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Rusty Wallace was a series champion and a Hall of Famer as a NASCAR driver. He was also an all-star at making his point after a frustrating outcome one day at Martinsville, even if video evidence seemed to prove him wrong.

NASCAR hit Rusty Wallace with a later penalty at Martinsville

Rusty Wallace looks on during the Talladega 500, part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series at the Talladega Super Speedway on April 20, 2001. | Craig Jones  /Allsport via Getty Images
Rusty Wallace looks on during the Talladega 500, part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series at the Talladega Super Speedway on April 20, 2001. | Craig Jones /Allsport via Getty Images

The 1997 season proved to be his worst in a 10-season span that began in 1993, and that may have been a factor in Rusty Wallace’s frustration over a 15th place at Martinsville. It was the 27th of the season’s 32 races, and Wallace was already well out of the hunt for the championship that went to 10-time victor Jeff Gordon.

The Martinsville race was contested on a Monday in late September because of a weather delay, but it was shaping up as worth the wait for Wallace, 41 at the time. He qualified seventh for the race and took his first lead on Lap 213 of the scheduled 500.

Wallace, Ward Burton, and Jeff Burton took turns out front the rest of the way. Wallace retook the lead for the final time on Lap 455, but Terry Labonte and Ernie Irvan brought out the caution a few minutes later.

He moved out aggressively on the restart, but race officials ruled Wallace jumped the restart – the video showed him charging hard well before the pace car left the track – and waved the black flag. That meant a stop-and-go penalty in the pits that paved the way for Jeff Burton to win. The No. 2 Ford finished 15th.

“What’s such a shame is the fact that my guys kicked butt all day and we don’t have anything to show for it,” Wallace said. “The record book certainly won’t show that we had the best pit stops all day … and just go home with a 15th-place finish, and that stinks.”

Rusty Wallace tried paying a NASCAR fine with half a million pennies

“That stinks” constituted Wallace’s G-rated take on the outcome at Martinsville. However, the future Hall of Famer went PG-13 in a postrace radio interview with an expletive that caught the attention of NASCAR president Bill France Jr.

Wallace had already scored 47 of his 55 career Cup Series starts, but that didn’t make him immune from punishment. France hit Wallace with a $5,000 fine three days later, citing NASCAR’s policy on actions detrimental to the sport.

Stewing overnight as the Cup Series headed to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the UAW-GM Quality 500, Wallace came up with an inspired idea for paying, though some sources credit track president and marketing genius Humpy Wheeler for putting together a stunt that would make it into newspapers and on TV to sell more tickets for the weekend.

Wallace hired an armored truck to deliver 500,000 pennies to the garage area at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m paying my fine to you in something that has some weight,” Wallace told France in front of an army of cameramen and reporters. “All you guys, never say s***, at least not on the radio.”

Roger Penske beat his driver to the punch

In a sense, NASCAR president Bill France Jr. got the last laugh after Rusty Wallace tried paying his fine with 2,750 pounds of pennies. That’s because team owner Roger Penske had already posted bail on the No. 2 Ford in the form of a check.

The team owner undoubtedly considered it money well spent. Wallace came aboard for the 1991 season and retired in 2005. In that time, the driver scored 37 wins and 244 top-10 finishes.

Wallace’s victories with Penske included seven of his nine at Bristol and six of his seven at Martinsville.  The body of work contributed to his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2013, followed by the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America the following year.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at JohnM@Sportscasting.com.

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