Brooklyn, Mich. – Bill Elliott returned to Michigan International Speedway to post his first NASCAR victory in eight months Sunday, slipping into the lead with five laps remaining to win the Miller American 400 stock car race.
A patient Elliott stalked Harry Gant for five laps before moving ahead for good with a slingshot pass on the 195 lap and finishing two car lengths ahead of Gant’s Chevrolet.
“I wanted to get by (Gant) early to have the advantage of the lapped cars that were coming up in front of us,” said Elliott, who averaged 138.555 mph in his Ford Thunderbird.
“I tried a lap earlier, moving down underneath, but didn’t get a good enough go at him,” said the 30 year old from Dawsonville, GA. “I backed off and filed in behind him until I could get a good run at him.”
“I kind of felt like if I could keep him back there, I might have had a shot” at wining,” Gant said. “But he was definitely too strong to handle. I was probably lucky to finish second.” “We ran a good race and just got beat by a better car,” Gant said. “I was surprised that (Elliott) waited as long as he did to come by me”
Geoff Bodine and Buddy Baker finished third and fourth.
It was the first victory the season for Elliott but his third straight at MIS. He won both stock car races here last season but hadn’t posted a victory since November at the Atlanta 500.
Elliott won for the 16th time in his career and became the 11th driver to win one of the 14 NASCAR races this season.
Gant had led laps 174 to 188 before Elliott took charge for one lap. Gant quickly regained the lead with Elliott no more than inched from his rear bumper.
Elliott bided his time until the cars came out of the fourth turn on lap 195, then jerked his car to the inside and floored the throttle to pass Gant on the front stretch.
The race, before nearly 80,000 spectators, was run in 2 hours and 53 minutes and 21 seconds. It was slowed for 42 laps by 8 caution flags.
It was the first race run since MIS was repaved two months ago. The new surface – which allowed the drivers to use the entire width of the track rather than one or two “grooves” as in the past – contributed to 32 lead changes among 12 drivers.
Before the race, driver Richard Petty was honored for making the 1,000th start of his 28-year career. Among those honors were commendations from the legislatures of Michigan and his native North Carolina.
Petty finished 13th. As part of the pre-race tribute, Petty daughters Rebecca, Sharon and Lisa were selected to give the command, “Gentlemen start your engines.” But the girls gave it a Father’s day twist by saying, “Daddy, start your engine” before giving the traditional command to the rest of the field 20 seconds later.
(Courtesy of Associated Press and Citizen Times)