Southern 500 too tough to tame for Wallace?

The Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 may be the highest-profile events in NASCAR's Winston Cup, but this weekend's Southern 500 at Darlington is the one race victory every driver worth his salt wants on his CV

Southern 500 too tough to tame for Wallace?

The 1.37-mile, egg-shaped speedway in South Carolina is the 'track too tough to tame'. Finding a set-up is virtually impossible and most cars finish a race at NASCAR's original superspeedway bearing the hallmark 'Darlington stripe' from numerous brushes with its concrete walls. It's a place that needs bravery and the utmost concentration, as well as skill, but to win there on Labour Day is to forge a link with stock car racing's true pioneers.

Somebody who has never won at Darlington, either in the Southern 500 or the lower-profile spring race, is Winston Cup form man Rusty Wallace. The Miller Lite Ford Taurus driver has won four races this season, including the last two on the trot, and racked up eight poles, but knows that Darlington is a special kind of challenge.

"We've come so close to winning at Darlington," he says. "We've finished second, third and fourth a ton of times... and it'd be a thrill to finally beat that old track."

Wallace brings 'Lite-ning', the car he drove to victory in July's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono, to South Carolina: "We just have to massage that chassis, conserve the tyres and stay out of trouble," he adds. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Wallace's streak has moved him to fifth in the points, 290 behind championship leader Bobby Labonte, and another strong showing could move him into contention for a top three spot. But to finish first at the Southern 500, first you have to beat Jeff Gordon.

The 2000 season has been a bad one for Gordon, who currently languishes 10th in the points. But as winner of the Southern 500 from 1995 to 1998 inclusive, the three-times Winston Cup champion is the modern day king of the track. Last year, he blew his victory chances by pitting for tyres during a late-race caution for rain and finished 13th, but he knows that a win in darlington could kick-start his faltering season.

"This place will never be tamed by a driver," says Gordon. "You must concentrate every second of every lap. When you lose focus is usually when you end up in trouble.

"A lot of times the quick way around here is right next to the wall. One slip or lapse in concentration and you're in trouble."

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