DOVER, Del. -- If Rusty Wallace pulled what he did on a restart in the SplitFire 500 at almost any traffic light in the country, he'd be looking at a traffic ticket and lawsuits.
But this is Winston Cup racing, a championship is at stake and rules of the highway do not apply.
"It's every man for himself, and we don't put on turn signals and act nice, " Wallace said. "This is a big boy's sport. You put your helmet on and go and you don't bellyache when things happen. I didn't complain when I rolled 16 times at Talladega."
So when Wallace rammed -- or, as he put it, "launched" -- into the back of Hut Stricklin's car on Lap 371 and knocked Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Ricky Rudd, his three top challengers, into the pit safety wall and out of contention yesterday, there was no price to pay -- outside of hearing the complaints of those he wrecked.
In fact, by the time the race reached its conclusion, 4 hours and jTC 59 minutes after it started, there were major rewards to reap.
Wallace won, collected a $22,800 bonus from Unical for winning from the pole position and pocketed $77,645 in purse money, as his Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac beat Ken Schrader's Chevrolet to the finish line by .41 of a second.
It was also Wallace's first career victory at Dover Downs International Raceway, his second straight win and his seventh win of the year, his single-season career best and the most by any driver this season.
And if all that wasn't enough, Wallace also cut 103 points off Earnhardt's Winston Cup points lead.
Wallace, now 181 points behind Earnhardt with six races to go, came into yesterday's race needing to average a 40.6-point gain per race. Now he has sliced that number to 31 points per race.
He had had tire trouble early, like a number of other drivers through the afternoon, and was trying to get back one of two laps he had lost on an unscheduled pit stop. He had radioed to Stricklin's team, asking Stricklin to allow him to get around him.
Stricklin, who also was trying to get a lap back, said no.
"I don't know exactly what happened," Wallace said of the restart. "He missed a gear or something and I hit him."
Stricklin said he knows exactly what happened and it didn't have anything to do with missing a gear, which he said he didn't.
"Rusty was mad at me for not moving over for him," Stricklin said. "But we were both just one lap down, and I had just as much right to be there as he did -- more really, because I was first in line.
"He just got over-anxious, I mean, so anxious that he hit me before I had a chance to get to third gear. It was just BAM!"
Whatever happened, it occurred in an instant. Wallace hit Stricklin's rear bumper -- turning him sideways into Rudd, who was running third. The chain reaction then knocked out second-place runner Earnhardt and rookie Jeff Gordon, who had the strongest car on the race track over most of the first 300 miles.
"It was one of the stupidest things, the dumbest things I've ever seen in my life," said Rudd, who wound up 21st. "I don't want to hear Rusty Wallace ever say anything about someone doing something dumb again."
Said Earnhardt: "I don't know what Rusty was thinking about, running into the back of the 27 car."
It could have been the championship. When Wallace won a week ago at Richmond, he promised to be relentless in his pursuit of Earnhardt.
"I was close enough to catch him before this race, and now I'm closer," Wallace said. "I'm going to drive my guts out. I'm going after him with everything I've got."
NOTES: There were a record 16 caution flags for a record 103 laps. . . . Eight drivers finished on the lead lap. Darrell Waltrip finished third, his best of the season. Dale Jarrett was fourth. A record-tying crowd of 86,000 watched.