Martin's empty gas tank fuels Rudd's victory in Miller 400 AUTO RACING

June 21, 1993|By Tom Higgins | Tom Higgins,Charlotte Observer

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Ricky Rudd used fuel economy yesterday to win a Miller Genuine Draft 400 that was dominated from the start to almost the finish at Michigan International Speedway by Mark Martin.

Martin's Ford led 141 of the 200 laps in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race on the 2-mile track. Rudd, driving a Chevrolet, led only 19 laps, but his total included the final nine after Martin pitted on Lap 192 for enough fuel to finish. Martin wound up sixth.

"It was pretty apparent we weren't going to outrun Mark," Rudd said after his first victory in 18 races. "He had a class-of-the-field car.

"For the race we switched to a carburetor designed to get good fuel mileage, and that's what won for us."

Rudd, who has at least one win in 11 straight seasons, motored into Victory Lane by making one less fuel stop than Martin, who was forced to make a final pit stop after pitting on Lap 146.

"We had the goods today," said Martin, who built runaway leads of up to 14 seconds before running out of gas on the backstretch and coasting to pit road. "It just goes to show once again that you can't win these things with a fast car alone."

Rudd took the checkered flag 1.1 seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Gordon, a rookie whose team is also owned by Charlotte businessman Rick Hendrick.

Placing third through 12th and completing all 400 miles: Ernie Irvan, Chevy; Dale Jarrett, Chevy; Rusty Wallace, Pontiac; Martin; Morgan Shepherd, Ford; Sterling Marlin, Ford; Bill Elliott, Ford; Harry Gant, Chevy; Rick Mast, Ford; and Kyle Petty, Pontiac.

Dale Earnhardt led 26 laps early but fell back to finish 13th, a lap down, because the handling went away on his Chevy and the fuel mileage was off.

Even so, Earnhardt maintained a comfortable lead of 213 points over Jarrett toward a sixth Winston Cup championship going into the Pepsi Firecracker 400 on July 3 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

The victory was the 14th of Rudd's career, his first at the speedway in the picturesque Irish Hills, where his best previous finish was a third in 1981. He achieved the triumph at 148.484 mph despite 20 laps of caution and earned $77,890.

Rudd, 36, who is leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season to form his own team, said the carburetor strategy "was decided on days ago back at the shop" in Harrisburg, N.C.

"Bob Bell works on carburetors for us, and he's real keen on fuel economy," said Rudd, who went the last 50 laps without a stop. "We used a carburetor that gave us good horse power in qualifying, and we were second fastest.

"I knew the race carburetor took away a little top-end power but would give us good mileage if there was a long green-flag stretch at the end of the race. It worked out well for us."

As the laps wound down, members of Rudd's crew, led by Gary DeHart, appeared almost in tears along the pit wall.

"Other than finishing second at Sears Point last month, we've had a rough year," Rudd said. "We've blown about seven engines, and we haven't been very competitive on top of that. . . .

"Jeff [Gordon] was coming on at the end, I had to stand on the throttle, and it wasn't a cinch we were going to win. Finally being able to capitalize made it an emotional thing."

Said Gordon, 21, after matching his best Winston Cup finish, achieved May 30 in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway: "Any time I finish in the top five in Winston Cup, I'm going to go around with a big smile. It's a long race, and it would be hard for me to do back flips, but I would if I could."

Bad luck continued to hound pole winner Brett Bodine and his team. Bodine's Ford developed engine trouble and he lasted just 22 laps.

Another victim was Davey Allison, who was swept into a crash on Lap 27. He returned after repairs to his Ford but finished 35th and dropped from second to sixth in the point standings.

Most of the commiseration for this race, though, went to Martin.

"Mark was so strong and so far ahead, none of us saw much of him all day," Rudd said.

"I feel sorry for him and his guys. They put a lot of work into their car, then the race just went away."

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