DOVER,DEL. — DOVER, Del. -- Move over, Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison and Rusty Wallace.
Harry "Life Begins at 51" Gant is on the prowl on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit.
Gant isn't making a comeback. He never left. He just hadn't won a lot of races in 19 years. Then, two weeks ago, he started a surge of three consecutive Winston Cup victories.
A victory in the Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C., on Sept. 1 again made him the oldest driver to win a Winston Cup race. Before that, though, Gant was 3-for-159 in his latest starts and had won only 11 Winston Cup races in 19 years.
Gant made it three straight yesterday, winning the Peak Antifreeze 500 by more than a lap over Geoff Bodine at Dover Downs International Speedway before a crowd of 77,000.
Gant tamed the "Monster Mile" at Dover in his Oldsmobile Cutlass on an afternoon when there were a 16-car pileup on the 69th lap, a total of 25 cars involved in wrecks and nine caution flags for 70 laps.
In the process, Gant became the first driver to win in an Oldsmobile at Dover Downs in that make's 43 starts at the steeply banked mile track.
Of the 40 cars that started, only 16 finished the 4-hour, 32-minute, 17-second race. The 16 cars were one short of the Peak Antifreeze 500 record of 15 of 40 in 1972.
Gant, 51 years and 248 days old, led twice yesterday for a total of 326 laps and picked up $67,100 for first place. His overall earnings since Sept. 1, including Busch Grand National 200 wins at Richmond, Va., last week and Dover on Saturday, are $343,000.
Gant has won $720,385 this year for fourth place in earnings on the Winston Cup circuit, and he jumped from ninth to seventh in Winston Cup points with a total of 3,021 -- 379 behind the leader, Earnhardt.
Not bad for a man who used to race on dirt tracks as a hobby at night (Gant recalled winning a race in Beltsville, Md., before he came on the Winston Cup circuit in 1973) and work as a carpenter in the day.
"I don't have anything to prove," Gant said. "I've won enough races in my day to know what I can do. I won 40 percent of my starts on dirt tracks. I once won 14 straight."
Gant said he didn't want to say anything to incite Earnhardt, Wallace and Allison.
"I like to lay low and catch those guys off guard," said Gant. "I
don't need to go on TV and talk about myself like the younger guys. I'm secure with myself and my future."
At first Gant joked about the "Life Begins at 51" buttons that were being circulated by Oldsmobile at Dover yesterday.
"I was born in 1947," said Gant. "No, seriously, I'm proud to be 51 and still working, whether I was building houses or racing. Some people don't live to be 51. Age doesn't have anything to do with it as long as you do your job."
Asked what he was going to do to celebrate this latest achievement, Gant said: "Nothing. I'm going home and finish up some garage doors, pour some concrete and work on my driveway."
Gant said the ride to victory lane was fairly simple yesterday since most of his top competitors wound up in wrecks.
"All I did was mash the accelerator," said Gant. "Richard Petty [a veteran 54-year-old driver who has not won a Winston Cup race since 1984] could have won in my car today. That's how good it was running. I've won all three of these races in the same car with the same engine."
Wallace was the last to win three straight Winston Cup races, doing it in the fall of 1988.
Among those involved in collisions yesterday that put them out of the race immediately or eventually were pole-sitter Alan Kulwicki, Earnhardt, Wallace, Mark Martin, Ken Schrader and Kyle Petty.
1. (10) Harry Gant, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 500, $67,000, 110.179 mph. 2. (3) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 499, $42,225. 3. (21) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 499, $31,250. 4. (19) Hut Stricklin, Buick Regal, 499, $20,350. 5. (13) Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 498, $17,625. 6. (11) Dick Trickle, Pontiac Grand Prix, 496, $11,850. 7. (24) Ricky Rudd, Chevrolet Lumina, 493, $15,800. 8. (16) Bobby Hamilton, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 493, $10,950. 9. (20) Rick Mast, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 493, $11,450. 10. (31) Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Lumina, 490, $13,050.
11. (30) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 488, $14,400. 12. (18) Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 470, wreck, $12,900. 13. (33) Joe Ruttman, Chevrolet Lumina, 463, $9,200. 14. (17) Ted Musgrave, Pontiac Grand Prix, 454, $6,850. 15. (12) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Lumina, 447, $16,700. 16. (25) Chad Little, Ford Thunderbird, 443, $5,950. 17. (9) Sterling Marlin, Ford Thunderbird, 429, $5,750. 18. (34) Jimmy Spencer, Chevrolet Lumina, 402, wreck, $7,485. 19. (14) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet Lumina, 395, engine, $5,300. 20. (29) Richard Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 389, engine, $6,200.