Earnhardt finds room for Wallace in victory lane Winston, Hooters victors team up to salute late foes

November 15, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace have gone through this season sharing thrills, chills and sorrow.

And yesterday, as Earnhardt celebrated his sixth Winston Cup championship and Wallace celebrated his 10th victory of the season, they shared even more, while combining to give stock car fans an image to remember.

They shared a victory lap.

After the Hooters 500 was run and won and the title clinched, they turned their cars around at the start/finish line and ran one last lap together.

It reflected the bittersweet nature of this season, showing their respect for their friend, Davey Allison, and the sport's previous champion, Alan Kulwicki, who were killed this season in separate aviation accidents.

Side-by-side, they circled the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speeday on a "Polish victory lap," with Wallace holding a flag with Allison's No. 28, and Earnhardt flying the No. 7 of last season's champion, who created this reverse lap to demonstrate how special the title was to him.

It was a picture that said more than words could, as the 166,500 fans stood, cheered and cried for the present and the past.

Side-by-side, it was also a final demonstration of how close and how competitive these two had made the chase to this Winston Cup crown.

They had started the day side-by-side in the 10th row. Earnhardt clinched the title on lap 155 of this 328-lap race, when T. W. Taylor wrecked and became the eighth car out of the race.

Taylor's departure assured Earnhardt and his GM Goodwrench Chevrolet team a 34th or better finish and the title.

This championship puts Earnhardt, 42, a step closer to what was once considered unreachable, the seven titles held by this sport's all-time king, Richard Petty.

And Wallace, who was "pretty possessed to win because I wanted to grab a hunk of this race track and I didn't want to lose the title and the race," drove his Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac relentlessly to a 2.62-second victory over Ricky Rudd.

"To win six championships is really unbelievable for me," said Earnhardt, as he began a soliloquy very much out of character. "Coming from a racing family, from Ralph and Martha Earnhardt in Kannapolis, N.C., I never even dreamed that I would be in Winston Cup racing, let alone this.

"It's more of a miracle to me to win these championships, as many as we have and to compete like we do. I look back on all accomplished and it's unbelievable. . . .

"We had a tough year at times. We had a great year at times. We had a real sad year in losing Alan, our champion, and Davey, our good friend. It's a tough year to review and think about, but it's great to end it on a super note winning this championship. . . .

"Everyone asks what's different about this championship. It's No. 6. That's the difference. It's made me feel that much better and confident. . . .

"And now we can shoot for No. 7. We couldn't do that until we got six. Now we can and I know I'm going to feel the pressure going for Petty's record."

He won this title by 80 points, 4,526 to Wallace's 4,446.

"Once I knew I had the championship, I set out to win the race," said Earnhardt. "But I got a little too aggressive and a little too carried away with it and I got in trouble. Being a six-time champion doesn't make you King Kong going into the corners."

His car got sideways on lap 176, and he nearly put Greg Sacks into the third-turn wall. Wallace, who managed to slip ahead of the action, said he doesn't know how they got out of it without crashing.

Earnhardt bent sheet metal in the indent and lost some handling capabilities and wound up 10th.

Going into yesterday's 500, Wallace knew he could win the race and still lose the championship to Earnhardt. But Wallace, holding true to his three-month old promise to "run his guts out," avoided the record-tying 11 accidents and ran down Darrell Waltrip over the last eight laps to assure victory.

"I could see the cars dropping out," Wallace said. "There goes two. There goes two. There goes two more. I could count and knew what was happening. But my crew never radioed to tell me it was over, and I never asked. I know Dale really wanted to win the championship and the race. He told me that. But when we got in a tight situation later on in Turn 4, he pulled out of my way. He gave me a break."

And so it was that Waltrip, who had been a non-factor most of the day, became the last and best challenge to Wallace.

Without a victory this season, Waltrip decided to gamble and got the lead on lap 311 by deciding not to pit for gas.

Wallace took the lead for the final time on lap 325, with three laps to go. As he looked in his rear-view mirror on the final lap, he saw Waltrip, out of gas, fade to third behind Rudd.

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