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MOTOR RACING NOTEBOOK

Wallace Not Ready to Talk About Retiring

August 22, 2004|From Associated Press

Rusty Wallace calls recent rumors of his retirement from NASCAR stock car racing premature.

"Right now, my mind is 100 percent on racing," Wallace said about persistent reports that he will call it a career after the 2005 season. "If I do make that call one of these days, you guys will be the first to know because I want to celebrate it a proper way and have a good time.

"Right now, I'm not prepared to talk about retirement."

The 48-year-old Wallace, fighting through a season of bad luck and bad breaks, hasn't given up on making the 10-race championship showdown for the Nextel Cup, even though he enters today's race at Michigan International Speedway a daunting 294 points behind 10th-place Jeremy Mayfield with four races remaining.

The top 10 drivers in the Cup standings, plus any other drivers within 400 points of the leader after 26 races, will qualify for the "Chase for the Cup." He is 781 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson.

"Mathematically, we're still in it," Wallace said. "I'm not a quitter, so we're going to keep digging and try to get ourselves in the top 10."

Although he has faltered at times, Wallace said his Penske Racing South team has had "an unbelievable year," including a victory in April at Martinsville that broke a 105-race, three-year winless streak.

Still, he laments all the problems the No. 2 Dodge has run into this year.

"Yeah, we finally got back to victory lane, but I would have never thought we'd had this many DNFs (did not finish) with crazy things going on," Wallace said. "This past weekend at Watkins Glen, we had ourselves in great position and then lost the transmission. At Sears Point, we ran out of gas. We blew a motor at Michigan. It goes on and on with the crazy things that have happened.

"But the good thing is the performance has been there. The car has been running great all year long. We just can't seem to close the deal. I don't know what it is."

RECOVERING NICELY: Now that his burns are healing and the pain is becoming less each week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is able to turn full attention on building some momentum for the rest of the NASCAR season.

Earnhardt, burned on the legs in a sports car crash on July 18 in Sonoma, Calif., was focused on recovery for several weeks. He used a relief driver at both Loudon, N.H., and Pocono, but drove the entire races at Indianapolis and on the road course at Watkins Glen.

More important, those last two races showed the team's midseason slump may be over.

If not for a flat tire at the end of the race, Earnhardt was on to the way to a top 10 at Indy. And despite the discomfort of having to use the clutch and brake throughout the race at The Glen, he drove to a solid fifth-place finish -- his first top-five in five races.

"It's gut-check time and the team is stepping up," said Earnhardt, who goes into today's GFS Marketplace 400 at the Michigan track third in the standings, just 128 points out of first.

"We're not where we need to be, but I get the feeling we're heading that direction," he added.

Earnhardt finished a disappointing 21st in the June Michigan race, but the DEI team tested the No. 8 Chevrolet at the track for two days last week.

"We put spring rubbers in to try to make the car turn better. We took them out. We moved them from the back to the front. We took two tires. We did it all," Earnhardt said. "When you do all that and it's still slow, then you know it's time to go test."

TESTING, TESTING: At 51, Greg Sacks is attempting an unlikely NASCAR comeback.

After failing to qualify at Chicagoland and Indianapolis, Sacks, who hadn't made a Cup start since 1998, made it into the race earlier this month at Pocono and finished 42nd.

Driving a Dodge he co-owns with Ed Raabe and James Wilsberg, Sacks planned to try again this week at Michigan. To give himself a better chance of qualifying on Friday, the winner of the 1985 July Daytona race spent two days testing on the two-mile, high-banked Michigan track.

"We're giving ourselves a fighting chance this weekend," Sacks said. "We're a new team and we're going to have some ups and downs, but we're taking the right and necessary steps to be successful.

"Most teams test not to get ahead, but because they are behind. We knew we had to do something different for this weekend. We weren't getting enough laps on Fridays before we had to get on the track and qualify. We were always in a tough position."

The team hopes to run NASCAR's top series full time next season and is trying to build some momentum.

"We're further ahead now than what we've been before at the track," Sacks said. "We have a lot more than just maybe a dozen laps or so under our belts before we even get to the track. That gives everyone more confidence."

STAT OF THE WEEK: Ryan Newman, who won the June race at Michigan, will be trying to become the eighth driver to sweep both races in a single year. The last was Bobby Labonte in 1995.

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