Wallace looks to gain in race with Earnhardt

September 18, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

DOVER, Del. -- The battle between Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt for the Winston Cup championship will be the big story at today's SplitFire Spark Plug 500.

Wallace, who trails Earnhardt by 232 points, needs to start gaining ground if he intends to catch the six-time champion and prevent him from tying Richard Petty's record of seven Winston Cup titles.

Wallace is seeking his second title. He appears to be starting the race with an advantage. Wallace is in the 10th position, and Earnhardt is near the bottom at 37th.

But fellow driver Darrell Waltrip said that Wallace has no advantage. If anything, Waltrip said, the edge lies with Earnhardt.

"This race is usually pretty treacherous in the early going," Waltrip said. "It's better to be back there where you can see what's going on instead of being up there in the middle of all of it."

Waltrip said the reason is the long, narrow track at Dover Downs International Speedway, which is known as the "Monster Mile."

"This is a track where my philosophy is not to be in the middle. Be in the front or the rear, but don't be in the middle. We'll just wait 'em out."

Waltrip, in the 35th position, is only slightly closer to the middle than Earnhardt. But Waltrip won a $1 bet by finishing ahead of him in the qualifying.

Benson edges Gant

It didn't compare to a duel between Wallace and Earnhardt, but a rookie edged a veteran in the NASCAR Busch Grand National SplitFire Spark Plug 200 yesterday.

Johnny Benson Jr. won his first Grand National event by taking the lead on the 187th lap and holding off Winston Cup veteran Harry Gant.

Gant, who is retiring at the end of the season, is making his final appearance at Dover this weekend as part of his "The Bandit's Last Ride" farewell tour.

Gant led for the first 106 laps.

"I would have liked to have seen Harry win in his last time here, but we needed the win, too," Benson said.

Gant has another opportunity to capture the checkered flag today.

Not Benson. After his win yesterday, Benson hopped on a plane to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., where he competed in an ASA Series race last night.

The last 'Mile'

This is the last time that NASCAR drivers will race on an asphalt track at the Monster Mile. Beginning tomorrow, the track will be repaved and reshaped with concrete.

Concrete is a slower surface than asphalt. Dover Downs officials hope the new surface will cut down the number of accidents.

Kyle Petty said the safety problem is not the track surface but the competition between tiremakers Goodyear and Hoosier.

"If you only have one tire company, you can tell them how fast you want to go at a particular track and they go out and build one," Petty said. "That's the problem now, not the tracks. They don't need to repave it, just get back to a one-tire series. I kind of like it like it is right now."

Miscellaneous

Wallace appears to really want a third straight win at Dover. He was the first driver on the track and last one off in the last practice session before the race, known as the Happy Hour, which immediately followed the SplitFire 200. . . . The drivers in the first three pole positions -- Geoff Bodine, Dick Trickle and Ward Burton -- all broke the overall qualifying record of 151.956 mph set this past June by Ernie Irvan. . . . Two drivers signed racing agreements this weekend. Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon extended his contract with DuPont through the year 2000. Sprint car racer Steve Kinser will join the Quaker State/King Racing team for the 1995 Winston Cup season and possibly through 1997.

SplitFire Spark Plug 500 lineup

1. Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 152.840. 2. Dick Trickle, Chevrolet Lumina, 152.730. 3. Ward Burton, Chevrolet Lumina, 152.685. 4. Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 151.912. 5. Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 151.547. 6. Jeff Burton, Ford Thunderbird, 151.394. 7. Kenny Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 151.114. 8. Rick Mast, Ford Thunderbird, 151.057. 9. Todd Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 150.893. 10. Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 150.855.

11. Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 150.729. 12. Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Lumina, 150.716. 13. Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 150.716. 14. Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Lumina, 150.697. 15. Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 150.558. 16. Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 150.502. 17. Derrike Cope, Ford Thunderbird, 150.502. 18. Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Lumina, 150.326. 19. Dale Jarrett, Chevrolet Lumina, 150.313. 20. Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 150.307.

21. Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet Lumina, 150.382. 22. Lake Speed, Ford Thunderbird, 150.219. 23. John Andretti, Pontiac Grand Prix, 149.925. 24. Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Lumina, 149.806. 25. Mike Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 149.738. 26. Ted Musgrave, Ford Thunderbird, 149.732. 27. Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 149.483. 28. Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 149.477. 29. Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Lumina, 149.328. 30. Harry Gant, Chevrolet Lumina, 149.093.

31. Bobby Labonte, Pontiac Grand Prix, 149.062. 32. Hut Stricklin, Ford Thunderbird, 149.062. 33. Jeremy Mayfield, Ford Thunderbird, 149.025. 34. Steve Grissom, Chevrolet Lumina, 148.883. 35. Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet Lumina, 148.601. 36. Greg Sacks, Ford Thunderbird, 148.405. 37. Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Lumina, 149.023. 38. Tim Fedwea, Ford Thunderbird, 146.472. 39. Brad Teague, Ford Thunderbird, 145.619. 40. Loy Allen Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 143.466.

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