Bodine easily wins Miller 500

July 18, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LONG POND, Pa. -- Geoff Bodine's Ford seemed to be almost flying around Pocono International Raceway yesterday.

And while Bodine was racing out there in front, as much as 16 seconds ahead of the rest of the field in the Miller Genuine Draft 500 Winston Cup stock car race, unbidden thoughts came and went through his mind.

Over the tunnel in Turn 3, he thought about Bobby Allison and the 1988 wreck that ended the former champion's career in a race Bodine had gone on to win.

And when he pulled into victory lane here, he remembered Alan Kulwicki, the late Winston Cup champion, whose last victory had come at this track and whose team Bodine and his wife, Kathy, bought last September.

"You'd be surprised the things that go through a guy's mind out there," he said, reflecting on those memories.

It was a stunning victory for Bodine and his Exide Batteries Ford that competes on the often-criticized Hoosier tires.

Bodine won the pole Friday in an event-record 163.869 mph, dominated the practice speeds Saturday and then led the race for 156 of the 200 laps, a track record.

He had such a big lead with 10 laps to go and such a good race car that he could afford to pit for gas and still manage to overhaul the cars of Ward Burton and Joe Nemechek to take the victory -- the first since acquiring his own team and the first for Bodine in any car since May 10, 1993, at Sears Point, 36 races ago.

Cars with Hoosier tires finished 1-2-3-4, with Burton, Nemechek and Jeff Burton following Bodine.

The top finisher on Goodyear tires was fifth-place Morgan Shepherd.

It is the first win for Hoosier tires since the season began 17 races ago, and the first for the tire company on the Winston Cup circuit since 1989.

But in human terms, the victory put an end to a lot of second-guessing surrounding Bodine's team.

Bodine and his wife bought this team last September, five months after Kulwicki died in an airplane crash.

Some drivers thought the team couldn't win again.

"No one ever said it to my face," Bodine said. "But I know there were a lot of negative letters written by fans to racing publications, and I did hear things like 'Bodine can't handle it.' But you have to expect that, and if you don't handle it, you won't win.

"I dealt with it. . . . I've been dealing with criticism since I was 5 years old and driving go-carts at my dad's racetrack.

"It was always, 'He practices all week, he should win,' " Bodine said. "When I got older and was driving modifieds at Dad's track, it was the same thing. And my Uncle Earl, he won all the races, well most of them, and people always said he cheated, because he practiced all the time. But my uncle was just a great driver, and he dealt with it and I guess he taught me how to deal with it, too. I just blocked most of it out."

Bodine and his wife bought the team and began putting their plans into action. They reorganized the team, decided over the short off-season to take a chance and go with Hoosier tires instead of Goodyear for the long term, and thought they could win the Daytona 500.

That didn't happen, but progress has been steady this season. Bodine won the Winston-Select at Charlotte in May and finished third in the Coca-Cola 600. When he finally found victory yesterday on this 2.5-mile tri-oval before a crowd of more than 100,000, Bodine was not so much surprised, or relieved, as just happy.

"It would take me five days to explain why this feels so much better than any win I've ever had," said Bodine, who had 14 Winston Cup wins before this one. "But to put it in the short form, it's because I am 100 percent responsible for this team and I can handle that responsibility. I accept it. When I'm 100 percent in control and something goes wrong, I can handle that. It's much harder, when someone else is calling the shots and you're saddled with the results."

1. (1) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $103,270, 136.075; 2. (2) Ward Burton, Chevrolet Lumina, 200, $39,720; 3. (11) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet Lumina, 200, $29,790; 4. (4) Jeff Burton, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $29,640; 5. (33) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $30,635; 6. (6) Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $17,260; 7. (20) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Lumina, 200, $26,210; 8. (7) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Lumina, 199, $21,760; 9. (10) Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 199, $24,460; 10. (17) Dale Jarrett, Chevrolet Lumina, 199, $24,510.

11. (31) Todd Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 199, $13,710; 12. (18) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Lumina, 199, $20,160; 13. (13) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac Grand Prix, 199, $17,160; 14. (41) Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 198, $16,860; 15. (28) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Lumina, 198, $19,910; 16. (21) Wally Dallenbach Jr., Pontiac Grand Prix, 198, $19,360; 17. (19) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 198, $16,160; 18. (8) Loy Allen Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 198, $9,260; 19. (27) Derrike Cope, Ford Thunderbird, 198, $9,110; 20. (40) Lake Speed, Ford Thunderbird, 197, $19,365.

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