Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Rusty Wallace wins Pennsylvania 500
By Frank Ryan
July 23, 2000

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Rusty Wallace captured the 51st victory of his career Sunday in the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. Penske Racing teammate Jeremy Mayfield led for the final 25 laps, but a flat tire on the final circuit would give the victory to Wallace and his Miller Lite Ford Taurus. Mayfield would limp to the finish line and bring the battered Pegasus home in 10th place.

In what had to be some of the best racing of the day, Jeff Burton battled Rusty Wallace for the better part of the final 50 miles, but would settle for a career best 2nd place at Pocono. Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and rookie Matt Kenseth would round out the top 5.

Tony Stewart would claim the Bud Pole with a record qualifying speed of 172.391 miles per hour. But from the onset of the race it was apparent the handle was off on the Home Depot Pontiac. Stewart drifted steadily backwards, never even leading a lap during the race. Instead, it was the eventual race winner Rusty Wallace who flexed his muscle early. Wallace won the drag race to the first turn and would lead the first of many laps during the day.

If you had to pick a single word to describe the race it would be "attrition". The wear and tear on the engines and transmissions was tremendous. Between the motors turning 9000 plus RPMs and the constant shifting for every turn and straight away, the cars dropped from the race at an alarming pace. No fewer than 13 drivers brought their car behind the wall will terminal power train failures. 

Mark Martin, Sterlin Marlin and John Andretti were the first three to suffer motor ills, all occurring with less than 100 miles into the race. John Andretti, who also lost a motor (to gremlins) during qualifying, may have had the best explanation for the attrition.

"The motor just went away", Andretti said, adding with a chuckle, "maybe it's the air on the backstretch".

The race was slowed by 7 caution periods for 32 laps. Most of the yellow flags were brought out for clean up as the engines expired. During the first caution period, brought out by Mark Martin's engine going sour on lap 25, Rich Bickle replaced the injured Terry Labonte and brought the Iron Man's car home safely for an eleventh place finish. Labonte was injured in accidents in both Daytona and Loudon.

Jeremy Mayfield, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliot all flexed their muscle by leading early in the race. Johnny Benson also led the race early and finished in 12th place. Considering Benson's car is without sponsorship and the sale Thursday to MB2, this is quite a feat. On a side note, Benson's sponsorship agreement with Valvoline for 2001 appears to be a done deal even though the deal has not been officially announced. Benson's pit crew were dressed sharply in Valvoline uniforms for the race. 

When questioned about the Valvoline attire, a crewmember replied, "We have to wear something".

The first accident of the day occurred on lap 74 when Jeff Gordon, Mike Bliss and Stacy Compton were running tight, side by side in turn 3. Midway through the turn Gordon got into the side of Bliss, sending the Pfizer/Viagra Pontiac into a lazy spin. I guess that's what Jeff means during the Chevy commercial when he tells Taz to "Show'em a little more side". Bliss would get the car straightened out and finish in 24th position, the last car on the lead lap.

The race would restart on lap 80 with Dale Jarrett leading the way to the green flag. Of the 10 drivers who led the race, Jarrett would lead through the halfway point and also garner 5 extra bonus points for leading the most laps

Ricky Rudd brought out the 5th caution period of the day on lap 110 when he crashed hard into the wall. Rudd cut down a right front tire approaching the tunnel turn. He was hard on the brakes, but the car skid straight into the outside wall, causing significant damage to the right front of the vehicle. Rudd was able to drive the car back to the pits, but he was obviously done for the day.

Two more caution periods were brought out for equipment failures with the last occurring with 35 laps to go. With the finish line inside of the pit window, most of the field pitted for the final time. Most drivers opted for a two-tire change, but others, like Jarrett took four and hoped for enough time to make the decision pay off. When green flag racing resumed with 32 to go, Rusty Wallace held the lead over Jeff Burton, with Jeremy Mayfield and Jeff Gordon in tow. Once clear of lapped traffic, the foursome quickly broke free from the pack and streaked towards the finish line. 

Mayfield took the lead with 50 miles to go, passing Burton first, then Wallace. As the foursome made their way to the finish, Wallace and Burton were waging a fierce battle for 2nd place. As Jeff Gordon tried to take advantage, he lost 4th gear in his Dupont Chevrolet and started to fade from contention, but he would still manage a 3rd place run.

With 10 laps to go it was all Mayfield, with 5 laps to go it was all Mayfield, with 1 lap to go it was all Mayfield. Mayfield was still in the lead as they went into the first turn for the final time, and it looked like a sweep for Penske. But as Wallace and Burton battled down the backstretch it happened. Mayfield cut his right front entering the tunnel turn and drifted up the track. Wallace put the nose of his Ford low and slipped underneath Mayfield. Burton followed, but at the finish it was Rusty Wallace, claiming the 5th Pocono victory of his career.

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