MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The thrills and spills on the half-mile bullring Martinsville Speedway track began on the first lap when racing legend Richard Petty rear-ended Bobby Hamilton.
They continued for 263 miles over 500 laps and wiped out all the big NASCAR names, opening the way for Mark Martin to win the Hanes 500 Winston Cup race yesterday by 50 yards over Sterling Marlin.
It was Martin's first victory at Martinsville and the sixth in his 10-year career.
Martin, driving a Ford Thunderbird, eluded all the spinouts and careening cars that prompted 11 caution flags for 59 laps in the 3-hour, 40-minute, 5-second race before a record crowd of 48,000.
It was the 12th straight win for Fords on the Winston Cup circuit, dating back to Oct. 3, 1991 in Charlotte, N.C.
Martin led the final 26 laps of the race, overtaking strong-running Dale Earnhardt, who developed right rear axle problems with 36 laps left and was forced to ride out the race.
Earnhardt, the two-time defending Winston Cup points champion, has not won this year and finished ninth yesterday.
Earnhardt led 167 laps yesterday.
Martin said he "saved" his car until near the end to see who would be around to beat.
"It turned out to be Dale Earnhardt, and he appeared to have the stronger car," said Martin. "The only way we could have won if he hadn't run into problems was to worry him to death. I don't really think people were breaking axles today. They were tripping the plates."
Two other early leaders, Alan Kulwicki and Ernie Irvan, and Dave Marcis had rear axle woes yesterday.
This year's Winston Cup points leader, Davey Allison, was among the drivers bouncing off walls and breaking down yesterday.
Allison, who had led at least one lap in 12 straight races, had that streak ended yesterday when he went out of the race after 386 laps.