DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If only eight cars were running at the end of a Winston Cup stock car race, the howls of discontent could be heard from Daytona to Winston-Salem.
Sunday they started a race with only eight and it turned out to be little more than 20 laps of practice for seven of them.
All the 30,000 fans who came out to watch the made-for-television Busch Clash got to see in the 15 minutes, 19 seconds it took to run the 50 miles was one leader change and one car spinning.
Geoff Bodine spun while running second on the fifth lap and after a yellow caution flag to clean up the debris, Dale Earnhardt passed Neil Bonnett in a duel of Chevrolets on the sixth lap and drove on to win a record $75,000.
That was about it.
There were only eight starters because the race is limited to pole winners from the previous season. Bill Elliott cut the number down by winning 11 of the 28 poles.
The problem Sunday was that none of the drivers had any practice time in drafting with their new sloped-back models. Friday, their only day on Daytona International Raceway's 2 1/2-mile tri-oval, was devoted to preparing their car for qualifying.
Qualifying and racing are two totally separate things in NASCAR. Qualifying is running alone on the track against the clock. Racing is going nose-to-tail with other cars at 200 m.p.h.
When Saturday's qualifying was rained out and postponed to this morning, it also wiped out an hour's practice time.
Consequently, the eight teams in the Busch Clash had to guess at their race day combinations--and most of them guessed wrong.
Earnhardt, who collected $50,000 in purse money and $25,000 in lap prizes, credited his showing to "three solid days of practice down here over the winter."
The winner, in a car prepared by former Grand National driver Richard Childress, averaged 195.865 m.p.h. This was exactly the same speed, to the thousandths of a second, that Terry Labonte won with last year.
Bill Elliott, who finished second in the only Ford in the race, appeared as if he might slingshot past Earnhardt on the last lap but when he tried, his car drifted up high on the banking and Earnhardt carried a two car length lead to the finish line.
"We made a wild guess at the suspension settings this morning," Elliott said. "We came pretty close, but that wasn't good enough.
"I couldn't hold Dale in the corners. On those last four laps, I'd turn the wheel and the car would still wash up the race track in the turns."
Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, who languished far back in last place in his Junior Johnson-prepared Chevy, was not competitive from the first lap.
"Everybody told us that the new window in the back would make a lot of difference, but we had to see for ourselves," Waltrip said. "We set the car up the way we raced last year, and we just flat screwed up. All we got was 20 laps of practice."
Earnhardt was fortunate to escape the spinning Bodine, but outside of that incident, it was easy sailing for the former Winston Cup champion from Kannapolis, N.C.
"The last time I won the Busch Clash was 1980, and that's the year we won the national championship," Earnhardt said. "We're looking to have a good year. We don't have any special tricks, just a good, solid race car."
Bodine, who came back after the spin to finish fourth behind Earnhardt, Elliott and early leader Bonnett, said lack of practice led to his spin.
"We only had two laps of practice in the car," he said. "I was trying to move up and stick in there with Earnhardt when all of a sudden the car got loose. I tried to save it and nearly hit Earnhardt. After that, all I could do was hold on and hope no one hit me."
Earnhardt said his main concern after getting the lead was having Elliott close behind him going into the final four or five laps.
"I wasn't sure what he was up to," Earnhardt admitted. "I didn't know if he was playing cat and mouse, or what he might be planning. I thought about letting him by once, but then I figured I'd stay right where I was and let him see if he could get by me."
"I moved around on the track during the last lap, trying to break the air in his draft, and when we came off (turn) four and I saw him moving up the track in my mirrors, I knew the race was mine."
Grant Adcox, of Chattanooga, Tenn., drove a Chevrolet to victory in the 23rd annual ARCA 200, a race punctuated by six accidents.
One involved Patty Simko, of Pontiac, Mich., who was the first woman to drive here since Janet Guthrie in 1979. After Walt Bohland spun in front of her, Simko was bumped from the rear and sent spinning down pit row. She was not injured.
Today's qualifying will determine the front two cars for Sunday's 500 and also set the fields for Thursday's Twin 125-mile races. Placings in Thursday's races decide where cars will start behind the front row on Sunday.