Shepherd Holds Off Earnhardt, Ends Victory Drought

March 17, 1986| Associated Press

HAMPTON, Ga. — Morgan Shepherd wept after ending a 112-race victory drought Sunday by holding off Dale Earnhardt to win the Motorcraft 500 NASCAR stock car race at Atlanta International Raceway.

His voice breaking with emotion, the 44-year-old driver from Conover, N.C., said: "It's been a long time coming. I can't hardly talk.

"Thank God, thank (car-owner) Jack Beebe for giving me the chance and thank (crew chief) Jake Elder for doing such a great job on the car."

Not only was it the end of a long drought for Shepherd, whose only other NASCAR victory came in 1981, but it was the end of a long dry spell for Beebe, whose only other victory came at Talladega, Ala., that same year when his driver was Ron Bouchard.

"I didn't know I had it won until I saw the checkered flag," Shepherd said. "It was knock-down, drag-out out there with Dale, but I felt like I could beat him because the car was just running so well at the end."

Shepherd's Buick LeSabre crossed the finish line just one car length ahead of Earnhardt's Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS. It was the first victory for a Buick since Bobby Allison won the 1984 World 600 at Charlotte, N.C.

Shepherd, who had taken the lead on lap 276 in the 328-lap event, led defending champion Bill Elliott by just a little over one second when Ken Schrader brought out the ninth and final caution flag of the day when he hit the wall in the backstretch. Mike Waltrip then spun harmlessly coming off turn two.

That brought most of the leaders into the pits. Shepherd took on some gasoline and changed the left-side tires.

Shepherd managed to get back onto the track ahead of Earnhardt, who dominated the early part of the race after setting a track qualifying record in winning the pole.

The winner averaged 132.126 m.p.h. as he picked up a first-place check for $62,350, by far the biggest payoff of his career. His previous high was $27,125 for a fourth-place finish in the 1983 Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach, Fla.

Terry Labonte, who won two weeks ago at Rockingham, N.C., was third, followed by Winston Cup point leader Darrell Waltrip, both in Chevrolet Monte Carlo's, and Elliott, who had problems with a stuck lug nut on his final pit stop.

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