DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Richard Petty and his blue and red No. 43 Pontiac led a parade of Winston Cup drivers through a ceremonial lap of Daytona International Speedway before the start of Sunday's Daytona 500--and then the Fords took over.
Davey Allison, whose father Bobby raced with Petty in some of stock car racing's greatest moments, won his first Daytona 500 as Ford Thunderbirds dominated the day. Fords were in front for 190 of the 200 laps, and Allison's led 127 of them, including the final 30.
Bobby Allison won the Daytona 500 three times, including in 1988, when Davey chased him across the finish line. Sunday they became the second father-and-son combination to win the race. The others were Pettys, Lee in the inaugural race in 1959 and son Richard seven times.
Richard Petty finished 16th Sunday.
Morgan Shepherd chased Allison across the finish line, two lengths behind, with Geoff Bodine third and Alan Kulwicki fourth. All drove Fords.
Dick Trickle, in an Oldsmobile, was the only other driver on the same lap with Allison.
Petty was making his 32nd and final start in the Daytona 500 after announcing last October that he would retire after one more Winston Cup season. NASCAR officials named him the grand marshal of their season opener, and when he was introduced, most of the 135,000 spectators gave him a standing ovation.
When he gave the command to start engines, he said: "OK, guys, let's go. Crank 'em up."
Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott jumped into the lead from the front row in Junior Johnson-owned Fords. Marlin, Elliott and Allison swapped the lead in a remarkably accident-free race until drizzle on the west end of the 2.5-mile track slowed things on the 84th lap.
Without a yellow flag to slow the pace, Allison set a record of 185.854 m.p.h. for 80 laps.
When green-flag racing resumed six laps later, after a flurry of pit stops, Elliott, Marlin and defending champion Ernie Irvan, in a Chevrolet, were at the head of the pack. With a thought that rain could end the race shortly after Lap 100, the leaders were eager to be alone in front.
The trio came through the second turn three abreast, Elliott on the high side, Irvan along the bottom of the track and Marlin in the middle. They funneled into the back straightaway, where there was room enough for only two.
As Elliott dropped down and Irvan moved up, Marlin was pinched, and suddenly the three began spinning in front of the field at close to 200 m.p.h. Fourteen cars were caught in the carnage, and although no driver was injured seriously, six cars--including Marlin's--were wiped out, and several others badly bruised.
"I kind of got sandwiched," Marlin said. "It was three deep coming off (Turn) Two, and I knew what was going to happen because we were running out of real estate. I didn't get on the brakes quick enough to get out of it. I don't know if it was Ernie coming up or Bill coming down, but I got my front end hung up and it turned me across the track. After that it was 'Katie-bar-the-door' time."
Elliott said it was a racing accident that couldn't be helped.
"It was a combination of all three cars," he said. "Sterling was trying to pass me, hoping Irvan would help him when Ernie dives down to the low side. I don't know how you could blame anybody. We were just trying to occupy the same space where there was room for only one car."
Among those whose cars were damaged but remained on the track was pre-race favorite Dale Earnhardt, who limped home ninth. It ended a three-day win streak for the Winston Cup champion, who had won a qualifying race, an IROC and a Busch Grand National race on successive days.
The situation was met with anger by some.
"We're not even halfway in the race and these guys are going crazy," said Dale Jarrett, driver of the Chevrolet owned by Washington Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs. "All I know is that I had a hole, and the 22 car (Marlin) came back up in front of me and I hit him wide open. Then somebody hit me. That's all she wrote. It just doesn't seem very smart to me to be running three wide at that stage of the race."
Except for five laps during pit stops, Allison led the rest of the way.
"I was lucky to miss the accident," Allison admitted. "I saw Marlin duck under Elliott when I was following Irvan, and I saw what was coming and backed off. I moved to the outside, and Morgan (Shepherd) and I got through. Then I saw all hell break loose behind me."
Allison, 30, won $244,050, the second-largest single-race purse in NASCAR history. He averaged 160.256 m.p.h. for the three-hour, seven-minute, 12-second race.
The victory came in a backup car. Allison wrecked his primary T-Bird during practice last Wednesday, and crew chief Larry McReynolds was forced to take an older car off the shelf.