Rusty Wallace could smell vindication for Team Penske.
He pulled into the pits leading the Brickyard 400 with less than 30 laps to go, sat patiently for a few seconds while his crew performed a fill-up and tire change, then sped away confident he would still be in front.Wallace's thoughts turned to May, when Roger Penske's other racing team, which has won more Indianapolis 500s than any other, failed to even qualify for the biggest race in the world.
OK, so the Brickyard isn't the 500, but it would have been the next best thing for Penske. There were 300,000 people in the stands and a half-million-dollar payday waiting at the narrow strip of bricks.
"He really wanted to win here," Wallace said. "He told me before the race, `If you can do anything, win this thing for me.' With 30 laps to go, I was thinking, `Boss, I'm going to win this for you.' "
Then, as he headed back for the track, Wallace had to slam on the brakes. Just ahead of him, Rich Bickle had collided with the rear of Joe Nemechek's car.
Wallace managed to get around the mishap and pull onto the track just ahead of Dale Earnhardt, but the Intimidator zoomed past on the back straightaway - despite Wallace weaving back and forth in a futile effort to hang on. Earnhardt led the rest of the way Saturday to capture the richest race in NASCAR history.
"It's a real heartbreaker," said Wallace, whose car owner wasn't able to attend the race because of a business trip to Sweden. "I really wanted to win real bad for Team Penske because of all they went through in May. I thought we were doing a good charge there. I'm happy to finish second. It's just too bad they had that darn wreck on pit road."
The final series of pit stops worked out just fine for Earnhardt, the seven-time Winston Cup champion who was mired in a three-month-long slump that dropped him from first to third in the standings.
Earnhardt is one of the best in the business at passing others, but he knew the lead was the place to be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Basically, I just ran a consistent race all day and sort of stayed in the hunt," said Earnhardt, who made his last pit stop one lap earlier than Wallace.