Talladega, Ala. – Bill Elliott ended a 15-race winless string by holding off Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt to win the hotly contested Talladega 500 NASCAR stock car race Sunday.
Elliott, who’s only other victory this year came in the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, led the last 33 green-flag laps on the 2.66 mile, high banked track at Alabama International Motor Speedway, becoming the 17th different winner of this race since it was first run 19 years ago.
As forecast by the drivers, it was an exceptionally competitive race, with nine cars in the lead pack right to the end.
Elliott, weaving back and forth to keep Allison behind him through the last several hundred yards crossed the finish line just .15 seconds ahead of the rookie driver’s Thunderbird.
Earnhardt who has won eight of the 17 races this season and holds a huge lead over Elliott in the season points, finished third, followed by Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Lake Speed and Kyle Petty, all closely bunched through the last 10 laps.
Elliott’s Ford Thunderbird gained the lead for the final time during the last of four cautions periods as the red-haired driver from Dawsonville, GA, beat Labonte, Yarborough and Allison onto the track.
Allison had been leading before Dave Pletcher spun and hit the infield wall on the backstretch on lap 150, bringing out the yellow flag and sending the leaders to the pits for their final stop for fuel and tires.
Pletcher escaped injury and there were injuries reported in the 188-lap event.
Elliott, who picked up his 19th career victory, took a chance by taking only two tires, while most of the other-top finishers stayed in the pits for four.
The winner averaged 171.292 mph, second only to the 174.7 average of Lennie Pond in the 1978 Talladega 500, Elliott also joined Dave Marcis of Skyland, N.C., who won here in 1976, as the only drivers to win this race from the pole position. It was the record sixth straight time Elliott has started here from the pole in either this race or the Winston 500 in May.
This race, like the Firecracker 400 at Daytona on July4, was run with smaller carburetors ordered by NASCAR in an effort to slow down the cars at the two fastest tracks on the stock car circuit.
That slowdown, about 7 mph, brought very competitive races both at Daytona, where Bobby Allison won, and here on Sunday.
The caution periods were spread out in the quick race, with 94 laps – half the race – between the second and third yellow flags – 40 laps through 134.
During that period, from lap 4 through134, when the caution flag came out because of debris on the track near the finish line, the leaders went through two series’ of green-flag pit stops.
Bobby Hillin, Jr., the defending race champion, was the first driver out of the race, bringing out the first caution flag when his engine blew at the finish line on the third lap
Morgan Shepherd, who was scheduled to give up his ride to a relief driver in the early going after suffering from food poisoning since Friday night, instead wound up behind the pit wall with an engine failure on lap 12.
Rookie Brett Bodine and veteran Neil Bonnett tangled on the backstretch coming off turn two on lap 33. Bodine’s car got upside down for a moment and the accident knocked both cars out of the race without injury.
Bonnett, working for series points, came back out on lap 90 with the sheet metal missing from the front of his car.
The two car accident occurred at virtually the same spot where Tracy Read was killed Saturday in a crash driving an ARCA late model stock car race. Read, 26, from Charlotte, N.C., died of massive chest and upper abdominal injuries when he spun coming off turn two and hit an earthen embankment in the infield. Read was the seventh racing related fatality at the Talladega track since it opened in 1969.
Read was also a member of Yarborough’s crew. The three-time Winston Cup champion drove Sunday’s race with Read’s No. 15 emblazoned on the back of his No. 22 car and both the driver and his crew wore black armbands.
(Courtesy of Associated Press and Citizen Times)