DOVER, Del. -- When a crew chief asks his driver during a race what he wants on a pit stop, the driver almost always wants four tires, a tank of gas and a drink. So, when things got tight in the Peak Antifreeze 500 yesterday, Ricky Rudd's crew chief, Gary DeHart, didn't ask.
"I knew they were talking about what to do on our last stop," Rudd said. "I could hear them [on the radio], but I didn't know it was gas and go until I was on pit road for the stop."
The result was that Rudd drove his Tide/Exxon Chevy into
victory lane for the first time in 17 months, beating Bill Elliott by .41 of a second. Rudd averaged 115.289 mph around Dover International Speedway's one-mile oval, and collected $64,965 for the victory.
All afternoon as 82,000 fans looked on, Elliott dominated this Winston Cup stock car race. Elliott put his red Budweiser Ford out front three times for a total of 261 laps of this 500-lap event, as Rudd was battling back from two laps down.
But when Elliott pitted for four tires, a tank of gas and a drink, DeHart decided to take a gamble and pull off the faster stop. It was a brave move for an embattled crew chief. Three weeks ago, it was DeHart who made the decision to pit for gas early while leading the Southern 500. He made it despite the fact storm clouds were rolling in. Moments after Rudd drove onto pit road, rain fell, leaving Rudd in the pits and Darrell Waltrip, who stayed on the race track, in the winner's circle.
But yesterday, DeHart decided the short pit stop was Rudd's only chance at victory. When Rudd's Chevy and Elliott's Ford were on the race track on equal footing, Elliott's Ford was dominant.
DeHart had to make the call, and he did.
"Ricky and them outsmarted us there at the end," Elliott said. "But we ran good all day long. I'm really tickled to death. We came out of here with a good finish, and that's all I care about."
Elliott's second-place finish, combined with Davey Allison's fourth place, increased Elliott's Winston Cup point lead to 154, with six races to go. Kyle Petty finished third.
But Allison also was happy with yesterday's results.
"We started 29th, and we finished fourth, after being a lap down," Allison said. "Our team showed what it is made of. Bill had a tough break, but maybe that's a sign his lucky days are over."
Rudd hopes it's a sign that his lucky days are beginning. For Rudd, this is his first win since The TransSouth 500 last April, and kept alive his streak of at least one victory in each of the past 10 years.
"The decision we made in the pits was probably the only choice we could make if we wanted to win," Rudd said. "The gamble was the tires -- I didn't know how many laps I could go before they wore down to the fabric."
Rudd had seen his tires wear out quickly during practice earlier this weekend. Then, early in yesterday's race, he lost two laps because of bad tires and a caution flag that caught him in the pits during a tire change.
So, when Rudd finally emerged ahead of Elliott from that final pit stop with 20 laps to go, he kept his eyes on his rear-view mirror.
"At first, Bill's car was only a red speck," he said. "But it kept getting bigger and bigger. I wasn't sure I could hold him off. He was on fresh tires, and I was on old ones. So I kept watching, and the closer he got, the more chances I took, passing lapped cars as fast as I could. As it turned out, if I had patiently waited to pass any one of those cars for a lap, it would have been the difference, because Bill was really charging."
Rudd didn't worry about those worn tires.
"I decided, 'If there's a problem, my crew is going to warn me.' At least, I think they would have," he said.
But it has been a long time since Rudd was in victory lane, a long time since his car has felt competitive. A year ago, he finished second in the Winston Cup point race, but admitted yesterday, that during the second half of last season, his car wasn't competitive.
"It was bad and we had no clue how to get better," he said. "So we've spent a major part of this year rebuilding."
Yesterday, everything was right. Being two laps down, being unable to run Elliott down, none of it mattered here.
In this race, on the Monster Mile, a crew chief made the right decision and Rudd found he was meant to celebrate, and he did.
1. (6) Ricky Rudd, Chevrolet Lumina, 500, $64,965, 115.289. 2. (13) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $51,260. 3. (16) Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 500, $27,310. 4. (29) Davey Allison, Ford Thunderbird, 499, $29,410. 5. (21) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $21,980. 6. (22) Harry Gant, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 497, $22,205. 7. (4) Terry Labonte, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 496, $15,805. 8. (17) Ted Musgrave, Ford Thunderbird, 496, $15,105. 9. (31) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet Lumina, 495, $11,355. 10. (23) Bobby Hamilton, Ford Thunderbird, 493, $16,805.