'm thinking, 'Man, why are they doing that. I tried that one and that didn't work,' but finally we got everything right and got all the right calls and the car ran super."
The second piece of Wallace's winning combination was lady luck. It came at the expense of race leader and teammate Jeremy Mayfield. With less than one mile to the checkered flag, Mayfield blew a tire. Mayfield clearly had the fastest car and appeared to be on his way to a sweep of the two races held each season at Pocono. Mayfield dropped to tenth place by the time he made it across the finish line. Wallace doubted if he could have caught his teammate.
"I think Jeremy had a fast car and it was gonna be real tough to pass him," Wallace commented. "I could probably catch him, but passing him is another thing because of the aero push. He had a fast-enough car to catch me and pass me, but once he got past me again my car got right again and I started running back on him, so you never know."
One driver that does know is Mayfield himself. The driver from Owensboro, Kentucky pushed seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt out of the way on the final lap of the first Pocono race of the season last month. Mayfield appeared to have the second race wrapped up when things exploded, literally.
"The 12 car was the best car out here, I don't think anybody disputes that," Mayfield said after cooling down. "We won the Pocono 499 and lost the Pocono 500. I don't think there is anything anybody could have done. Sometimes you have good luck and sometimes you don't. Today we didn't."
Both Mayfield and Wallace are taking a great deal of momentum to the next race on the circuit. The NASCAR teams have the weekend off before heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the largest attended show of the year, the Brickyard 400. Since the setups for Indy and Pocono are so similar, the 350,000 fans expected to attend the August 5 race may have had a sneak preview of the outcome.
"Pocono is about the closest track we go to where we can talk back and forth to Indianapolis," said Wallace in a post race interview Sunday. "I will go back to Indy with a couple ideas in tire pressures since it's the same tire and we did do quite a bit of testing up there and our cars were pretty tight in practice. There are some things I'll do with some tire pressures that I think will make it better."
Mayfield believes he has an advantage heading to Indy as well.
"The last time I was here we had a spectacular finish on the last lap too, so I guess the track owed me one," Mayfield commented. "We'll take it from there and go on to Indy. This will be the car we take, so it should be a good one."
Jeff Burton finished in third place Sunday. He was glued to Wallace's bumper for the final lap. Burton bumped Wallace to the front, which allowed both drivers to catch Mayfield. He could have bumped Wallace out of the way on the final lap for the win. He didn't.
"Jeff was just trying to get past me, but he knew he couldn't race me side-by-side because if he did that we'd both slow down and Jeremy would get gone," Wallace said. "So, we'd line up real hard and take a big run down the front straightaway and a big run down the back straightaway."
"I kept having my hand up going, 'come on, come on'," Wallace said of Burton's bumping. "He kept popping me in the rear end and it felt like we were running IROC because every time we'd get a shot in the rear end it would just pick me up a couple tenths (of a second)."
Considering post race interviews, Burton believes that bumping doesn't count unless it is done in the corners.
"I just couldn't clear him," said Burton. "Rusty did an awesome job of blocking me and pinching me off. We raced clean, we never touched, but we raced really hard and that was a fun race."
Bobby Labonte finished in sixth place, maintaining the Winston cup point lead. Dale Jarrett moved around Dale Earnhardt in the series standings. Earnhardt finished in 25th place, while Jarrett took fourth.
"I'm disappointed," Jarrett said after his fourth place finish. "I thought we were the car to beat, but we took a chance there. We took four and it may have been OK if that last set wouldn't have been so tight, but that's a pretty good day for us."
The mountains of Pocono are peaceful and still once again. They will remain that way till NASCAR storms in to break the silence next season.