Rusty Wallace strung together a highly successful career that landed him in several motorsports Hall of Fames. Wallace was a prominent driver in NASCAR for over two decades that cemented his prestigious legacy. However, there is one decision he made regarding his racing career that he still can’t live down.
Rusty Wallace’s NASCAR Career
Over his two-plus decade career as a professional driver with NASCAR, Rusty Wallace experienced tremendous success.
Wallace worked his way into being recognized as one of the top drivers during his time. He accomplished that behind 55 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, a Cup Series championship (1989), and 349 top-ten finishes over 25 years.
His illustrious career helped him earn inductions into the NASCAR Hall of Fame (2013), the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (2010, among other honors.
In light of these impressive achievements, Wallace is still haunted by a decision he made toward the end of his racing days.
Rusty Wallace still hates the biggest mistake in his NASCAR career
Rusty Wallace spent more than two decades behind the wheel in his professional driving career.
However, Wallace chose to close that chapter of his life in 2004 as he announced he would step away from the sport after the 2005 season. During an interview on the Dale Jr. Download Podcast with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in March 2019, the former Winston Cup champion voiced that his decision to retire at that time wasn’t a smart choice.
“I’ll never forget it. I was at Homestead Florida in 2005 and I finished 11th in the race,” Wallace recalled. “I pull off the track and I said [to myself] this is the stupidest decision I have ever made in my entire life. What in the world am I doing? How did I get myself talked into this? How did I go down this road?
“I got out of my car and it was the emptiest I have ever felt in my life.”
When Wallace announced his retirement, he stated that the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the Daytona 500 crash in 2001 influenced him to go in that direction. Looking back, the 64-year-old believes his heart wasn’t in the move entirely despite support from his wife and Roger Penske, who owned Penske Racing.
During the Dale Jr. Podcast interview, Wallace also stated that he felt an “emptiness” about the decision that lingered into his early broadcasting career with ESPN. When pressed, he voiced that he believes he could have extended his racing days through 2008.
It’s a decision he lives with daily, which he still ponders what could have been if he didn’t choose to retire in 2005.
Legacy set in stone
Rusty Wallace may have passed up the opportunity to extend his career, but it doesn’t impact his NASCAR legacy.
Wallace established himself as one of the top drivers during his era. His rivalry with Dale Earnhardt Sr. helped further fuel the sports’ popularity. Meanwhile, his individual success has also ingrained him as a pivotal piece of NASCAR’s history.
The 64-year-old’s continued involvement in the broadcast industry around the sports has kept him relevant. Beyond keeping a strong pulse on NASCAR, it has further intertwined his legacy with the sport that made him a household name.
Wallace may forever regret the decision to step away when he did, but he has already firmly cemented his reputation in the business.