Hampton, GA – Bill Elliott overcame a costly pit stop, then out-ran Cale Yarborough Sunday to win the Atlanta 500 Grand National stock car race and further tighten the dramatic late-season duel with Darrell Waltrip for the season points championship.
Waltrip finished third and Elliott picked up 15 points, cutting the margin to just 20 points – 4141-4121 – going into the season finale Nov. 17 at Riverside, Calif.
It looked like his championship shot might be going down the drain, though on lap 134 when Elliott, who had just made a quick pit stop under a caution flap to retain a lead over Yarborough, was ordered back into the pits by his crew chief brother Ernie.
“I don’t know, but I thought a (tire) lug nut was loose,” said the grinning Elliott. “I didn’t really think about it costing us at the time. But it could have.”
The 30-year-old driver from Dawsonville, GA, came out of the pits in 11th place, and the back of the lead lap just before the green flag fell.
But he steadily closed the margin, quickly getting back into contention.
“The car worked fantastic all day long.” Elliott said. “The motor held together. Darrell is the one lucky guy. He ran good and stayed out of trouble, but we won.”
Looking ahead to the race at Riverside, he said, “Boy, it’s going to get interesting.”
Waltrip, who stuck to his pre-race strategy of a conservative and careful drive, said, “We knew we were going to lose something (in points), but we lost a minimum.”
“When we get to Riverside, all we have to do is play a cat and mouse game (with Elliott). We’ll just try to keep Bill in our sights and not make any stupid mistakes.”
Waltrip can clinch his third season title and keep Elliott from gaining his first if he either finishes first or second, or comes in third and leads at least one lap, which is worth an extra five points.
The winner, who earned, $57,650, raised his season race earnings to an all-time record $2,034,468.
He drove his Ford Thunderbird to his 11th victory of the season, all of them on superspeedways. That broke the single-season victory mark on tracks one mile or longer that Elliott had shared with David Pearson since Sept. 2 when he won the Southern 500. Pearson set the previous record in 1973 and equaled it in 1976.
Elliott, who averaged 140.597mph, took turns in the lead with Yarborough several times during the 328 lap race at Atlanta International Raceway. But he slipped past Yarborough for the final time on lap 282 as the leaders drove down the main straightaway on the 1,522-mile oval.
The last stretch in the lead gave Elliott an extra five points in the championship battle as he earned the bonus for leading the most laps in the race. Yarborough was ahead in laps led until that point.
Elliott crossed the finish line for his 15 career victory 4.28 seconds ahead of Yarborough’s Ford, while Waltrip was a solid third just a few car lengths behind Yarborough. The only other driver on the lead lap at the end of the 500 mile event was defending champion Dale Earnhardt.
(Courtesy of Associated Press & Citizen Times)