RUSTY WALLACE sitting pretty in standings after victory

Friday, May 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Rusty Wallace had done little of note this season before winning last weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup event in California.

It was only Wallace's second top five finish in 10 races, but still elevated the short-track specialist to a surprising fourth in the driver's standings with the bright, inviting lights of Richmond on the horizon.

As much as any place he races, Wallace loves Richmond. He leads all active drivers with six career victories on the three-quarter-mile oval, and he has 18 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in 34 career starts here.

But Wallace said history means little in this strangest of seasons, where a new, harder tire has rendered last year's notebook virtually useless and thrown the championship race up for most anyone to win.

``The standings are all in an uproar right now,'' Wallace said. ``I think it's anybody's game right now. I really do. We're not that far out of second with the way the points standings are bundled up right now.''

If not for Las Vegas, where an accident ended Wallace's day after just eight laps, he might well be the Winston Cup points leader right now.

``That's how crazy this season has been,'' Wallace said.

One of the things that always made Richmond somewhat unpredictable in the past was the weekend schedule, which had teams practicing in the bright sunshine and qualifying and racing under the lights at night.

But the move this year to one round of qualifying allowed the track to change the schedule. Qualifying for the Pontiac 400 will be held in late the afternoon on Friday, with the 90-minute final practice session beginning at 5:50 p.m., when the track won't be bathing in sunshine.

The chance to work on race set-ups in conditions closer to racetime will make the work less of a guessing game, driver Joe Nemechek said.

``If you have more cars able to get a pretty good idea of track conditions in the final practice, then you're going to have more cars that should be able to run up front,'' Nemecheck said. ``It makes for a long day Friday, but I think it will make for a better race on Saturday night.''

But even improvements create issues elsewhere.

``What do you do during the day Saturday?'' said John Andretti. ``We have all day, and I mean the whole day, to sit around and wait for the race.

``You almost think you should go home and then come back to race because you're not doing anything on Saturday but racing,'' he said.

The weekend begins with Busch Grand National qualifying on Thursday night, with the Hardee's 250 following happy hour on Friday night.

Saturday's race is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.