It isn't supposed to end like this.
Saturday night the Winston was run from Concord, North Carolina at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and for the first time in maybe my entire life, the Petty family wasn't at the track.
Please don't tell me it's the end of the dynasty.
The familiar number 43, piloted by John Andretti, was there, but Kyle's number 44 was missing, and Adam Petty's number 45 will, of course, never be raced again. Richard and Kyle, understandably absent from the scene. I don't like this. This doesn't feel right, like lightning in a snowstorm, it just doesn't feel right. But wherever the Racing Gods are, they know we must carry on. And carry on NASCAR did, with the Petty family painfully gone, and Earnhardt family adding another chapter to their legacy.
I don't want to hear it.
John Andretti, and the 43 STP/General Mills Pontiac sported a special Wheaties paint scheme for the Winston. Unfortunately, the "Wheaties Orange" and "Petty Blue" racer would receive more TV time in a crumpled heap than actually racing. Relegated to an 18th starting spot due to a loose lug nut during qualifying, Andretti would have to try to work his way to the front, but even that attempt was not to be. With the drop of the green flag and the roar of the crowd, the pack was quickly through turns 1 and 2. But in the rush for the front Dale Earnhardt Sr. moved down in front of Kenny Irwin causing Irwin to loose control of his SABCO Chevrolet In an attempt to correct his faltering car, Irwin hit Andretti in the left front fender, knocking him hard into the third turn wall. Eventually, Andretti came to rest down on the apron, with the right front tire neatly tucked up underneath the fender well, obviously beyond repair for the night and probably the Coca-Cola 600 next week as well.
Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and sky.
Gone were the hopes and dreams of a victory, a tearful dedication to Adam Petty, and perhaps the rebirth of Petty Enterprises. Instead an uninjured, yet decidedly emotional John Andretti choked up during a post crash interview. Being the class act that he is, John could only relay sorry for not giving General Mills and the folks at Wheaties a better showing. And that was it, he couldn't say anything else if he wanted to, and what more was there to say? He was part of the family now, and he was feeling the pain too.
Thank you to the Pettys and all the families who have made this great sport possible.
When the evening was all said and done,
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. overcame a brush with the wall and a pit stop with only 8 laps remaining to become the first rookie to win the
Winston. Motoring past an oil leaking, smoke bellowing Dale Jarrett with two laps to go, I could only think I had watched this same race many years ago. Through the haze and mist of my remembrance, I was watching Dale Sr. cut and weave his way through traffic, making room to pass where before there was none. And I was thinking to myself, it will be a long time before I see another driver like Dale Sr., but maybe that time has come.
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