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Retro Racing: Wallace does the 'spin and win' in Richmond

April 26, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Wallace's 'spin and win' in Richmond caps improbable finish

The most recent two races -- at Texas and Kansas -- have featured a paucity of cautions. But Rusty Wallace proved at Richmond International Raceway in 1997 that a lack of caution laps doesn't necessarily always equate to a lack of on-track excitement.

This race featured 371 consecutive green flag laps -- 137 more than what was run at Texas two weeks ago -- but Wallace successfully completed a "spin and win" that day to put the excitement in the Pontiac Excitement 400.

Without the benefit of a caution, Wallace made up 40 positions on the track after a Lap 6 spin, putting him in prime position when it all came down to a three-lap, three-car shootout. And, even after winning the race by perfectly timing the restart to pass Dale Jarrett, it took nearly 24 hours -- and a successful engine compression test -- before NASCAR was satisfied to give him the check and trophy.

"You know the [car] is stout when you go from 41st to first, and pass them all and take the lead."


"You know the [car] is stout when you go from 41st to first, and pass them all and take the lead," Wallace said in his post-race comments. "I'm used to taking the lead via pit stops and maybe passing one or two, but I've never passed 41 of them. That was a tough one."

There were only three cautions in the final regularly-scheduled day race at RIR, but the first one involved Wallace, who spun after tangling with Ricky Rudd. That put him at the back of the grid and in a position where Wallace thought he'd need a lot of help to get back into contention.

But Richmond is unusual in that, even though it's technically a short track, the straights and turns are wide enough for multiple grooves -- which increases the potential for long green-flag runs. And that was the case on this day.

While the green flag laps piled up and Jarrett dominated the first half of the race, Wallace steadily worked his way through traffic. He took over the lead on Lap 159, but Jarrett grabbed it back 43 laps later.

Jarrett had the better car at that point and appeared to be in prime position to hold off any late charge from Wallace. But, during the final series of stops, he lost nine seconds -- and the lead -- to Wallace because of dropped lug nuts.

Then Kenny Wallace's engine expired with 19 laps remaining, giving Jarrett the break that Rusty Wallace had wished for all day: a caution flag. At that point, there were only four cars still on the lead lap: the Fords of Rusty Wallace, Jarrett, Geoff Bodine and Ernie Irvan.

However, fifth-place Jeff Gordon banged wheels with Irvan while trying to get lined up for the restart. When the green came out with 14 laps remaining, Gordon raced hard in an effort to get in front of Wallace with the intention of getting his lap back if the caution came out again.

It did -- but for Irvan.

With seven laps to go, Irvan crashed hard into the Turn 4 wall with a cut tire -- for which he blamed Gordon -- forcing the leaders to race all the way back around to the yellow. While Gordon slowed to avoid Irvan's wrecked car, Jarrett nipped Wallace at the start/finish line.

"I was real surprised at Gordon," Wallace said. "He might have thought he was racing for the win. I don't know. I've never seen anybody race like that with the leaders when he's a lap down, but he did."

It set up a trophy-dash finish, something for which Wallace admitted he had plenty of previous experience.

"You think about those old short-track days," Wallace said. "I laid back about a car length and a half, and, just about the time I thought [Jarrett] was going to pick it up, I nailed it. It worked out perfect."

Not only couldn't Jarrett re-pass Wallace for the lead, he couldn't hang onto second place. He wound up on the short end of a door handle-banging duel with Bodine and had to settle for third.

Essentially giving away a victory on the final restart was what stuck in Jarrett's craw afterwards.

"Rusty just got the best of me there," Jarrett said. "I thought I had a good start. I saw him drop back and try to get a run on the restart. I thought I had him, [because I] had him slowed down. I just messed up. It's my fault we didn't win the race.

"I really hated to see that final caution. With three laps to go and me in the lead on the restart, I ought to be able to hold them off with a car this good. I just didn't get it done on the restart, let him get a run on me and that's all she wrote. I let the team down."

But there was one more twist.

NASCAR had begun to require specific engine compression ratios in an effort to limit horsepower. And, when the engine in Wallace's No. 2 Ford failed that part of the post-race inspection, speculation began as to whether the sanctioning body would take the rare and unusual step of stripping Wallace of the win.

The results were declared "unofficial" until the next morning, when officials inspected the engine back in Charlotte and confirmed that the compression ratio fell "within the rules," according to NASCAR spokesman Kevin Triplett.

However, Jarrett got a measure of revenge when the series returned to Richmond in the fall. Not only did he lead the final 39 laps to record the win, but his race-winning average speed of 109.047 mph eclipsed the mark that Wallace had set that March.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.