Late caution gives Wallace win number three

Fortune turned a four-tyre change by Rusty Wallace from mistake to genius, thanks to a late caution at the Pepsi 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race in Michigan.

Late caution gives Wallace win number three

Wallace beat Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte to the chequered flag by more than two seconds after the pair took just two tyres in their last - and the race's first - green flag pit stop, hoping to overcome Wallace's dominant Ford Taurus.

Wallace's third win of the season and 52nd of his career was delivered to him when Robby Gordon spun and brought out a caution to bunch the field and allow Wallace to work his way through to the lead. Dale Jarrett, Johnny Benson and Dale Earnhardt were next across the stripe.

"He (Wallace) looked like he was whipped up until that caution," said Rudd, who's still seeking his first win in two years. "But he had four tyres, we had two and that caution hurt us."

"This is all (crew chief) Robin Pemberton," said a jubilant Wallace in victory lane, after leading the final 15 laps. "Robin called for four tyres - and I didn't know if I could catch them!"

Wallace started third on the lap 183 restart, dived to the bottom of the track, and was up to second in a lap. He passed Rudd low a lap later and resumed his role of pacesetter that he'd played all day long.

There were two anticipated subplots going into the race: the presence of three Earnhardts, and angry feelings between Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart after a series of bumping incidents at Watkins Glen last week.

To nobody's amazement, Stewart and Gordon took one another out of the hunt in a bump on lap 37, but both drivers and the TV replays verified it was a racing accident this week. Stewart's car twitched running inside of Dale Earnhardt Jr, then broke traction, went up the track and slammed into Gordon, who was running behind the pair. Both visited the garage after bringing out the third race caution.

"I was just racing hard down there (low line)," said Stewart. "It's all my fault. I got loose and I lost it. I apologise to everyone else for that."

The only "everyone else" was Gordon, who acknowledged "he got loose and there wasn't anywhere for me to go." Gordon returned to the race, 44 laps off the pace.

It was the best and worst of times for the Earnhardt's. Dale (the father) needed a provisional rule to start 37th, while son Dale, Jr. sat on the pole after a record run Friday. In between was Kerry, an ARCA success in his first Winston Cup start. His race lasted six laps, when he smacked the wall hard enough to retire and bring out the first caution.

As Dad moved to the front, Jr appeared to lose the handle on his Chevy and never ran above 20th in the late laps. He finally finished a lap down after spinning to avoid the late race Robby Gordon spin.

Dale Sr thought Kerry's time-out a good time to pit for adjustments and by lap 32 the seven-time champ was running in the top 10.

Circling the two-mile oval in excess of 180 mph, points-leader Labonte, Wallace, Rudd, Jarrett and Benson were in a league and breakaway pack of their own until the caution waved a fifth time for a single car incident on lap 77. Jarrett pitted repeatedly for chassis adjustments, quite different from his no-caution win here in June, 1999.

He took the lap 81 restart in 35th, eight spots behind Earnhardt, who also gave up track position for adjustments. Each gained 10 spots in 10 laps, but far behind the two-car duel between Wallace and Rudd at the front.

Hut Stricklin's blown engine provoked the sixth caution and wholesale pit stops just past the halfway point on lap 103. Rudd was off pit road first, and when the green waved on lap 109, he was trailed by Wallace, Watkins Glen winner Steve Park, Labonte and Jimmy Spencer. Rudd's lead was always short-lived, and Wallace - the season laps-leader - clinched the five bonus points for most laps led with 80 miles to go.

Time and again, Wallace used each restart to launch his Ford, and at lap 145 enjoyed a two-second lead on Rudd, Labonte, Burton and Jarrett. Toward the end of each tyre run, however, Rudd's setup was the better and he passed for the lead.

The early outbreak of yellow fever meant the first green-flag pit stops were the last, and with 30 laps to go the field came in for final service. Rudd chose to take just right side tyres so he could gain on pit road what Wallace could do on the track with four.

It was a good plan - enough to give Rudd a two-second track lead - but the caution waved a final time a few laps later when Robby Gordon's throttle stuck and he spun the car to avoid hard wall contact.

Wallace shot to the front under green with 15 laps to go, scorching past Rudd and Labonte. Earnhardt was on the move as well, muscling to sixth and preserving his points chase.

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