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Wallace brings a
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Rusty Wallace pulled off a sweep at Bristol Saturday night winning the second of two races this year at the half-mile high-banked oval called "Thunder Valley". This would be Wallace's second win in as many weeks.
Wallace, who qualified on the pole for the Goracing.com 500 with a track record speed of 125.477 miles per hour, dominated the race leading 276 of 500 laps. The pole sitter took off at the drop of the green flag and as predicted, the action was fast and the cautions were many.
The first caution of the night flew on lap 28 for a spin by Steve Park. Even with this early race spin, the one time NASCAR winner would go on to have a great night and finish 5th. Wallace would continue to show the way until the second caution of the night, which was brought out by a spin involving Dave Blaney. This caution enabled all of the leaders to come to pit road for the first time of the evening.
Caution number 3 was brought out by a Darrel Waltrip spin, Waltrip was making his last appearance at Bristol as a driver. A short time later, Dale Jarrett and Ward Burton would combine to bring out another caution. Neither driver suffered any damage.
On lap 114, Tony Stewart was on the move as first he got around, Jeff Gordon for 2nd and then passed Wallace for the race lead.
A long green flag run brought the nights first and only round of green flag pit stops. Wallace was the first to hit pit road on lap 208 taking on 4 tires and fuel. Gordon would soon follow on lap 210 for new rubber and fuel. With new rubber, Wallace and Gordon's lap speeds increased significantly, forcing race leader Tony Stewart to pit for new rubber as well. Point's leader, Bobby Labonte would stay out long enough to lead and gain the ever so important 5 bonus points. When the pit cycle was complete on lap 233, Sterling Marlin emerged as the new race leader over second place Tony Stewart. Marlin was able to stay out longer because he had pitted earlier on lap 195 due to a flat right front tire.
Marlin would loose the lead on the next caution when he would make a questionable pit stop, giving up valuable track position. This caution was brought out on lap 236 when Scott Pruett spun the number 32 Tide Ford. In a related spin Rick Mast ran into the back of Mike Skinner, who was trying to slow for Pruett.
At half way, Tony Stewart was the first to pass under the crossed flags. Lap 253 saw Jeff Gordon's chance for a win go away when he dropped a cylinder. Gordon would go on to finish 23rd, 2 laps down.
Mark Martin passed Wallace for 2nd place on lap 269 and continued on to pass Tony Stewart for the lead. On lap 319, point's leader Bobby Labonte, suffering with leg cramps, would spin when he was hit from behind by Mike Skinner. Skinner is quickly becoming known as 'The Wrecker', having wrecked other cars almost weekly this year.
This spin coupled with a spin by Bobby Hillin would bring out another caution. Once again, all of the leaders dove to pit road with Rusty Wallace coming out first after a blistering 15.085-second 4-tire stop. When racing resumed, Wallace's drove away from the field thanks to a 1 pound air adjustment to his right side tires, while Tony Stewart began to fade with a tight condition.
Lap 352 saw yet another yellow fly when Mike Skinner got turned around.......pay backs can be a bitch as they say. All 152,000 fans in attendance stood up as Skinner's car came back down the track and clipped the right side of Bobby Labonte's number 18 Pontiac. Damage was not bad enough to pit and give up valuable track position, especially with second in points, Dale Jarrett, riding in 7th. Tony Stewart would take advantage of the caution and duck on to pit road for tires and gas.
Rookie point leader, Matt Kenseth, went behind the wall for a repair of a water leak problem on the number 17 DeWalt Ford. The team replaced the radiator but a further problem in the cooling system caused the radiator cap to blow off and burn the face of a crewmember. The crewmember and his condition were not known at the time of this article. Kenseth went on to finish 39th. Second place rookie contender, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered his share of bumps and bruises to finally finish 21st.
The dark Tennessee sky lit up on lap 400 when Robert Pressley backed number 77, Jasper Engines Ford in to the outside wall. This sparked a massive fire at the rear of the car. Pressley escaped without injury and finished 37th. The leaders once again came to pit road during this, the 12th caution. When the race resumed Tony Stewart was the leader.
The 13th and final caution flew on lap 454 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun with some help from Ken Schrader. Bobby Hamilton who had a good car all night got together with Jeremy Mayfield while trying to get a lap back at the flag stand. This would bring Hamilton's night to an end. He would finish 34th. All of the leaders would pit for 4 tires under this caution, with the exception of Ward Burton who only took on 2 tires and came out as the leader. When the green flag dropped, it was painfully obvious to Burton and his crew that 2 tires were no match for 4 fresh Goodyear's, as Wallace, Stewart, and others passed Burton.
In the closing laps, Wallace opened up a 2.4-second lead on second place Tony Stewart only to watch in his rear view mirror as Stewart closed the advantage to only 0.77 seconds as Wallace dealt with lapped traffic. But even lapped traffic wasn't enough to slow Rusty on this night. Rusty handily won his 4th race of the season, his 2nd win in 2 weeks, and his 9th win at Bristol.
Stewart came home to finish second followed by Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, and Steve Park rounding out the top 5.
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Photos courtesy Ford
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