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Wallace makes his return to friendly track in Bristol

Rusty Wallace was born in Missouri, but Bristol Motor Speedway feels like home.

The Winston Cup series heads to the popular .533-mile, high-banked oval for Sunday's Food City 500, where Wallace likes his chances to extend his streak of 16 seasons with at least one victory.

"It's like a home track for us and we're always so pumped for the Bristol race," said Wallace, 45-year-old driver of the No. 2 Ford. "We have so much history behind us at Bristol. What else can I say about the place?"

Wallace leads active drivers with nine Bristol wins and is tied with Mark Martin for most poles, seven. In 36 career events, he has 19 top fives and 25 top 10s.

Wallace won his first Winston Cup race at Bristol in 1986 and his 50th in 2000, when he swept the spring and summer events. Six of Wallace's nine Bristol wins came in the April race.

"We've had so much success at Bristol that we always come there looking to qualify up front, lead the most laps and head to Victory Lane when the thing is over," he said.

Wallace has struggled in qualifying this season, taking provisionals in three of five races, but has battled toward the front each week to rank fourth in points.

MILESTONE START: Martin will make his 500th career start Sunday, a milestone he never imagined reaching when he made his NASCAR debut in 1981 driving a self-owned car in five races.

"As a kid growing up in Arkansas and being into racing, NASCAR was the cool thing to do," said Martin, 42-year-old driver of the No. 6 Ford. "It has certainly changed a lot since the early days of my career. I didn't realize that I was coming up on 500."

Martin has 296 top 10s, 189 top five, 32 wins and 41 poles.

PIT CIRCLE: NASCAR officials changed pit road procedure for this weekend's races at Bristol in an effort to give drivers who qualify poorly a better chance to win.

Bristol, a half-mile oval, has pit roads on both straightaways. Under caution, both will be treated as one long pit road. Drivers will enter and exit at the same locations, driving the entire length of both pit roads.

Previously, drivers pitting on the backstretch were at a disadvantage because frontstretch cars already were coming back on the track by the time they reached their stalls. Pit stalls are chosen based on qualifying order.

During green-flag stops, drivers will use only one pit road.

A NEW EXPERIENCE: The Indy Racing League's event at California Speedway will mark several firsts for the open-wheel series: first race in California, first 400-mile race and first race on a 2-mile oval. Helio Castroneves expects speeds between 225-227 mph on the smooth surface.

IN THE HUDDLE: Winston Cup owner Joe Gibbs, former coach of the NFL's Redskins, is getting back in the game. Gibbs is heading a group of investors that will join former Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank in ownership of the Falcons.

"I spent 30 years in football and I always felt, when I walked away from it, like there was a certain part of me that wanted to get back and I never had a way of doing that," said Gibbs, who met Blank through Home Depot's sponsorship of his No. 20 race team. "To have an opportunity to get back involved is great."

WHO'S IDLE?: With three weeks until the next CART event, the Grand Prix of Long Beach, several teams are taking advantage of the break in the schedule to test. At least six teams will be at Sebring this weekend: Herdez, Player's, Sigma, Newman-Haas, Walker and PWR.

PARTY MANNERS: Winston Cup driver Kyle Petty offered this analogy to describe the inevitable bumping at Bristol:

"Hitting somebody hard and almost turning them at Bristol is like saying the wrong thing at a small party _ you spend the rest of the evening doing everything you can to avoid them. The room is pretty small for the Bristol party."