On This Date: Rusty Jumps The Restart (1997)

After racking up 25 wins between 1993-1996, the 1997 Winston Cup season couldn’t have seemed to go any worse for Rusty Wallace. He finished 41st in the season opening Daytona 500.
Over the next seven races, Wallace found some slight success, winning at Richmond and finishing inside of the top-six in five of the seven races. This is when his luck changed.
Over the next 18 races, he managed just four top-five finishes. This stretch included six finishes of 37th or worse. He arrived at Martinsville in September 13th in points, which would be on pace to tie his worst finish in points over the previous 12 seasons.
Wallace qualified 7th for the Hanes 500, which already could have been considered a win for the team. Over the previous 16 races, he had qualified inside of the top-12 once, which was a sixth at Daytona in July. The stretch saw him endure a 39th starting spot at Pocono, a 43rd at Indianapolis, a 43rd at Darlington and a 33rd at New Hampshire.
Wallace hung out near the front of the field for most of the first half of the race, eventually taking the lead on lap 213. He led three times for 226 laps, leading up to a late race restart with 22 laps remaining.
Controversy ensued as Wallace was black flagged by NASCAR for jumping the restart and sent down pit-road for a stop-and-go penalty. The penalty took away Wallace’s chance at a victory, as he came home 15th.
Wallace told his side of the story after the race . “Just a normal restart, there was oil-dry everywhere on the race-track. They didn’t get it cleaned up. We pleaded with them on the radio to blow the track off and they wouldn’t do it. On the restart, I did what I’ve normally been doing. I cleaned the tires off. I’m the leader of the race, I start the race. I started the race and they didn’t like it. They black flagged me. That’s all there is to it.”
ESPN’s Bill Weber asked Wallace about talk that NASCAR warned him about his restarts in the past. Wallace fired back with “They can warn you all they want but they have to tell you where they want you to start when you are leading the race. I started the race just like I’ve been doing all day long. That is just a bunch of.” (Wallace ended the quote by shaking his head in disbelief and confusion.)
Dale Earnhardt walked up to Wallace during the interview, which Wallace later told the viewers that Earnhardt said “It sucks that you got screwed”.
Later on during a radio interview, Wallace uttered an expletive, which drew a fine from NASCAR for actions detrimental to automobile racing.
Wallace hired an armored truck to deliver 500,000 pennies to NASCAR to cover his $5,000 fine. Wallace opened the doors to the truck full of pennies and told Bill France “I’m paying my fine to you in something that has weight.” Wallace then jokingly handed France a bag of pennies, as France tried not to crack a smile.
Earlier that week, Penske Racing South had already sent NASCAR a check for $5,000 to cover the fine.

Updated: September 28, 2018 — 12:27 pm

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