Elliott races today for modern record of consecutive wins

ON TRACK IN DRIVE FOR FIVE

April 05, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

As Bill Elliott goes after his fifth consecutive win of the Winston Cup season at the Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn., he won't be suffering from dreams of glory. Elliott has been down that road and found it too burdensome. The man in the driver's seat today is a veteran who has learned that the price of fame can be too great.

"When I'm sitting in the starting lineup [today], there won't be any pressure on me," Elliott said. "Let everyone else worry about me winning. To me, this is just a piece of cake. I know what pressure is. I've lived through it -- though when I think about it, I don't know how. But this, driving this car for Junior Johnson and Tim Brewer, is about the easiest thing I've ever done.

"So let's get it straight, so everyone understands. I'm going to do the best I can. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, we'll take what we learn from this race, study it and try not to let it happen again."

When Elliott won at Darlington, S.C., last Sunday, he joined Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt and Harry Gant in the select four-straight win club in what is known as racing's modern era.

Now he is going for a modern record of five straight. But no matter how impressive that sounds or how many times he is asked about it, he says he isn't going to let it get to him in the way his quest for the Winston Million got to him in 1985.

Before last Sunday, no one in any era had won four of the first five in a season. And since the modern era began in 1972 -- when NASCAR cut the schedule from 49 to 30 races -- no one has won five straight.

In 1971, on that last 49-race tour, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison won five straight each. They are the only drivers who ever did it.

"To me, this record really doesn't matter," said Elliott, who drives the Budweiser Ford. "I'm not dying to have it. At this point, we've got to take this stuff as realistic as we can. To get to this point, we've been lucky a couple times and we've been good a couple times."

In 1985, Elliott was in his third full season for his family-operated team. It was the first year Winston offered a $1 million bonus to any driver who could win three of the Big Four races: the Daytona 500, the Talladega Winston 500, the Charlotte Coca-Cola 600 and the Darlington Southern 500.

As Elliott won, the pressure built.

"Let me tell you a little about 1985," he said. "I was fed to the lions that season. They ate me up and spit me out. No one had ever done what I was doing [attempting to win a $1 million bonus]. There were just 12 of us on my team. We were working full time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"And in between working on the car and taking care of the team, there was media and sponsors and fans all wanting time and I had to give the time. I was completely driven nuts. Looking back on it, it wasn't worth it. But I've never been a quitter. Even at Atlanta, two years ago, when our crewman got killed. . . . No matter how grim things look, I keep going."

Now he's focusing on the race at Bristol International Raceway, a half-mile oval with a reputation for difficulty.

"It's always war there," said Elliott's crew chief, Tim Brewer. "It's not a wide, forgiving track. It's narrow, busy and there is no room for error."

There are pits on the front straight and pits on the back straight, which means cars slowing into the pits and powering out of them on every corner. This spring, the track has been resurfaced, making it quicker and slicker. And teams will be racing on new tire compounds designed to adhere to the new surface, which is expected to make racing even trickier.

Though Junior Johnson cars traditionally have done well on the short tracks -- particularly at Bristol where they have won 21 times -- 13 more than any other car owner -- Elliott has not. His win at Richmond on March 8 was only his second career short-track victory. The other came at Bristol in 1988.

His reputation has been earned on the high-banked super speedways, where he has 36 victories. In 1985, along with winning the $1 million bonus, he won 11 times on the big tracks.

"Four, five, seven years ago, all this would be affecting me, but not now," he said. "I feel like I'm on a vacation."

Johnson owns the cars and Brewer prepares them. All Elliott has to do is, as he puts it, chauffeur the possum around the racetrack.

The possum?

"Tim lets it out of its cage on Sundays," Elliott said, laughing.

"It's a stuffed possum," Brewer said. "A local radio station got on us for playing possum [at Rockingham] and then coming on to win at the end. Then a lady near the shop knitted us this possum and we just strapped it on to the roll bar at Richmond. It has been right at home beside Bill ever since, so we're just going to leave it be."

Perhaps, there still is some boyishness left in Elliott and this team after all.

"I don't think anyone expected us, being a new team, to do what we've already done," said Elliott. "So whatever we do from here on is just fun."

Bill Elliott's 1992 season

Daytona 500: Started second, finished 27th (accident). Won $60,255. Rockingham, N.C.: Started second, finished first by 14 seconds. Won $57,800.

Richmond, Va.: Started first, finished first by 18 inches. Won $272,700, a short-track record.

Atlanta: Started fourth, finished first by 8.25 seconds. Won $71,000.

Darlington, S.C.: Started second, finished first by 8.8 seconds.

Won $64,290.

NASCAR's all-time money leaders

Dale Earnhardt.. .. $15,422,189

Bill Elliott.. .. ..$11,385,389

Darrell Waltrip.. ..$11,217,335

Richard Petty.. .. ..$7,480,654

Bobby Allison.. .. ..$7,102,233

Rusty Wallace.. .. ..$6,933,357

Terry Labonte.. .. ..$6,766,402

Ricky Rudd.. .. .. ..$6,206,500

Harry Gant.. .. .. ..$6,197,716

Geoff Bodine.. .. .. $5,835,032

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