Not even accident can stop streaking Gant, 51, from 4th in row

September 23, 1991|By Tom Higgins | Tom Higgins,Charlotte Observer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Harry Gant mounted perhaps the greatest charge in Martinsville Speedway's 44-year history yesterday and stretched his Winston Cup Series winning streak to four races -- six overall in NASCAR -- with a victory in the Goody's 500.

Gant, advancing his record as the big-time circuit's oldest winner to 51 years, 255 days, rallied from a crash with Rusty Wallace to remain unbeaten in September.

On the 376th of 500 laps at the .526-mile track, Wallace's Pontiac nudged into Gant's Oldmobile as they dueled for the lead between Turns 3 and 4. Both spun, and Gant's car was struck by a following vehicle, damaging the right front.

Gant's team, led by owner Leo Jackson and crew chief Andy Petree, pitted the No. 33 machine three times during the ensuing caution period to tear away bent sheet metal and repair damaged alignment as much as possible.

Gant, of Taylorsville, N.C., emerged in 12th place for the restart on 383. In addition, several lapped cars were positioned between Gant and leader Ernie Irvan's Chevrolet on the tight, flat speedway.

With a track record crowd estimated at 46,000 standing and cheering, Gant steadily picked off the cars ahead of him and on Lap 448 charged into the lead with a pass of Brett Bodine's Buick. Bodine, slightly bumping Gant, immediately regained the front and led Laps 449 to 453. Gant then maneuvered inside Bodine in Turn 1 on Lap 454 and pulled ahead to stay going up the backstretch.

Bodine was the runner-up, 1.13 seconds behind.

"I thought we had it in the bag, but I knew that was too good to be true," said Gant, who led 226 laps. "Rusty got a little overanxious on a restart, and I thought we'd had it. The wreck knocked out the toe-in. When we got going again, the car didn't run as good as before. It was pushing in the corners. But when we got back up to fifth place, it was pretty easy after that."

He paused.

"I can't believe it," he said after becoming the first driver to win four straight since Dale Earnhardt in 1987 and only the fourth competitor to achieve the feat in the sport's modern era, dating to 1972. Darrell Waltrip did it in '81 and Cale Yarborough in '76.

No wonder Gant is incredulous.

He has won more Winston Cup races in September than he ever did in a single year previously. His other two wins this month were in Grand National events.

The awe increased among his rivals.

Said Bodine: "Harry was the class of the field. I tried my best to hold him back, but he had too much for me."

Said Wallace: "I felt like the time was right for me to do something. I had to. Earlier I cooled, and Harry just set sail. I guess I just drove it into Turn 3 too deep, and that was that."

Finishing third through 10th in the wreck-marred race -- 15 caution periods for 81 laps held Gant's speed to 74.535 mph -- were: Earnhardt, Irvan, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte, Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Ken Schrader and Jimmy Hensley, Pontiac.

The outcome enabled Earnhardt to increase his lead over Rudd toward the $1 million Winston Cup championship from 36 points to 59 with five of the season's 29 races left, starting with the Tyson Holly Farms 400 next Sunday at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway.

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