Talk about the ultimate blast from the past! On November 20, 2005, Rusty Wallace ran his final race as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, putting a pin in a 25-year career at NASCAR’s highest level. Driving the No. 2 Dodge race car for Penske-Jasper Racing, Wallace finished 13th in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Though, his post-race interview is no doubt more memorable than his on-track performance.
As you can see in the below clip, Wallace exuded pure class and professionalism, even while the moment was clearly an emotional one for the 48-year-old Arnold, Missouri native.
“I didn’t have any controversy. My fans treated me like a million dollars,” Wallace said in the interview. “It was fabulous. I got a lot of cool awards all year long. And, I feel like I went out with style and class, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
When asked if he felt like he had taught the sport of NASCAR anything, Wallace gave an answer that could only be given from a tried-and-true NASCAR vet.
“I’m real proud of where the sport’s came, and I don’t want anybody to screw it up,” Rusty said. “We work real, real hard to build a fanbase and make this a real popular sport, and so I just want all those drivers, the young and old, to make sure they know that this is a privilege driving these cars. And respect these fans, and respect these sponsors, and respect everybody. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Rusty had officially announced his retirement at the beginning of the 2005 Nextel Cup Series season, a decision which, according to Wallace, was influenced by the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the 2001 Daytona 500.
“After Earnhardt lost his life three or four years ago, it kind of got to me,” Wallace had announced during a news conference at the Daytona International Speedway complex.
Even though he was 48 when he retired, which certainly isn’t spring chicken status when it comes to stock car racing, many argue that Wallace’s retirement came too soon. That he had plenty more racing left in him. His last win had come in 2004 at Martinsville Speedway, after all.
Judging from his 2005 interview, you might not think that Rusty would harbor a ton of regret about his retirement decision. But, just last year, in an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the Dale Jr. Download podcast, Wallace admitted that it took him a long time to come to terms with calling it quits.
Now 63, Rusty Wallace has nothing to regret when it comes to his contributions to NASCAR. He’s had a successful career as an ESPN and ABC broadcaster. He won the 1984 Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year and was the 1989 Winston Cup champion. He’s an inductee in countless hall of fames, including the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He had 55 Cup race wins, which ties him for eighth on the all-time Cup Series wins list.
Simply put? The man will go down in history as a NASCAR legend.