DOVER, Del. -- Bill Elliott is from Dawsonville, Ga., and that means his philosophy is firmly rooted in the unavoidable realities of life.
Winning is a wonderful thing, Elliott knows. But it is not everything. In fact, Elliott is more a Boris Becker than a Vince Lombardi. Like Becker, he'd sometimes rather have a good time playing the game, even if it means losing.
But good times only go so far. Until yesterday afternoon, Elliott had not won a Winston Cup stock car race in 10 months.
He hadn't won in 23 races, a long time for a man who in 1985 won 11 superspeedway races, collected the Winston Million Dollar bonus for winning the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 and the Southern 500 all in the same season and made the cover of Sports Illustrated for an unsurpassed performance that earned $2,433,187 in a single season.
Since then there have been 17 other wins and a Winston Cup championship. No wonder everyone was wondering what was wrong with Bill Elliott.
"It got to the point where it was like everyone thought I'd never won a race in my life," he said yesterday. "But I'm more realistic than that. I knew I'd win. If not here, if not this year, then next year. It wasn't like we didn't have a chance to win."
But the winless streak came to a roaring conclusion yesterday, in the Peak Antifreeze 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway.
Elliott started from the pole and drove the first sub-four-hour race in track history, finishing in 3:58.12. He averaged a track-record 125.945 mph to beat Mark Martin to the finish line by 1.2 seconds.
He led for 364 laps, in front of a crowd of 74,000 -- the largest ever at the track and the largest ever at a Delaware sporting
And for doing all that, he collected a Dover record payoff of $83,100 that included a $15,200 bonus from Unocal for winning from the No. 1 starting spot, something no one else had accomplished since 1976, when Cale Yarborough did it.
"I'm just very glad to be here," Elliott said, smiling. "But I've got to tell you, all that not winning wasn't as hard to put up with as it might have looked from the outside. It wasn't as hard as what we put up with when we were doing all that winning in 1985."
Elliott could smile at the ease of the victory. He dominated from the time the green flag dropped. During the last 80 miles on the 1-mile track, he actually enjoyed the view in his rear-view mirror.
"I glanced back," Elliott said. "I saw Dale [Earnhardt] and Mark rubbing sheet metal and I thought it was a pretty good view."
Elliott, who drives the Coors Ford, retold one of several jokes making the rounds at his expense.
"I'm sure you've all heard it," he said. "They're saying I've been breaking into Chevy dealerships at night to see what the front end of a Lumina looks like. Well, I have to tell you, I got a nice long look at a couple Lumina front ends in my mirror today [yesterday]."
While Elliott has been losing, Lumina drivers Martin and Earnhardt have been winning. Right now they are locked up in the second-tightest points race since the current structure was adopted in 1971.
Earnhardt is just 21 points behind Martin with six races to go. Only the 1981 race between Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison was tighter at this point in the season. That year, Waltrip held a two-point lead over Allison when the Winston Cup series headed to next week's race in Martinsville, Va.
As for Elliott, he moved into fourth place in the chase, 413 points out of first, a situation that elicited a flat-toned "Whoopee," from Elliott.
"Everything has its time," he said. "Sure it is great to win. You can hold your head up. But from tomorrow, from this point on, this win is history. I'm more of a realist than most. I realize when it's your time, you can't do anything wrong, and when it's not you can't do anything right."
Yesterday, it was definitely Bill Elliott's time.
It was also the first career victory for Elliott's crew chief Mike Beam, who joined the team this season after nine years in the business . . . There were 11 lead changes among five drivers, which occurred mostly during pit stops . . . Six caution flags flew for 29 total laps . . . Ron Moroso, sponsored by Baltimore-based Crown Central Petroleum, was the highest finishing rookie in the field (28th) and was named rookie of the race.