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Earnhardt at Rainbow's End : Auto racing: After waiting out the weather, NASCAR's champion finds a Brickyard 400 victory.

August 06, 1995|From Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Dale Earnhardt is still king of the hill.

The seven-time Winston Cup champion, mired in a slump that has seen him fall from first to third in the season points in recent weeks, charged from the middle of the pack to a hard-earned victory Saturday in the second Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On a day when it appeared rain would mean no race at all, close to 300,000 spectators hung around through a near 4 hour 2 minute delay and got a full 160 laps and a terrific show on the historic 2 1/2-mile rectangular oval.

In the end, Earnhardt fought off longtime rival Rusty Wallace, who in turn barely held onto second place in a late duel with Dale Jarrett in the $4.5 million race, the richest in NASCAR history.

As those three drove through the last 10 laps separated by about 1 1/2 seconds, the biggest crowd in stock car racing stood and cheered them on.

"We've never won the Daytona 500, but the Brickyard is a special race and we'll take it," said Earnhardt, who has failed to win NASCAR's other big prize in 14 tries.

It took him only two tries to win at Indy, joining Jeff Gordon, who finished sixth on Saturday, as winners of stock car racing's newest big event.

"I'm glad I'm the second man to win it," said Earnhardt, who has two victories this season and 66 in his career. "Only two of us have done it and that is real special."

The race came down to the final round of green-flag pit stops in an event slowed by only one caution period.

Earnhardt drove his Chevrolet Monte Carlo onto pit road at the end of Lap 128 and got through his stop cleanly. Wallace, in a Ford Thunderbird, made a fast stop on the next lap.

But, as Wallace pulled away from his pit and headed for the track, Rich Bickle ran into the rear of Joe Nemechek's car just ahead of him on pit road and Wallace had to hit the brakes and take evasive action.

Wallace avoided the trouble and came back onto the track just ahead of Earnhardt, but the defending series champion had more momentum, zoomed past on the back straightaway and never was headed.

"I really honestly think we had just as good a car as Earnhardt," said Wallace, who drives for Roger Penske, the winningest Indy-car owner at the speedway with 10 Indianapolis 500 victories. "It really hurt us when we got behind Bickle and he and Nemechek got together. Track position is so important here.

"But I'm glad for Dale that he came out of his slump, and we got out of our slump here, too," Wallace added.

Earnhardt held off Wallace by 0.426 seconds, about four car-lengths. The winner averaged an event-record 155.218 m.p.h., easily breaking the record of 131.977 set in the inaugural race by Gordon.

Earnhardt and Wallace had a close call on Lap 132 when Jeff Burton hit the wall and spun as Earnhardt passed the slower car in Turn Two. Burton spun off the wall directly in front of Wallace, who hit the brakes and drove around on the outside without contact.

That brought out the only yellow flag of the race. The leaders had just completed their final pit stops under the green flag, so the caution had no effect on the competition up front.

Bill Elliott, who dominated the middle part of the race, was fourth, followed by Mark Martin, Gordon--who held onto his series point lead--Sterling Marlin, Rick Mast and Bobby Labonte.

Rain, which had washed out the second round of qualifying on Friday, threatened to prompt postponement of the race until Sunday. It was wet throughout the morning and early afternoon hours, but finally let up in time to get the track dried and the race started.

Once the race began, it ran almost without flaw, with only the four laps of caution and without any rain. Teams kept sending crewmen back to the NASCAR truck to check the weather radar screen, but the sun shone through much of the event and a rainbow popped up over the second turn midway through the race.

The vast speedway grandstands, which were nearly empty until shortly before the drivers were told to get ready to race about 45 minutes before the start, quickly filled and were near capacity after the first 25 or 30 laps.

Gordon, the record-setting pole-winner for this edition of the new event, started the race strongly, leading seemingly easily until he made his first scheduled pit stop on Lap 32.

After a first series of green-flag stops, Gordon slowed because of handling problems and Marlin who took control, holding off the determined Elliott until Lap 51.

It appeared for a while that Elliott, who has not won since last September at Darlington, would drive away from the field from that point, but the rest of the top contenders just wouldn't let him get away.

Elliott, one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR's top division, continued to run at or near the front until his third pit stop, on Lap 100. A balky lug nut on his left rear tire cost Elliott a few extra tenths of a second in the pits and he came out in fourth place, nearly a half lap behind the leaders.

From that point to the end, Earnhardt, Wallace and Jarrett, who came from 26th in the 41-car lineup to make a late charge, raced for the lead.

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