Bruised Allison keeps Ford looking healthy Auto racing

April 13, 1992|By Tom Higgins | Tom Higgins,Charlotte Observer

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. -- Davey Allison turned determination into a two-car-length victory over Rusty Wallace in a First Union 400 thriller yesterday at North Wilkesboro Speedway, extending Ford's NASCAR Winston Cup Series winning streak to 11 in a row.

Included are seven straight Ford victories this year, a record opening a season. The previous mark was Hudson's six in 1952.

Despite rib and lower back injuries that threatened to remove him from the Robert Yates Racing Team's Thunderbird in favor of relief driver Jimmy Hensley, Allison drove the 400-lap, 250-mile distance before a crowd of 44,000, the largest in track history.

Wallace made a bold bid on the final lap in his Pontiac, diving into Turn 3 at the five-eighths-mile oval. However, Allison held off the challenge as both slid through Turn 4, wheels spinning, to the checkered flag.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to make it the whole race or not," said Allison, who was hurt in a Food City 500 crash the previous Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Raceway. "I got leg cramps during the last pit stop [during a caution period on laps 346-350], and I didn't know if I was going to be able to work the brakes anymore or not. Then the right leg cramped briefly, and I worried about working the accelerator. Luckily, the cramps went away.

"At the end, I saw Rusty coming, and I knew it'd be close. But I knew he'd race me clean.

"Although I've been hurting all week, the crew gave me a lot of confidence. It feels good to give this race to them. I know they won't mind if I dedicate the victory to my grandfather [Edmond Jacob "Pop" Allison], who we lost several days ago."

It was his first victory at North Wilkesboro, where his father, Bobby, won four times. The younger Allison, who opened the season by taking the Daytona 500, has 15 career wins.

Finishing third through 12th and completing all 400 laps: Ricky Rudd, Chevrolet; Geoff Bodine, Ford; Harry Gant, Olds; Dale Earnhardt, Chevy; Alan Kulwicki, Ford; Sterling Marlin, Ford; Terry Labonte, Olds; Brett Bodine, Ford; Dick Trickle, Ford; and Morgan Shepherd, Ford.

Bill Elliott, who contributed four straight wins to the Ford streak, finished 20th, two laps behind.

The next race is the Hanes 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April 26.

Long Beach Grand Prix

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- To win his first race in more than a year, Danny Sullivan had to get by teammate Al Unser Jr. -- somehow.

But the pass that Sullivan hoped for wasn't anything like he had envisioned, coming with a jarring bump four laps from the end of yesterday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and relegating Unser, who had won the event four straight times, to a fourth-place finish.

The mishap occurred as the top four cars near the end of the 105-lap race practically locked together on the 1.59-mile, eight-turn downtown street circuit, less than two seconds separating first from fourth.

The slower car of Japanese driver Hiro Matsushita suddenly loomed in their path, wavering uncertainly between the two lanes near the end of the track's fast back straightaway.

"Matsushita couldn't get out of our way and Al had to lift off [the throttle] and I had to lift off," Sullivan explained. "I was just taking the inside line to keep Bobby [Rahal] off me. I tapped Al and spun him around. At that point, Emerson [Fittipaldi, in fourth] could almost have gotten all of us."

But, as Unser's nearly identical Galmer-Chevrolet-A racer slid backward almost comically, bouncing off the tire wall on the inside of Turn 6, Sullivan's car never faltered.

"It was barely a tap, but just enough to break off a piece of the nose [on Sullivan's car] and turn Al around," the winner said. "There was a lot of scrambling going on out there and I had to worry about Bobby and Emerson, too. It all happened very fast."

Sullivan kept the pursuers at bay, beating the runner-up Rahal by six-tenths of a second and third-place Fittipaldi by 1.7 seconds. Unser managed to keep his car going, but wound up fourth, a distant 23.75 seconds behind.

"I feel bad about [what happened], particularly since it's my teammate," Sullivan said. "But I don't believe there was any way I could have passed Al there unless I got [help from] a back marker. We're driving the same cars and they're pretty equal.

"It was one thing to catch a car out there and another thing to pass him," Sullivan continued. "Hell, Al and I ran practically nose-to-tail for about 70 laps and he didn't miss a beat or make a mistake."

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