AUTO RACING : Wallace Credits Success to Being 'a Lot Smarter'

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What is Rusty Wallace doing right so far in 1993?

Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, has finished first, second and third in the three races since his spectacular crash during the season-opening Daytona 500.

Despite failing to finish at Daytona, Wallace is third in the standings going into Sunday's TranSouth 500 at Darlington, trailing leader Dale Earnhardt by just 27 points, 619-592, and very excited by his fast start.

"I'm a helluva lot smarter than I was in '89," Wallace said. "In 1988, I lost the championship (to Bill Elliott) by 24 points. I never put any importance on leading laps and getting bonus points. I just wanted to save my equipment and be there at the end, which I did.

"When I lost by 24 points, I went into the '89 season saying, 'OK, I'm going to try to lead more laps.' At the end of the season, I totaled 120 bonus points and I won the championship (over Earnhardt) by 12 points. If I hadn't put the emphasis on leading laps and getting bonus points, I wouldn't have won the championship."

Wallace says the Penske Racing South team has a newfound commitment to winning the championship.

"I don't want the American public and the other teams to think of us as a mouthy team," Wallace said. "I've told everybody how we've turned things around. Now, it's time for us to put the numbers on the board."

THE GORDON BOYS are making waves this season.

Winston Cup rookie Jeff, 21, has started four races and already has fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishes, challenging for wins at Daytona and Atlanta before late-race problems.

Robby Gordon, 24, in his first full-season of Indy car racing--driving for A.J. Foyt--started the season last Sunday in Australia by making a spectacular pass on reigning Formula One champion Nigel Mansell, who has switched to the PPG Cup series.

Mansell eventually came back to win the race and Gordon finished third in a year-old Lola-Ford.

After the race, Robby was asked about Mansell. He said, "He's a great driver, but Mansell is beatable."

As for the precocious Jeff Gordon, he's less cocky than the unrelated Robby, but just as confident.

"This (Hendrick Motorsports) team can run with anybody," he said. "They've given me a great car and great support and I've just got to stop making rookie mistakes."

Ray Evernham, Jeff's crew chief, says, "You've got to believe you're going to do good or you're not going to run in the top 10. We can't say, 'We're rookie and we're not supposed to run in the top 10.' If you do that, you never will run in the top 10.

"I feel like my guys are as good as anybody out there," the former IROC series chief mechanic said. "I don't want them to think they're any better, but I want them to believe they're as good."

NIGEL MANSELL WAS besieged by media before and after his first Indy car start--and win.

But the 39-year-old Englishman handled it all with aplomb and good humor, even running out of fuel just past the checkered flag.

"The last 25 laps were very, very tough," the Brit said. "My right foot was going to sleep and I was getting cramped. I was having to pay attention to the fuel. I was having to manage the car more than I've ever done before."

Now that he's run the first race in his new series, he was asked if anything about the opener in Australia's Surfers Paradise surprised him?

"I'm not surprised at anything any more," Mansell said. "What I am surprised about is how physical driving an Indy car is. The car is so much heavier (than a Formula One car), there's limitations to driving it. And if you over-drive it, you can make yourself go slower.

"But the thing that I was just so happy with was the brilliant driving of (runnerup) Emerson (Fittipaldi) and Robby (Gordon)."

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