Elliott captures race, but Kulwicki gets title Leader Allison loses bid in crash

November 16, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. -- The last race of the Winston Cup Series turned into what looked like a three-ring circus yesterday.

Richard Petty was celebrating the end of his 35-year career with a post-race victory lap in his battered STP Pontiac.

Bill Elliott was in victory circle, celebrating his victory in the Hooters 500.

And Alan Kulwicki was celebrating his first Winston Cup champion- ship and the culmination of his career by making a U-turn at the start-finish line and driving the wrong way around Atlanta Motor Speedway on what he called his "Polish Victory Lap."

"I could really go for a back rub and a bratwurst," the Greenfield, Wis., native said, laughing. "I'm very happy. I think we're going to have a hell of a party in New York."

The Winston Cup champion will be officially crowned in New York Dec. 5.

The 165,000 fans here, the largest crowd to see a Winston Cup race, could hardly argue with Kulwicki's antics, given the unorthodox way he has handled his whole Winston Cup career.

It all started seven years ago when he packed up his engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin and drove his pickup truck to Charlotte, N.C., in search of a racing career.

"I'll never forget the first race I ran," Kulwicki recalled yesterday. "I ran an old Camaro in a NASCAR sportsman race at Charlotte. My name was written across the top of the pit board instead of my car number and someone took a picture of it that wound up in Stock Car magazine with a cutline that said: 'Whoever heard of a good old boy called Kulwicki?' "

Kulwicki, NASCAR's 1992 champion, took a deep breath.

"Maybe now they have," he said.

Yesterday, six men went in to the Hooters 500 with a chance at winning the championship.

Elliott did everything he could to rally from third in the points by averaging 133.322 mph and beating Kulwicki to the finish line by 7.7 seconds.

Davey Allison, who came into the race with a 30-point lead in the standings, was running a steady race that would have won the championship. But on lap 253, Ernie Irvan lost control of his car in the fourth turn and crashed Allison's Ford into the wall along the front straight.

"Well, it's just the way it goes sometimes," said Allison. "It just wasn't meant to be. I saw Ernie get loose over there in four, but we just ran out of room. I hate it for the guys. Our team deserved a lot better than this. I'm proud of our entire team, my family and all those fans out there who sent all those letters of encouragement. It just wasn't our year."

It was Alan Kulwicki's year. A surprising year. He took the 'Th' off his Hooters Thunderbird and began calling himself the "Underbird" because he has always been the little guy struggling to make it against the big, well-financed teams.

He started from scratch in 1986 and impressed the major car owners so much that Junior Johnson, Bud Moore and Rick Hendrick offered Kulwicki opportunities to drive for them.

But Kulwicki said no.

"Everywhere I went, everyone said I was crazy after that," he said. "Since then, I've tried not to make comparisons between my team and those teams. I've tried to be real low key. And I'm not going to brag or flaunt this, but yes, it feels awfully good."

Yesterday, he became the first car-owner/driver since Richard Petty in 1979 to win the Winston Cup championship.

In 1979, Petty also became the only driver to overcome a points deficit to win the championship in the final race in NASCAR's first 43 years. Yesterday, Kulwicki, the sport's 44th champion, joined Petty in that club, too.

Going into the Hooters 500, Kulwicki trailed Allison by 30 points and led Elliott by 10. When the race was over, Kulwicki had edged Elliott, 4,078 to 4,068, in the points chase to claim the $1 million Winston title.

"The odds of me doing this seven years ago when I first started?" said Kulwicki, 37. "Well, if you would have made the bet, you'd be as rich today as I am."

1. (11) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 328, $93,600, 133.322. 2. (14) Alan Kulwicki, Ford Thunderbird, 328, $56,000. 3. (8) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 328, $32,400. 4. (18) Jimmy Spencer, Chevrolet Lumina, 328, $27,000. 5. (6) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Lumina, 328, $22,235. 6. (15) Rusty Wallace, Pontiac Grand Prix, 328, $20,100. 7. (12) Sterling Marlin, Ford Thunderbird, 328, $18,830. 8. (34) Jimmy Hensley, Ford Thunderbird, 327, $18,830. 9. (22) Ted Musgrave, Chevrolet Lumina, 326, $15,300. 10. (32) Dale Jarrett, Chevrolet Lumina, 326, $16,950.

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