Wallace's last-to-first in question over engine Car impounded

Gordon's mad dash scrambles finish

March 03, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. -- Jeff Gordon drove like a madman, all in an effort to unlap himself and become the first driver in Winston Cup history to win three straight races at the start of the NASCAR season.

History would have to wait. Gordon didn't win the Pontiac Excitement 400. And late last night, no one was sure who had.

It appeared Rusty Wallace and his Ford, with a brilliant from-last-to-first run in a record time of two hours, 45 minutes, 54 seconds at a record speed of 108.499 mph had beaten the field to the finish line.

It was Wallace who celebrated in victory lane. But more than four hours after the race, NASCAR suggested everyone hold that thought.

"The engine of the No. 2 Ford Thunderbird has been taken by NASCAR for failure to meet compression ratio specifications," said NASCAR spokesman Kevin Triplett. "NASCAR has tested it more than once and anticipates further tests [today]."

Triplett would not say whether the violation could cost Wallace the victory or a fine. He did say no race results are final until released the day after the race.

If Wallace's win is disallowed, Geoff Bodine, who finished second, two car lengths behind, would be the winner.

All of which distracts from a race whose last 17 laps lived up to the excitement in its name: for what Gordon did set off a chain of events -- much like his actions had on his way to victory in the Daytona 500.

This time, as he made winning harder for Wallace and changed the order of finish behind him, Gordon was greeted by loud booing from the crowd of more than 90,000 here at Richmond International Raceway.

"I've never seen anyone who was a lap down drive like that," said Wallace, whom Gordon pressured and passed with a consequences-be-hanged daring. "I think he must have been confused. He must have thought he was racing for the lead. If he thought he was going to win from a lap down, he'd have to be Houdini -- but that kid is pretty good.

"But if he knew he was a lap down and was doing that, then it was uncalled for."

Gordon knew he wasn't racing for the lead. He had literally run over Irvan's front fender to get to the front of the field for the restart with 17 laps to go, to start as a lapped car beside Wallace, the race leader.

"I thought I saw a chance to win," said Gordon, who fell behind on lap 274, the result of damaging his car's handling when he inexplicably ran into the barrels protecting the entrance to pit road on lap 192.

He damaged Irvan's car enough in the incident to cause Irvan's car owner, Robert Yates, to blame the contact for the cut tire on Irvan's car that caused him to crash in the third turn with six laps to go.

"He ran slap over our left front," said Irvan, who went from fourth to 36th just like that. "He was going to get there no matter what. I was sitting right there riding in line, he just ran over me. We'll pay him back. It's not like he just went in there and said, 'I'm going to hit his left front,' but I'd earned that spot. Fourth would have been mine, no problem. It's pretty bad when someone takes it away like that. We'd raced clean all day. Not a scratch on my car. It's just a shame that people don't respect each other. But paybacks are paybacks."

On the final restart with five laps to go, Jarrett led Wallace and Bodine to the starting line. Like the old dirt-track driver he is, Wallace hung back coming out of the fourth turn and got a good power surge on the restart.

He was beside Jarrett by the time the two crossed the start-finish line. By the time they were going into the first turn, Wallace was in the lead.

"It was wild, I guess," said Jarrett, who finished third behind Bodine after having led the most laps for the second straight race.

It was a great day for Wallace. He has passed a lot of cars during races, but never, he said, had he ever passed all 42 on the track to win a race.

"These are probably some of the longest laps I've run," he said after what would be his 47th career victory. "But my car never did anything stupid."

And though Gordon tried to force him into something, Wallace didn't do anything stupid either.

Unofficial results

(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (7) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 400, $86,775, 108.499 mph.

2. (18) Geoff Bodine, Ford, 400, $56,875.

3. (3) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 400, $50,750.

4. (2) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 399, $46,200.

5. (9) Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac, 399, $28,945.

6. (6) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 399, $30,770.

7. (1) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 399, $35,845.

8. (11) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 398, $28,945.

9. (23) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 398, $25,745.

10. (37) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 398, $18,545.

11. (21) Steve Grissom, Chevrolet, 398, $24,345.

12. (26) Lake Speed, Ford, 398, $24,045.

13. (5) Mark Martin, Ford, 398, $23,870.

14. (12) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet, 398, $23,670.

15. (17) Bill Elliott, Ford, 398, $25,330.

16. (30) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet, 398, $16,215.

17. (33) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 398, $15,415.

18. (20) Rick Mast, Ford, 398, $22,265.

19. (8) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 397, $27,540.

20. (16) Ted Musgrave, Ford, 397, $24,565.

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