BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The frustration was obvious in Rusty Wallace's voice. After winning Saturday night's goracing.com 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, he realized that despite winning more races and pole positions than any other driver this year, his quest to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship remains a longshot.
"I don't think it's too late to get back in the battle," he said after leading 279 of 500 laps, including the final 37, to pocket $107,540. "Right now, unfortunately, we're taking baby steps at it because the other cars just won't break or blow up, and that's what we need to have happen. They need to have some bad luck like I had early (this season).
"In my eyes, if we just keep truckin' along and giving them everything they can stand until the year's over, if we don't make it to the head table (as the champion), hopefully we'll be real close," Wallace said.
Like so many drivers before him, Wallace is victim of a point system that rewards consistency, not victories. The difference between winning and finishing second is only five points -- the same difference between finishing fifth and sixth.
Not only is NASCAR the only major sanctioning body in the world that doesn't pay bonus points for winning, but it also is the only organization that offers no points for winning a pole position.
Five bonus points are awarded for leading a single lap and for leading the most laps. It's very possible to lead the most laps and finish second and garner the same number of points as the race winner.
The driver who has won the most races has gone on to win only four of the past 10 championships. Wallace knows what it's like to dominate a season and not win the championship, because it happened to him twice during that stretch. He had eight wins in 1994 and 10 in 1995, only to watch Dale Earnhardt sit at the head table during the awards ceremony as the series champion.
Others who have won the most races and not been the champion in the past 10 years include Jeff Gordon in 1999 (seven wins) and 1996 (10), Davey Allison and Bill Elliott in 1992 (five) and Davey Allison and Harry Gant in 1991 (five). Terry Labonte won the title in 1996 with two wins, Earnhardt won in 1994 with four wins and in 1993 with six, Alan Kulwicki won twice during his 1992 championship season and Earnhardt won four times to win the title in 1991.
"Being consistent and getting points is one thing, but, man, I've got to tell you, I like going out and winning those races and sitting on those poles and leading all those laps and just getting out there and getting after it," Wallace said. "The whole NASCAR system is awarded on consistency, and I sure agree with that. We hadn't real consistent early in the year. We had a DNF (did not finish) at Talladega (Ala.) while we were leading. We were leading with 35 laps to go and I blew an engine. We were a little too inconsistent early in the year."
Although Wallace cut 62 points off Bobby Labonte's points lead Saturday night, he remains only fifth in the standings heading into Sunday's Pepsi Southern 500 at the Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Labonte had a flat tire in the first 100 laps at Bristol, then was involved in two accidents. However, he managed to drive his Pontiac home in 15th place to avoid a major collapse in the points race.
"We can't let this get us down," Labonte said. "But at the same time, you look where our finishes have been here in the past, and to finish 15th here is probably good for us. We could have been struck by more bullets tonight than the one we got by."
Dale Jarrett, last year's champion, remained second in the point standings by finishing ninth in the race. He now trails Labonte by 91 points.
Dale Earnhardt, a master of playing the points game with seven championships, is third in the standings, while Jeff Burton is fourth.
Not only does Wallace have more victories and poles than any other driver on the circuit this year, his 1,439 laps led are more than all the laps led by Labonte, Jarrett, Earnhardt and Burton combined. The lead foursome in the standings have led a total of 1,077 laps.
Labonte and Burton have won twice this year, while Jarrett and Earnhardt each have won once.
"This year, I think as tough as NASCAR is nowadays, I think that this year is a more dominating year than that year in '93," Wallace said. "I'm just proud of these numbers. I'm really proud of those eight poles and I'm proud of those laps led and I'm really proud of those four wins because four wins in this type of environment, man, that's almost impossible to do."
And yet, it's not nearly enough.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.