LONG POND, Pa. - The garage area at the Pocono Raceway is divided into two sections. The teams ranked in the top 20 occupy one side of the garage, everyone else is parked at the far end.
For now, Kenny Wallace does his work with the also-rans of the far end. Fans aren't camped around his garage stall for autographs, security officials rarely get off their chairs for a patrol.
For now, Wallace accepts his role as one of the less-popular drivers with a hint of optimism. A win or two, he thinks, would push him to the more-popular end of the work area.
"I guess what I'm saying is in a nutshell, I understand the mentality of this sport in every facet," he said while preparing for today's Pennsylvania 500 (1 p.m., TBS). "People don't want to write about my eight Busch Series wins and my eight poles and my two-time most popular driver award (in Busch) and my two Winston Cup poles and my 50-something top-fives in Busch. What they want to write about is in the last four years I haven't been a superstar in Winston Cup. I've been competitive and I've been racing my butt off."
Wallace had a career-best second place finish at Loudon, N.H., two weeks ago, and yet his finish was overshadowed by a last-lap bump between Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett.
"You've got to have a psychological profile to be able to run in this sport," Wallace said. "I call it being busy being famous. When you're busy being famous like those guys with the entourage around them and the people making sure they're famous, you become famous.
"I really think I understand the mentality of some people. It's not right. The media on CNN Headline News on Sunday night didn't first say that Jeff Burton won the race (at New Hampshire). They said the bumping incident between Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon provoked a shouting match, and by the way, Jeff Burton won the race. That tells you the whole makeup of the mind set. This is a funny sport."
Wallace is 21st in the current NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings -- just one position away from joining the front runners in the garage area of heavy-hitters. His Square D Chevrolet Monte Carlo is 28th in the starting lineup for the 500-mile race on the triangle-shaped 2.5-mile speedway that 29 years ago was a giant spinach farm.
"I have been the poster child for the struggling teams," Wallace said. "I'm 21st in the points, but I'm only 15 points out of 19th. This sport is so temperamental, we've got to take our 15th and 17th and 11th-place finishes and that's what we're really trying to do.
"This hasn't been a real good track for me, but it's not bad as far as my ability. I've had just about everything in the world happen to me here, most of it blown motors. The last time I was here, I was running good and I blew a right-front tire."
If Wallace is to make a dramatic push into the top-20, he has a long way to go this afternoon. His qualifying effort of 167.638 mph is well off Mike Skinner's pole speed of 170.451 mph.
"It matters to me where we finish because I want to go into the winter vacation and feel like somebody," Wallace said. "I feel real good about the race. If I can finish second again, I'll be happy -- whether anyone notices or not."
Don Coble is based in Atlanta and can be reached at email@example.com.
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