Bill Elliott’s quest for a first NASCAR Winston Cup championship has met with its obstacles, but not only has he managed to overcome them, he’s begun to be a big obstacle himself – for his rivals.
That was proven nicely in the Sept. 18 Delaware 500 at Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway. Elliott won the event on the “Monster Mile” to record his sixth victory of the season. More importantly, he kept title foes Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace at bay.
Consider that Elliott, driving his Melling/Coors Ford Thunderbird, beat Earnhardt, driver of the Childress/GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, to the finish line by 1.48 seconds. In third place came Wallace, pilot of the Blue Max/Kodiak Pontiac Grand Prix SE. The three stood one, two, three in the point standings but after the Delaware 500, Elliott was just a bit more out front.
Elliott left the race with 3,548 points. That was 127 more than Earnhardt and 139 more than Wallace.
“Elliott. He’s got it lucky,” said Wallace. “He’s good, too, but when luck is on your side you keep going.”
Since we’re on the subject of luck, it must be noted that Elliott won in a backup Ford, which he had to utilize in the race after he suffered an accident in practice that damaged the rear end of his original Dover car.
“The car spoke for itself,” said Elliott. “it ran flawless. That speaks well for the crew.”
More good luck for Elliott was evidenced during the 14th and final caution period. On lap 462, terry Labonte brushed the wall between the first and second turns of the one-mile Dover track. As the yellow flag flew, Elliott crossed the finish line just as his right-rear tire blew. He was able to duck into the pits and have it replaced without losing ground.
Many others were not so fortunate, however. Blistered and cut tires were the order of the day as another chapter in 1988’s “Tire Wars” saga unfolded. Elliott, though, escaped such troubles.
“I’ve always felt in the past that my car was relatively easy on tires,” said Elliott. “I seem to have a good setup for this race track, too. I can remember many times when we’d come here, others would have tire problems, but we wouldn’t.”
Elliott wasn’t seriously challenged. He led 392 of the 500 laps. Earnhardt and Wallace, meanwhile, regained lost laps to move in behind him but, as others found out earlier, there was no way to get around him.
Davey Allison took fourth place in the Ranier/Havoline Ford while fifth place went to Geoff Bodine in the Hendrick/Levi Garrett Chevrolet. The record 14 caution periods slowed Elliott’s average speed to 109.349 mph, the slowest Delaware 500 since 1982.
-Grand National Illustrated (January 1989)