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NASCAR Retirement looms, but Rusty is still racin'



Published: Sat, July 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The 48-year-old has plenty of plans for his post-racing career.

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) -- Rusty Wallace has a to-do list as long as a 2.5-mile track once he retires after this season.

From running car dealerships to designing racetracks to jumpstarting his son's fledgling racing career, Wallace will hardly pack up the camper, count his millions and relax.

Before Wallace starts thinking too much about the future, though, he still has one grandiose goal to accomplish before he quits. His best season in years has him in contention for the Nextel Cup Championship and he intends to finish on top.

"That would be perfect because I know I've got the capability to do that," Wallace said before qualifying 13th in his No. 2 Dodge Saturday at Pocono Raceway. "People don't think that because I haven't been there in so long."

After a couple of trying seasons that saw the 1989 series champion finish far out of contention, Wallace seems a lock to qualify for NASCAR's Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship, sitting in fourth place heading into today's Pennsylvania 500.

"Right now, I'm just thinking every single race is the most important race and it's the last race," said Wallace, who turns 49 in August. "I've got to think that way."

Unhappy with changes

Wallace seems as big a threat as any driver to win at Pocono, with four career victories at the 2.5-mile triangle track -- the only layout of its kind on the NASCAR circuit. But he's been outspoken about the changes on the track, blasting a new single-gear rule that precludes shifting and criticizing the track's surface, most notably the curb in the second turn.

"The track is in poor condition," Wallace said. "It's super rough across the tunnel turn, they put this curb in down there and they absolutely screwed it up big time. There's not a driver out there that likes it.

"They should have gone to drivers to ask them for their opinion."

Maybe in retirement, NASCAR will turn to a driver -- make that a former driver -- like Wallace to seek their advice on how to improve tracks, rules or any other problems affecting the popularity of the sport.

Wallace, talking with boyish enthusiasm while relaxing in his motorcoach, wants to advise everyone from NASCAR to team owner Roger Penske and hopes they're open to seeking his input.

"I want to see this sport grow," said Wallace, 230 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. "There's a lot of negative things that I can help on."

Ready to go

Unlike veteran Mark Martin, who's being forced to extend his farewell tour another season because his team has no one to fill his spot, Wallace insists he's done and Penske is in agreement.

"He just loves going out on top of your game and retiring," Wallace said.

Wallace has grown tired of the grueling schedule and won't miss suiting up all that much, though he acknowledges getting a special satisfaction from his final season after he finished 14th and 16th in the standings the past two years. Wallace finished in the top 10 in season points 16 times, but has only one win in the last four years.

Wallace attributes a tight working relationship with crew chief Larry Carter, softer tires and good luck under the hood to his five top-10 finishes and seven straight weeks in the top 10 of the standings this year.

With the Chase cutoff only seven races away, Wallace is ready to make a move toward the top.

"There is no such thing as 'close is OK, close is good enough,' " he said. "The car feels pretty good. We'll be fine. It's the last. It's the most important. My strategy is, don't overwork yourself and give it all the focus you've possibly got."




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