- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

DOVER, Del. (AP) On his kind of track with his kind of tire, Rusty Wallace is in great position to end a 53-race losing streak.
Will it happen today at Dover International Speedway, or will Wallace's frustration continue?
"There's been a lot of second-place finishes this year, and a lot of close-but-no-cigars," Wallace said on the eve of the All-American Heroes 400. "So, it bothers me a little bit."
Wallace has been a top-10 fixture in the standings for 10 years, has 54 career victories and shares one of the most coveted Winston Cup records. He has won at least once in each of the previous 16 seasons, a mark he shares with Ricky Rudd, whose streak ended in 1999.
But Wallace hasn't won since April 2001, and he's running out of time, with only eight races remaining this season.
"At a lot of tracks that we should've, could've and didn't," he said "It's been a long losing streak right now, longer than I've been accustomed to. I've probably put a little too much pressure on myself because of it, but I feel confident it's going to happen."
He has every reason to believe. He starts from the pole in $3.9million race at the Monster Mile, where he has three career victories.
Wallace loves concrete tracks, and Dover is one of only two on the circuit. And he'll be competing on Goodyear's new soft rubber compound, which is expected to diminish the amount of single-file racing and give the best drivers a chance to win by managing their tire wear.
"I love it," Wallace said. "I've been campaigning for a softer tire forever."
Wallace has three second-place finishes and is sixth in points, but he is the only driver in the top 10 who has not won this season. Should he win, and the other title contenders falter, the 46-year-old driver from St. Louis could drastically reduce the 146-point gap to leader Mark Martin.
All five drivers ahead of Wallace have bad starting positions on a narrow track where passing is difficult and accidents particularly hard to avoid back in the pack. Three-time Dover winner Martin, with a six-point lead over Sterling Marlin, starts 32nd. Marlin is 26th in a field of 43.
Rookie Jimmie Johnson, who won here in June, starts 19th. Tony Stewart, who won twice here in 2000, starts 23rd, one spot ahead of four-time Dover winner Jeff Gordon.
The point race is the closest Wallace has ever seen, and its volatile nature leads him to believe this could be a big week for him.
"The leader, something will go wrong with him, then the next guy, he'll step up to the plate and then the next week something goes wrong with him," Wallace said. "It's been going that way all year long.
"I hope it stops for me. For the rest of those cats, I hope it keeps happening."
Four-time series champion Gordon realizes the importance of a high finish Sunday. With only two victories this season, Gordon knows the value of scoring every possible point. He's fifth in the standings, 67 points back.
"Every time you qualify, every time you race, every position counts so much," Gordon said. "For some reason, we've been able to stay in the top five for a good part of the season, but we've never been able to make that huge gain.
"But we're closer now than we've been in a long time. We're in the thick of this thing, big time."
Japanese driver Hideo Fukuyama will become the first Asian to race in Winston Cup. He will start last.
Defending race champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start third, followed by rookie sensation Ryan Newman, a winner for the first time last Sunday in New Hampshire.
NASCAR Busch series points leader Greg Biffle, subbing for the injured Bobby Hamilton, will share the third row with Kurt Busch.
Completing the top 10 are Ricky Craven, four-time Dover winner Bill Elliott, Joe Nemechek and Steve Park.


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