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NASCAR Winston Cup Series NAPA 500 Preview: #2, Rusty Wallace

11 November 1997

 #2 Rusty Wallace, Miller Lite Ford Thunderbird
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 NAPA 500 Advance
 Atlanta Motor Speedway

                   FINALE; TOP-10 POINTS FINISH BIG GOAL

HAMPTON, GA - Rusty Wallace's take on the battle to finish in the top 10 in
the 1997 NASCAR Winston Cup points standings is clear: "Win, finish in the 
top 10, or forget it...go ahead and hit the reset button for '98."

While the season's points title will be decided between three drivers in
Sunday's season finale NAPA 500 at the newly configured 1.54-mile Atlanta
Motor Speedway, the battle to be a part of the final standing's top 10 is even
tighter. Only 90 points separate ninth-place Wallace from 13th. Only 58 points
separate Wallace from 11th.

"Right now, it's still all up in the air," said Miller Lite Team Penske Ford
driver Wallace, coming off a strong runner-up finish at Phoenix in the most
recent race. "We really needed that run at Phoenix to get us on up there, but
we still don't have too much of a buffer to feel safe about finishing in the
top 10. We know, going into Atlanta, that we can't catch (Bill) Elliott for
eighth, because he has a 250-point lead on us. We're just doing everything we
can to hold on to ninth.

"Kenny Schrader (in 11th-place) is on the outside and looking in, but he's
only 13 points out of it (behind 10th-place Ted Musgrave)," analyzed Wallace.
"But, then you have Jeremy (Mayfield) and (Johnny) Benson who are only 45
points out. Atlanta is going to be a barn-burner as far as the total points
deal goes...not just to decide the champion, but to see who makes it to the
stage or not in New York."

Wallace was referring to the fact that only the top 10 drivers in the final
points standings will be formally recognized and have the opportunity to take
to the stage and speak to the crowd and a live national television audience
during the annual NASCAR Awards Banquet on Friday, Dec. 5, at the
Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

The 1989 series champion has a frank yet understandable perspective about the
importance of finishing among the top 10 points gatherers.

"For the veteran drivers like me, it's a matter of pride," said Wallace. "Once
you've been to the top and won the championship, it's embarrassing...almost
humiliating...not to make the top 10. Since winning my first race back in '86,
I've only failed to be in the top 10 once, back in '92. It was a demeaning
feeling, I'll tell you that. It's a situation that I don't want to experience 
again. When you finish in the top 10, it shows that you're still in the thick
of things...that you're still on the same page with 'em and all.

"On the other hand, I can remember what it felt like the first time to make it
up on the stage. For a young driver, it's like making a statement that you've
arrived. You are now officially a big-league competitor. I mean there I was up
there with Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott and
others for the very first time. That's why making the top 10 for some of these
younger drivers is so important."

But, isn't 10 just a number?

"It's sort of a cut and dry situation, but it's the nature of the sport," said
Wallace. "The number 10 is and always has been the cutoff point. I've never
had anybody talk about or seen anything written about how many top-11 finishes
I've had. That's just the way it is. The level of success is measured by
top-10s. Only the top 10 drivers are featured at the New York NASCAR press
conference on Thursday. (Each of the top 10 points drivers has a separate
interview area in the room.) Only the top 10 drivers make it to the stage on 
Friday. That's just part of reality. To have won a race or races and finish in
the top 10...that is the minimum requirement for it to be considered a
successful season."

A look at the NASCAR Winston Cup point system shows that if Wallace can finish
eighth or better in Sunday's NAPA 500, he will be assured of holding down his
current ninth spot in the standings. A 12th-place or better finish guarantees
him at least 10th-place in the final points order, regardless of who wins the
race or any bonus points awarded.

"We're coming into Atlanta gunning for another win," said crew chief Robin
Pemberton. "It would be nice to have two wins and a ninth-place points finish.
We had a good Atlanta test. Rusty likes the new track and we think it'll
really become a driver's type of track by the time all the laps are run and
it's worn in a little for race day. That's when experience of working with a
changing race track will come into play, and Rusty's one of the best at that.
We're racing the 'PC-9' (new in-house car that debuted at Charlotte last
month; started 25th and finished 12th) and it suits the new track just great."

Qualifying sessions for Sunday's 500.5-mile, 325-lap race are set for Friday
at 3:00 p.m. (for positions 1-25) and Saturday at 11:00 a.m. (to complete the
potential 43-car starting field.)

Sunday's NAPA 500 has a scheduled 12:30 p.m. EST starting time and features
live coverage by ESPN and the PRN radio network.

By Tom Roberts Public Relations