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Wallace charges late, triumphs in Miller 500

Rusty Wallace says his victory in Sunday's Miller 500 was a lot harder than it had to be.

Wallace took his only lead with 30 laps remaining and held off Ricky Rudd to earn his fourth Winston Cup victory of the season.

Wallace, who has three victories at Pocono Raceway and 45 in his career, stayed with the leaders most of the way, but never led until he passed Rudd on Lap


He led the rest of the 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, driving his Ford Thunderbird across the finish line about five car lengths _ or 0.3-seconds _ ahead of Rudd's Ford.

"I qualified bad again," said Wallace, who started 13th in the 41-car field. "Then I had to work my way up through the leaders and the problem was it was green-flag racing nearly all day.

"Robin (crew chief Robin Pemberton) said my lap times were better than the leaders, but I wasn't catching them until we got that bunch of cautions late. Then we were able to make a race of it."

The race was slowed by a four-car incident on Lap 2, then remained under the green flag for 157 laps. A piece of debris brought out another yellow flag on Lap 160.

That was when Wallace finally was able to make the adjustments that got him to the front.

"The car was okay early in the race, then I got a couple of sets of tires that were too tight and those guys checked out on me," he said. "Then we got that caution flag and we were able to make some adjustments to the tire pressure and some other things and it turned right around.

"When I got past Ricky, that was the key because my car was really strong out front."

Mark Martin, who started from the pole and led seven times for 121 laps, was out front when the second caution flag waved. He effectively dropped from contention, though, when his team had a problem with an air gun and had to make a second stop to change his right rear tire.

When the green flag came out on Lap 155, Wallace was second and began hounding Rudd, who has no victories this season, finally moving past him on the inside as they drove through Turn 2.

There were two more cautions _ one for a blown engine by Kenny Wallace and another for a crash involving Brett Bodine and Joe Nemechek _ but Rusty Wallace was able to stay out front.

"Ricky was faster than me in Turn 1, but I was better than him in Turns

2 and 3," Wallace said. "As long as I had the advantage in two out of three, I knew it was going to be okay."

Wallace's average speed of 144.892 mph broke the track record of 144.023 set by Alan Kulwicki in June 1992.

Dale Jarrett was third, nearly passing Rudd on the last lap. He was followed by teammate Ernie Irvan, rookie Johnny Benson Jr., who finished a career-best fifth, Sterling Marlin and defending series champion Jeff Gordon.

Current series leader Terry Labonte was never in contention, finishing 16th and losing points to runner-up Dale Earnhardt, who lost a lap when he stalled on a pit stop and wound up 14th.

Labonte, who came into the race leading Earnhardt by 18 points, now leads by 12. Gordon cut his margin behind Labonte from 116 to 80.

NOTE: A least three Winston Cup teams were planning to take advantage of an unscheduled test session today at Pocono Raceway. NASCAR, which limits teams to seven test sessions per entry during the season, offered the teams a free session because the sanctioning body hopes to do some experimenting with new aerodynamics.

MILE-HIGH NATIONALS: Eddie Hill, 60, won the Top Fuel title in Morrison, Colo., beating NHRA points leader Blaine Johnson with a quarter-mile run of 4.845 seconds at 288.92 mph.

Hill of Wichita Falls, Texas, ended an 18-month winless streak with his 13th career victory. Johnson finished in 4.903 at 290.99.

John Force won the Funny Car division for his eighth victory of the year and 56th overall, beating Chuck Etchells with a run of 5.221 at 294.31.

Jim Yates took the Pro Stock title for his fifth victory of the year, and Matt Hines won the Pro Stock Motorcycle division for his first career title. Yates beat Steve Schmidt with a run of 7.475 at 183.41, and Hines edged Dave Schultz in 7.945 at 167.97.