As if the lady in black wasn't tough enough on her own, lapped traffic helped create havoc and heartbreak in Sunday's race at Darlington.
At least 19 cars were involved in five separate incidences during Sunday's race. Two of those crashes involved the race leaders getting tangled with lapped cars, ending the day for many of the top contenders.
It also spoiled the return of Steve Park. While trying to make a triumphant comeback to Winston Cup during Sunday's race, Park became another victim of the track too tough to tame.
Park and Ricky Craven discuss matters as the Tide crew
Making his first start since being injured in a crash at this same track six months ago, Park was the first race leader to have his day ended. An early favorite to possibly win the race, Park found himself in the garage, watching his crew repair his #1 Pennzoil Chevrolet, and out of contention for the win.
And soon he had plenty of company.
Park started the race in 4th place, and quickly started making his way toward the front. On lap 19, he passed pole-sitter Ricky Craven to take over the top spot, while Craven held on to second place.
On lap 37, the two cars approached the soon-to-be-lapped car of Stacy Compton.
Compton moved up to the high side of the racetrack to allow the leaders to pass. As Park went underneath, Park's car drifted up the racetrack, making contact with Compton's left front fender. Park's car turned to the right, hitting the outside wall. Craven, running second, slammed into the rear of Compton's car. Park's car careened into oncoming traffic; fortunately everyone was able to avoid hitting him.
Park's car was towed to the garage, where his crew was able to piece the car back together and send him back on the track, but his chance at a victory was over.
"Lapped traffic (caused the wreck). Everybody saw what happened." Park said, "All day long - lapped traffic was a hassle for all of us. The lapped traffic has got to give the leader a break. The leader is the one who gives the lapped traffic a break to get their lap
back. We've seen this before."
"The car ran good. I thought we had a car capable of winning the race. I'm just really disappointed."
Craven questioned Park's judgement on the pass, but
wouldn't place blame.
Craven's crew was also able to get him back on the track, although many laps down. Craven's also shared Park's disappointment, but wasn't quick to place the blame on Compton.
"As the leader of the race, Steve has got to make good decisions and I think the decision to pass where he passed was questionable," said Craven, "but I also think Stacy needs to give consideration to the leader. I'm not going to dismiss it as one of those racing deals because it didn't need to happen and it took the Tide Ford out of the race."
"I'm not going to sit here and say it was anybody's fault because Darlington is a tough old place to race."
Compton was also able to continue on in the race, but felt he wasn't to blame for the crash.
"I motioned Steve to the bottom of the track and went high. I feel certain that he probably just got down, touched the apron and got loose." Compton said, "I felt like I gave him plenty of room. I hate it. I hate it for the leaders and I hate it for Steve. Him and I are big buddies and this was his comeback. I hate it for Craven and all those guys that got caught up in it. It's just a bad deal."
"I've always given the leaders plenty of room and hopefully they've always done the same for me. I hate it for everybody involved, but it certainly wasn't anybody's fault, I don't feel like."
To say that lapped traffic played a role in Sunday's outcome would be an understatement. Of the 14 cars involved in the two crashes, at least nine of them could have been considered likely picks to win the race.
Home Depot Pontiac was banged up nearly as bad as
On lap 226, as race leader Tony Stewart approached the lapped car of Buckshot Jones, Jones got loose and slid down to the bottom of the track. Stewart, unsure where to go, ran into the back of Jones' Dodge and slammed the outside wall. Stewart then bounced off the wall and right into the middle of the track. Obscured by all the smoke, Stewart was hit by several cars as the field came by, eventually collecting 11 cars.
Of the cars running in the top 10 at the time, only Sterling Marlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Elliott Sadler made it through unscathed.
Stewart had to be helped from his car and was eventually flown to a local hospital to be checked out. He was held overnight for observation.
While some of the cars involved in the incident were able to repair their cars and make up some points, the day was over for many of the top contenders.
"I'm very upset by it, but at least nobody got hurt," said Jimmy Spencer, who was running 5th. "Lapped cars have just got to realize they've got to get out of the way. A lapped car isn't going to win this damn race."
"I couldn't see a thing." Johnny Benson said, "I wish they would have said, 'Stop.' I couldn't see a thing. I slowed down as much as I could, but once I got to the oil I couldn't do anything about it."
Gordon inherited the lead following the big crash, but he had made contact with Stewart's Pontiac as he made his way through. Although slight, the damage was enough to put him back way back in the field, allowing Marlin, Earnhardt, Jr. and Sadler to fight it out for the win.
in baseball, that Target doesn't mean "hit it
Some good defensive strategy and a little luck helped Marlin avoid the big wreck. With all the smoke making it difficult to see, Marlin let Jeff Gordon show the way, a way that lead him to victory lane for the second time this season.
"I saw the 20 and 44 get together. Gordon is good about missing wrecks,
so I followed him." Marlin said, "We got through the smoke, and I saw the 20 coming back down the track. I swerved to the left real quick and just barely missed him. I got through it, and I guess Jeff just clipped somebody somewhere and got his fender messed up, but we were fortunate to get through it."
"I don't think it was really the lapped cars fault." Marlin went on to say. "If you've got a bad handling car it's almost impossible to get out of the way. If you got crowded going in and got loose and got into trouble, like I said, you've just got to race the track here and things will take care of themselves."
"We just took our time and eased up through there. We were patient. We knew we had a good car, and we just didn't take any chances."
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