Bristol, Tenn. (AP) – Bill Elliott says you’re never too old to learn and the Dawsonville, Ga., driver proved his pint by taking a lesson from Dale Earnhardt to win the Valleydale 500 at Bristol International Raceway.
“I drove my heart out,” Elliott said Sunday after guiding his Ford Thunderbird to his first 1988 victory and his first Winston Cup short-track triumph in 52 starts.
“I watched Dale Earnhardt and he never gave up (to win Saturday’s Grand National race), and I never gave up today,” Elliott said.
Elliott, who started 13th, assumed the lead on lap 379 when Harry Gant pitted under a caution flag, but saw his chances for victory almost go awry when he became involved in a bumping match with Geoff Bodine heading into the fourth turn on lap 492.
Bodine grabbed the lead at that point when Elliott spun out as Bodine’s Monte Carlo tapped his rear.
“I couldn’t believe I didn’t tear that wall down,” Elliott said. “He got more into me than I did into him. He just spun me out. I was lucky. You can do a lot with your eyes closed.”
Elliott controlled the spin and, although he lost the lead to Bodine, was able to remain in the lead lap.
With the race put under caution, the Dawsonville, Ga., driver made a quick pit stop for new tires and then set his sights on Bodine’s Chevrolet.
“That last pit stop made all the difference in the world. I knew with four new tires I could take off,” Elliott said.
Bodine found himself unable to hold off either Elliott or Mark Martin, who took second place.
When the green flag came out on lap 497, Elliott took an inside line, testing Bodine for a lap before diving underneath Bodine’s Chevrolet on turn four of lap 498.
Martin, who posted his best finish in 64 career starts, also went past Bodine, but was unable to make a serious challenge for the lead in the final two laps.
“My car ran real good but we had some tire problems at the end of the race,” Martin said. “Bill ran an awful good race and I don’t know if we could have dealt with him or not at the end if I had had to.”
Bodine, the only other driver on the lead lap, was third with Rusty Wallace one lap down in fourth and fifth place to Bobby Allison, who was two laps off the pace.
Bodine said he was only attempting to hold his ground as he brushed against Elliott.
“It was late in the race and you have to hold your ground. It wasn’t a big bump, but it was enough to get him sideways,” Bodine said. “Obviously, we would have been better off if the race had stayed green there at the end.”
Elliott averaged 83.129 mph during the 3-hour, 12-minute race which saw six drivers exchange the lead 11 times.
The race’s 12 caution flags consumed 71 of the 500 laps around the .533-mile track.
Gant handed Elliott the lead on lap 379 when he make a pit stop under a caution flag brought out when Ricky Rudd hit the wall in turn four. Rudd was running fifth at the time and finished 20th.
Gant, who finished 18th, never re-gained the lead as he was later taken out of the race when he and Kyle Petty made contact in turn four on lap 418.
Elliott’s victory snapped a string of two straight triumphs at Bristol by Earnhardt.
Earnhardt, who had won four for of the past six Winston Cup starts at Bristol, lead 104 of the first 189 laps, but dropped 39 laps off the pace when a cracked fuel pump forced his Monte Carlo to the pits.
Rick Wilson, who set a track qualifying record in winning his first Winston Cup pole, led for the first 21 laps before getting sideways on lap 22 as he went into the fourth turn. Wilson fell back to third place as Earnhardt slipped into the lead.
Wilson’s bad luck continued when he spun and hit the wall in the second turn on lap 119. He wound up completely only 291 laps and finishing 25th.
Alan Kulwicki, the No. 2 starter, went out of contention on lap 182 when his Ford slid out of the fourth turn and into the wall on the front straight. He ended up 19th.
Among other favorites who experienced early race problems were Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip.By: Skip Latt — AP Sports Writer