Takes First Win With Johnson Team In A Rout At Rockingham
NASCAR Winston Cup racing fans wondered if the union of team owner Junior Johnson and driver Bill Elliott would be productive and if so, how long would it take?
Wonder no More.
In fact, if the Goodwrench 500 offers any evidence as to what is ahead, the question might be: Just how many races is Elliott going to win in 1992, anyway?
In a nearly perfect performance, Elliott humbled the field and easily won the Goodwrench 500 to score his first victory with Junior Johnson & Associates in only his second outing with the Ingles Hollow N.C.-base team. Elliott joined Johnson for the ’92 campaign after ending a 10-year Winston Cup association with brothers Ernie and Dan and team owner Harry Melling.
If there is any doubt he made a wise move, consider that he led 260 of the race’s 492 laps, including the final 213, and crossed the finish line a whopping 12.75 seconds – about a half-lap – ahead of Davey Allison.
The victory was the 35th of the Ford-driving Elliott’s career and it came in his 350th start. It was his third at NCMS, but his first in the Goodwrench 500 as he won the fall AC-Delco 500 in 1984 and again in 1987.
Elliott also gave Ford its sixth straight triumph in Winston Cup competition.
“I tell you, Tim Brewer (crew chief) and all the guys on the team made it easy for me today,” said the 36-year old Elliott, of Dawsonville, Ga. “This car worked flawlessly. It took me 40 to 50 laps to run Davey down at one point in the race and then I was able to get away from him.
“Then when we didn’t have any cautions and I could just keep going, I knew it was going to be a good day.”
It was a lucrative one, as well. While Elliott’s victory was worth $57,800 it also put Johnson’s team on the NASCAR Winner’s Circle plan. That will mean $216,000 in bonus appearance money in 1992.
Additionally, the team is now eligible for the ’93 version of the plan, which could mean a payout of as much as $295,800. Elliott’s superiority turned the race into a ho-hummer. Even those who were expected to contend for the victory could do nothing to stop him.
Pole Winner Kyle Petty, primed to earn a $190,000 Unocal Challenge bonus with another victory at NCMS – he had won the last two Goodwrench 500s – led the first 10 laps in his Sabco Pontiac and then slumped into a 29th-place finish after experiencing a broken camshaft.
It was then Davey Allison’s turn. The winner of the Daytona 500 by STP put his Robert Yates Racing Ford in front for 190 laps. For the first half of the race he appeared dominate, leading stretches of 62 and 116 laps.
But just as the race entered its second half, Elliott took over. On lap 247 he whisked around Allison to inherit the lead for 29 laps. He gave up the lead only three laps when he pitted on lap 277.
He was again in front when the race restarted from its seventh and final caution period on lap 282 and would remain there until the end of the race – although no one knew it at the time.
Lap after lap, Elliott kept putting distance on Allison. By lap 446, he was 4.53 seconds ahead. Ten laps later, it was 9.32 seconds – and growing. There would little doubt Elliott would win. The only question was by how much?
“Davey was strong early and it seemed he could pretty much stay out in front for 40-50 laps, but then his car would go away,” said Elliott. “We seemed to run better as the race went on.
“The track came to us more than the others. It got much looser later as there were guys slipping and sliding out there and my car gave a little bit, but I was able to drive it.
“The car we brought here was set up just like Tim did it in the fall last year. We put in a sway bar and that was it. I loved it. We didn’t touch it after that.
“I told Tim after practice yesterday (Feb. 29) that it was the best car I’d ever had at Rockingham. I told him he and the guys had made it easy and today proved my point.”
Interestingly, the car was the same Ford Johnson drove in The Winston Legends race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last May. After that metal-crunching donnybrook of a racing exhibition, there was little left of it.
“You’ve got to remember there’s one thing you always save on a car and that’s the four wheels,” said Johnson, a hall of fame member with 50 career victories. “And I saved them.
“When we were done with the car after Charlotte we had it ready to put new skin on it according to NASCAR directions and that’s what we did.”
Elliott and Allison were two of only three drivers to compete all 492 laps. The other was Harry Gant, who finished third in the Leo Jackson Motorsports Oldsmobile. Michael Waltrip finished fourth, one lap down in the Bahari Racing Pontiac while Ken Schrader was fifth, also a lap down in the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Sixth through 10th places were taken by, in order, Mark Martin in the Roush Racing Ford, Terry Labonte in the Hagan Racing Oldsmobile, Brett Bodine in the King Racing Ford, Hut Sticklin in the Bobby Allison Motorsports Chevrolet and Darrell Waltrip in the DarWal, Inc. Chevrolet. All were two laps in arrears.
Although the race was slowed by seven caution periods for 27 laps, no yellow flags were thrown over the last 210 circuits. That allowed Elliott to win with an event-record speed of 126.125 mph. It also meant the race was completed in 3 hours, 58 minutes and 2 seconds – the second consecutive time an event at NCMS was finished in less than four hours.
Johnson, who has a record 14 career victories at NCMS as a team owner – three more than Petty Enterprises – said he knew Elliott, whom he said he had been trying to employ for six years, would merge well with his organization.
“I told him at Talladega (Ala.) during the first of last year if he would come to us, we’d be sure he had the equipment,” Johnson said. “All he would have to do is drive. He’s done his job. Now it’s up to us to keep doing ours.”
In the past, Johnson’s cars have been driven by the likes of Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Neil Bonnett and Geoff Bodine – winners all. In fact it was Bonnett who provided Johnson’s last victory at NCMS before Elliott took over, in the fall of 1986.
“Bill has the material to be better than all of them,” Johnson said. “He has worked on cars and he knows right away what he wants and he knows how to get it in the car. He gives us the kind of feedback we’d been lacking.”
“With me bringing to Junior’s what I know and with Tim having worked with so many different drivers and getting experience, it’s a situation where we are trying to get the right combination,” Elliott said.
“I know I’ve used that word a lot in the past, but we have a situation where I can tell Tim what the car needs and he can provide it. We compliment each other. I don’t have to do everything myself or go in a direction I’m not sure of.
“The idea is to work together. If we keep that in mind always, then we’ll stay together.”
“Today, we had the best of everything,” added Brewer. “We’ve got the best sponsors, best crew, best owner and best driver. Everybody just thinks they’re sick of us right now.”
Which means for Elliott, Johnson, Brewer and team, good things might just be starting.
“Maybe this was beginner’s luck,” said Elliott.
“But I don’t think so.”
By Steve Waid, Executive Editor Winston Cup Scene – Vol. XV, No. 37 March 5, 1992