Daytona Beach, FL – Bill Elliott won his second Daytona 500 as defending champion Geoff Bodine losing a high-stakes gamble, ran out of gas three laps from the end Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
I you never take a chance in life, it’s dull and boring,” said Bodine, who won last year when race leader Dale Earnhardt ran out of gas with four laps to go.
Elliott the 1985 winner, outmuscled the fastest field in Daytona history most of the day. But he had to watch and wait in the last 13 laps as Bodine took a calculated risk by staying on the racetrack, hoping to squeeze 45 laps of racing out of a near-empty gas tank.
Bodine did get in 42 laps and was about 20 seconds in the lead on the 2.5 mile track when his Chevrolet sputtered and quit. The engine stopped just after he had passed pit entrance, forcing him to roll slowly around the track while Elliott’s Ford Thunderbird and the rest of the lead cars roared past.
“It was our plan right from the last pit stop (on lap 155) not to try to race them. Our plan was to outlast everybody, and we came up 2 ½ laps short,” Bodine said.
Elliott held off Benny Parsons in the last three laps to win by just sic tenths of a second.
“The crew did it all today and , whatever we could, we ran out front,” Elliott said. “The car kept on digging all day long and , whenever it counted, we were out front.
“We had us a real good (pit) stop right there at the end. We got in and we got out. That’s what won us the race.”
Asked if he thought Bodine might be in trouble near the end, Elliott shrugged and said, “I had no idea. You’re out there racing other people, and it’s hard to keep up with all the other cars out there, how many laps they run between stops. You’re too busy.”
Gary Nelson, Bodine’s crew chief and a man known to be able to squeeze the most out of a gas tank most of the time, said Elliott “was so strong, we knew unless he ran out of gas, we were going to run second or third. We were here to win.”
We had it calculated out pretty good and Geoff was trying to take it easy, draft other cars as much as he could and stretch it out, Nelson said. “We thought there was a chance we could make it. It just didn’t work.”
Seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty was a solid third, followed by Buddy Baker, Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip.
Elliott averaged 176.263 mph – the second fastest Daytona race – and won a NASCAR record $204,150. Bodine’s $192,715 was the old mark.
Parsons, who won the 500 in 1975 said “the last time we changed tires we picked up a push condition. After that, we just couldn’t run with those fast cars. But I think we can run with (Elliott).”
When he pitted for gas 11 laps from the end, Parsons nearly over-shot his pit, sliding to a stop.
“That cost us. If we hadn’t slid and had been able to stop, we would have done very well,” he said.
Petty, the all-time NASCAR leader with 200 victories, was trying to break a victory drought that stretches back to the Firecracker 400 in Daytona in July of 1984.
“We just missed by a little,” said Petty. “The race went just exactly as we figured, but we didn’t plan on having two cars in front of us at the end. But we did race awful strong. It just wasn’t enough.”
Elliott. Proving his Thunderbird was just as strong as it looked when he won the pole last week with a Daytona record of 210.364 mph, led eight times for a total of 108 of the 200 laps.
But, the tires began to go away late in the race as he fell behind Earnhardt, the defending Winston Cup Champion, on lap 183. Baker, who set the race record of the 177.602 when he won in 1980, also slipped past Elliott the next time around.
It was the series quick late fuel stops that got Elliott back into position to earn his 18th career victory. He came in at the end of lap 187, while Parsons came in on lap 189 and Baker and Earnhardt on lap 190. Petty also stopped for a splash of gas on lap 190, the last of the challengers who chose to pit.
The high speeds and the death of driver Joe Young on Friday in a sub-compact race here raised fears of a disastrous race Sunday. But the four caution flags were all of a minor variety and the closest call of the day came on lap 152 when Bodine tagged the wall in turn four, started to lose control, then caught it and kept racing right next to Baker and just ahead of Parsons.
Davey Allison, who was the first rookie ever to start from the front row here, ran strong in the early laps but lost 13 laps when he left the pits after his first stop with no lug nuts on one tire. His crew said the jack came down prematurely and the 25- year-old son of Bobby Allison took off.
He wound up limping slowly toward the pits and having the tire fall off near the head of the pit road, bringing out the first yellow. After a long stay in the garage area, he got back into the race.
It was a short day for former Daytona winner A.J. Foyt, who started in the last row of the 42-car field in a backup car after crashing in his qualifying race Thursday. The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner had an almost immediate problem with a spark plug wire, pitted the first time on lap eight and was behind the wall for the day by lap 16.
After an early flurry of slower cars falling out of the race, the attrition pace slowed. Only seven cars were retired at the halfway mark, with 17 running on the lap. Eleven were still on the lead lap at the end.
Another caution flag came out on lap 48 because of oil on the apron of the track in turn four, but the cars then raced for 86 laps before the next yellow flag waved-in the fast race.
Debris on the track brought out the next two cautions, one on lap 140 and the next on lap 154.
(Article by Associated Press and Citizen Times)