Isurvivor 500:/I Checkered Flag

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The Event: RacingOne Survivor 500
The Track: 1.5-mile high-banked oval
Event Length: 500 miles (334 laps)
Purse: $3,157,298

Today’s Action: Laps 301-checkered flag

The greatest race in stock-car history came down to a 34-lap shootout with Harry Gant and Dale Earnhardt leading the field to green on Lap 301.

Right from the get-go, Roush Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Mark Martin went door-to-door at the back of the field. Martin would slide up into Burton and gain the ninth position, then half a lap later, Burton would take the air off of Martin’s spoiler and regain the spot.

Car owner Jack Roush, who feverishly switched from one sponsor shirt to another each time the two swapped positions, began hollering to each of his drivers over his radio.

“Mark, you know you’re my favorite driver buddy, keep it up,” Roush would say to Martin, before switching channels to speak with Burton. “Jeff, you’re my new favorite driver buddy, keep it up.”

This went back and forth for about 10 laps, and then Roush made a crucial mistake. He accidentally switched to Burton’s channel when he thought he was on Martin’s.

“Hey Mark,” Roush accidentally hollered in Burton’s ear. “Why don’t you just take the young Burton kid out. The way I’m losing sponsorships lately, he’ll probably be without one next year anyway and I’ll have to put some unproven kid in his car anyway. Then it’ll be you and me again, just like old times. Whattya say ol’ buddy?”

Hearing from his boss that his future may not be as bright as he once thought, Burton turned his car hard left and straight into Martin’s No. 6. Both cars began to spin, each clipped the wall, and settled on the apron of the track.

Through his headset, Burton let Roush know his thoughts on the situation: “So you’re gonna dump me and keep Mark, eh?” Burton said. “Hey, if you wanna continue to be the bridesmaid and never the bride, that’s up to you… see ya.”

Whether to pit – and get fresh tires - under this latest yellow became the most important decision the remaining eight drivers would probably make in this race.

As they came out of Turn 4, Gant dived low towards the pits, then quickly back up to the track. Gant, obviously not wanting to give up his lead on the restart, would soon find out it was a decision that would cost him the win.

Every other car dived low behind Gant out of Turn 4 and continued down pit road.

Sliding into their pit stalls, each driver knew it was crucial that their crew got them out towards the front.

This is where the trouble began for two of the drivers.

First, Alan Kulwicki came to a stop in his stall to find no crew at all. Apparently, Kulwicki’s sponsor – Hooters – brought some of their waitresses to the event, and the crew wasn’t about to miss dinner with them.

As owner and driver of the car, Kulwicki figured he could do the rest. He crawled out his car window and began jacking the car, putting the gas in and then changing all four tires.

Unfortunately, the nearly five-minute stop would put the 1992 Cup champion out of contention for the win.

The other driver with problems during this stop was Jeff Gordon.

As Gordon pulled into his stall, he also saw not a single person leaping over the wall.

Gordon immediately radioed his crew chief Ray Evernham to find out what in the world was going on.

“Jeff, hate to tell you this man, but all of the Rainbow Warriors have decided to join Dale Jarrett’s team and I just decided I’m going to lead Dodge’s charge back into Winston Cup racing,” Evernham responded. “Don’t worry little buddy, I’m sure your performance won’t drop off at all.”

Stuck in the pits, having no clue about how to change a tire on a car, Gordon was done for the day.

Going back to green was pretty devastating for Gant, who had decided to hold his lead rather than get new tires. Within just a couple of laps, Gant fell from first to sixth and would never be in serious contention to win again.

The final five drivers – Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Pearson, Richard Petty and Davey Allison – stayed in a pretty tight pack until the final five laps, when Pearson and Petty hooked up and started to pull away from the rest.

By the time they took the white flag, Pearson and Petty had opened up nearly a half-lap lead.

Petty remained behind Pearson through Turns 1, 2 and down the backstretch. Coming into Turn 3 he made his move low, and by the time they exited Turn 4, they were side by side.

All of the sudden, heading towards what would likely have been a photo finish, the Petty and Pearson cars got together, hit the outside wall, and spun down and into the infield grass. Each was just short of the finish line.

As Petty and Pearson tried to get their machines rolling again, Earnhardt and his son led the final group of cars into the final turn.

After following in his fathers tracks the entire race, Earnhardt Jr. decided to go for the win and tried to go to the outside and by his father.

Big mistake.

Earnhardt, who obviously plays no favorites, slid up the track and into his son’s No. 8.

The contact turned both cars sideways in front of Allison, who couldn’t avoid getting a piece of each.

“That youngin’ ever thinks he’s gonna get the best of me, he better think again,” Earnhardt would say after the event. “Heck, I’ll put my boy Kerry in that car next time just to make sure there are no other family members anywhere near the front of the field.”

So, with a cloud of smoke and flying sheet metal in Turn 4, the winner of the greatest stock-car race in history would be determined by which driver – Petty or Pearson – would get their machine to the line first.

Unlike a similar tussle the two legends had earlier in there careers, where Pearson was able to keep his machine moving and earned the win, Petty got his No. 43 fired up first, and coasted across the finish line at approximately 32 mph.

“The Silver Fox had him quite a race, as did The Intimidator, The Wonder Boy and Handsome Harry,” said Petty in victory lane. “But let’s fact it folks, there’s only one King of stock-car racin’.”

FINISHING ORDER
1. Richard Petty
2. David Pearson
3. Dale Earnhardt (Little E)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Big E)
5. Davey Allison (Big and Little E)
6. Harry Gant
7. Alan Kulwicki
8. Jeff Gordon (team exodus)
9. Jeff Burton (teamwork)
10. Mark Martin (Reason Out - teamwork)
11. Bill Elliott (Reason Out – popularity)
12. A.J. Foyt (Reason Out – barbecue)
13. Tim Richmond (Reason Out – fiesta)
14. Dale Jarrett (Reason Out – non-jealousy)
15. Bobby Labonte (Reason Out – Jarrett’s non-jealousy)
16. Neil Bonnett (Reason Out – fightin’)
17. Junior Johnson (Reason Out – fightin’)
18. Cale Yarborough (Reason Out – fightin’)
19. Bobby Allison (Reason Out – fightin’)
20. Darrell Waltrip (Reason Out – fightin’)
21. Kyle Petty (Reason Out – understudy)
22. Lee Petty (Reason Out – them Earnhardts)
23. Ralph Earnhardt (Reason Out – them Pettys)
24. Fred Lorenzen (Reason Out – them Earnhardts and Pettys)
25. Ernie Irvan (Reason Out – them Pettys and Earnhardts)
26. Wendell Scott (Reason Out – blowed up)
27. Terry Labonte (Reason Out – footsteps)
28. Dave Marcis (Reason Out – brain fade)
29. Buck Baker (Reason Out – son of a gun)
30. Buddy Baker (Reason Out – squirrelly)
31. Rusty Wallace (Reason Out – payback)
32. Donnie Allison (Reason Out – dumb luck)
33. Curtis Turner (Reason Out – equally dumb luck)
34. Bobby Isaac (Reason Out – voices)
35. Tony Stewart (Reason Out – sponsor decision)
36. Fireball Roberts (Reason Out – Kodak moment)
37. Ned Jarrett (Reason Out – too kind)
38. Ricky Rudd (Reason Out – independence)
39. Fonty Flock (Reason Out – brotherly love tap)
40. Tim Flock (Reason Out – monkey business)
41. Red Byron (Reason out – old)
42. Geoff Bodine (Reason out – tires)
43. Herb Thomas (Reason out – Earnhardts)
44. Joe Weatherly (Reason out – Earnhardts)
45. Marvin Panch (Reason out – Earnhardts)
46. LeeRoy Yarbrough (Reason Out - name)
47. Glen Wood (Reason Out - reality)
48. Speedy Thompson (Reason Out - car number)
49. Benny Parsons (Reason Out - career change)
50. Tiny Lund (Reason Out – hunger).

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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