Wallace grabs 50th win

Rusty Wallace notched a landmark 50th victory at the track where he won his first and last, in a bruising 500-lap NASCAR Winston Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Wallace grabs 50th win

Johnny Benson, Ward Burton, Penske teammate Jeremy Mayfield and Terry Labonte rounded out the top five in a field that shuffled more than a Canasta deck of cards from lap to lap.

"I can't believe I finally got it," said Wallace, who looked every bit as excited as when he won his NASCAR championship in 1989.

He did it in what everyone expects here, a caution-plagued wreckfest. And he got the magic number before relative newcomer Jeff Gordon, with whom he was tied at 49.

Wallace drove a reverse victory lap to mark the occasion and sounded incredulous when asked if he would party later.

"Are you kidding? We're sponsored by a beer company for Christ's sakes! When all the excitement calms down, we're going down to my motor home."

The delicate, early-season championship points shuffled.

Bobby Labonte holds onto the lead thanks to a sixth place finish, followed by Ward Burton, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt.

Bristol is one of two remaining tracks at which Winston Cup points contenders can only hope to survive and get on with their lives.

Like the paperclip-shaped Martinsville, "Thunder Valley" is as much a points mixing bowl as speed palace.

A dominant Jeff Gordon is brusquely bumped so Earnhardt can show his stuff for two laps.

Or perhaps the Penske cars of Mayfield and Wallace show mid-race muscle and pace the pack while Earnhardt's crew is behind the wall repairing an ohsofastwreck that ruins his day.

The story of Bristol changes in each of the 1600 left turns made by the drivers.

Polesitter Steve Park does a nice job at the front for 40 laps, Michael Waltrip looks like he can break his losing jinx and the back-pit disadvantage but shines no longer than a firefly, Darrell Waltrip starts high and touches the lead and disappears.

That was just a taste of this day on the fastest 0.533 mile oval on the circuit, fittingly launched with a first-lap caution when Earnhardt Senior tapped Elliott Sadler who knocked Earnhardt Jr out of competition.

Or Tony Stewart's bullet-proof Pontiac engine cracking and spewing water on lap 72. And so it went.

The race didn't settle down but the survivors were apparent by lap 310 when Gordon took the lead after the fifth caution and pit stop, ahead of Mayfield, Wallace, Park and Bobby Labonte.

Seventeen cars were on the lead lap, all of them The Usual Suspects aside from those who were Bristol-ized earlier.

A Robby Gordon spin offered a pit opportunity during caution 6 on lap 362. Mayfield showed he was ready for win #2 on the lap 367 restart when, for the second time, he got by Gordon on a restart; Earnhardt Sr returned, down 152 laps and trying to cling to the top-five in points.

Just 34 laps later - only 17 miles - the leaders pitted thanks to a Jeff Fuller caution, and the action turned to the pits.

Gordon tapped a tire exiting his pit stall and multi-pitted for sheet metal troubles.

He fell to 17th and never had a top-five car again. Mayfield took the green on lap 392, giving way to teammate Wallace a few circuits later, Labonte and Dale Jarrett lurking behind awaiting opportunity.

"Jeremy moved over to give me leader points," said Wallace, "but then he couldn't get by and that's when I knew our car had come in."

After only 19 laps of green, Earnhardt Jr was sent into the wall during tight racing - and the leaders pitted again. This time a pit shuffle, and Ward Burton, Jarrett, Wallace, Labonte and Terry Labonte took the green on lap 418.

Jarrett was tired of waiting and took the point until Wallace made it an issue and ducked low for the lead. Jarrett would never be a contender again.

Fuller brought out the ninth caution a few laps later and Martin spun doing avoidance.

After pitting for tyres, NASCAR's most intense driver was a lap down, his chance for joy over. NASCAR waved the tenth caution for debris moments later.

Cautions continued erupting every 12 laps.

Wallace raced two seconds ahead of the pack while Ward Burton, Labonte, Mayfield and Jarrett pounded one another for position in his wake.

It was backmarkers, ironically, who brought out the 11th yellow with 37 laps to go. John Andretti and Dave Blaney parallel-spiraled into the wall, then Andretti was T-boned hard in the driver's door by Rick Mast.

It was a hard hit and Mast's car had to be towed away so rescuers could reach Andretti, who emerged walking. With 20 laps - about 10 miles - left to go, the dash was on when the green waved.

Wallace was in the clear, but Jarrett suffered a chassis problem and lost a lap on the track.

Terry Labonte charged out of nowhere to the top five and when the checkers waved, Wallace had his 8th win at the mixing bowl, followed by Johnny Benson, Ward Burton, Mayfield and Labonte.

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