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Gordon Slips By Jarrett

Auto racing: Bid for $1-million bonus foiled by an oil slick on the Darlington track.

September 02, 1996|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DARLINGTON, S.C. — The "Track Too Tough to Tame" lived up to its billing Sunday--except for Jeff Gordon and his rainbow-colored DuPont Chevrolet.

Dale Jarrett, chasing the Winston Select Million with the fastest car at Darlington Raceway, looked like money in the bank for 47 laps until his Ford Thunderbird hit an oil slick--the same kind that decorate most family driveways--while leading the Mountain Dew Southern 500.

An oil slick at 150 mph while trying to negotiate the difficult third turn of Darlington's egg-shaped oval can prove lethal. It sent Jarrett's car sliding into the wall, closely followed by four other cars spinning and slamming into one another.

"I wasn't pushing it, I was just running a comfortable pace when I hit the oil and went right into the wall," Jarrett said after finishing 14th, two laps behind Gordon. "I guess someone must have dropped some oil and no one saw it until it was too late.

"I was out in front, right where I wanted to be because that's usually the safest place, but unfortunately, being out there got me the first guy into the oil. "

Rusty Wallace, who was running second at the time, said: "I went off into Turn 3 and the whole front end just took off and I had no steering whatsoever. It all happened so fast no one had a chance."

After the accident, Jarrett lost three laps making nine pit stops while Robert Yates' crew replaced a broken shock, repaired a control arm, ball joint and damaged panels on the right side of the car. Following another caution period, Jarrett managed to get one lap back, but that was as close as he could come.

There was slight consolation--Jarrett collected $100,000 as a "consolation prize" for winning two of the four designated races.

There were still 320 of the 367 laps to go when Jarrett slipped out of contention and although 14 drivers led the race at one time or another, the battle soon settled into Gordon trying to run down surprise leader Hut Stricklin.

Stricklin, a journeyman driver who has raced on the fringes of Winston Cup for eight years and whose main claim to fame was being married to Bobby Allison's niece, took the lead on lap 181 from Jimmy Spencer and led for 153 laps until Gordon passed him at the end of the back straightaway.

"Once Jeff got to me, I knew I couldn't hold him off," Stricklin said.

The victory, worth $99,630, was Gordon's third in a row at Darlington, the oldest track on the circuit. Only Dale Earnhardt had accomplished that feat before in 47 years.

"The old-timers say you have to have luck at Darlington," said Gordon, 25, who averaged 135.757 mph. "I think we had it today. I'd been running up front with Jarrett when we made our first pit stop. It was a bad one and when we got back out we'd fallen to sixth or seventh.

"If we'd come out second or third, we'd have been in that oil slick with the leaders. As it was, I was able to slow down a little and escape it."

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