Mike Wallace could have a tough choice ahead.
Remain a superstar in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck series or gamble on a return to Winston Cup.
Wallace wants to win on stock car racing's premier circuit â€” not just be a brother to the great Rusty while running 30th for underfinanced teams.
He's driven that road, and watches younger brother Kenny struggle now in similar circumstances.
``I thought that was an opportunity for me, but it didn't turn out to be a good one,'' the 41-year-old Wallace said of his mid-90s years in Winston Cup with teams that never won with or without him. ``Kenny's a good driver, but nobody knows if they're not winning cars.''
If Wallace doesn't return to Winston Cup, he'd be happy just staying with ASE/Ultra Motorsports in the truck series, where he's one of the biggest names.
He praises crew chief Tim Kohuth, who has helped him to the points lead heading into the Ram Tough 200 on Sunday in Madison, Ill., just across the river from Wallace's native St. Louis.
Wallace enjoys racing his top rivals, Andy Houston and Jack Sprague, with whom he has exchanged some bumps. Sprague sees a maturing of their side-by-side relationship.
``It's different racing with him today than it was a year ago,'' the two-time and defending series champion said. ``Maybe we had to see how hard we could push each other. It seems like this year we're racing with more respect.''
With Houston, they are consistently running near the front.
That's where Wallace will have to stay if he is to get back to Winston Cup. And a car owner will have to be convinced he's a good choice.
``As long as I can go out there and be a pleasant person and win and run up front, and if I can win this championship I will have done everything I could,'' he said. ``But I want the Winston Cup world to know that Mike Wallace is very capable of winning races.''
He insists he won't return to be a backmarker.
Wallace would jump at the opportunity to take a ride in the 24, the 88 or the 2, but knows Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and brother Rusty aren't going anywhere. There aren't many good rides available, but Wallace thinks even a new team with the right personnel can contend from the start for about $8 million in sponsorship.
How can he find it?
``I'm not sure,'' he said. ``Do I need somebody out there politicking for me, trying to bridge those gaps, keeping my name fresh in front of them?''
He says the prime ride in the second new Dodge to be fielded next year by Ray Evernham will go to Busch Series prospect Casey Atwood. There might not be an attractive opening unless top CART car owner Chip Ganassi expands into NASCAR.
So Wallace could be back in his Ford truck, where success is virtually guaranteed.
``The whole team is on a mission, and he's part of that mission,'' fellow racer Joe Ruttman said.
Driver Rick Carelli sees Wallace's crew â€” the Ultra Bad Boys â€” as a major factor in his success.
``His equipment doesn't break,'' Carelli said of Wallace, who has completed every lap this year.
Wallace has two victories, two seconds, two poles and top-10 finishes in all six races this year.
``This is great team, and I think in a Cup car with parallel equipment to what we have here, we could win there,'' he said.
An owner like Ganassi, whose teams have won an unprecedented four straight CART titles, could allow Wallace to prove a point.
``We all want respect,'' he said. ``I want to show some people that they're wrong, that I can drive, that I can win.''
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