Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR
Park the Car in Victory
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It took 77 Winston Cup starts, but the number 1 on Steve Park's car translated into his first ever victory at the Global Crossing @ the Glen on Sunday. Park started from the 18th position and took the lead on lap 32 with the help of some expedient work by his pit crew. Leading for 53 of the 90 laps, he was challenged late by a hard charging Mark Martin, but withstood the pressure cooker and won by two car lengths on the 2.45 mile road course.
With most of practice and both rounds of Winston Cup qualifying rained out, NASCAR rules set the starting grid based on owner points for the top 35 cars. This would give the pole to point's leader Bobby Labonte and his Interstate Batteries Pontiac. The provisional slots were filled by current past champions with the remaining starting positions being determined by qualifying order.
With the minimal amount of practice this weekend track position would play a major role in the outcome of the race.
As Labonte led the field through the Inner Loop, Dale Earnhardt came out of the turn too hot on the accelerator and spun, crashing hard against the foam blocks lined up against the heavy guide rail barrier. Earnhardt's car was heavily banged up in the rear, with most of the damage appearing to be crushed sheet metal. If not for the foam barrier, the wreck would have been much worse.
Also getting into trouble early were Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Racing for position behind Earnhardt, Gordon tried to pass Stewart low but Stewart blocked him. Coming out of the turn Gordon had a good run and pulled even with Stewart, their cars banged wheel to wheel, separated and came together much harder this time. The impact was hard enough to force each driver down pit lane for repairs. Gordon would go a lap down in the pits making repairs and would eventually finish in 23rd. The damage to Stewarts's car was mostly cosmetic and would finish closer to the front in 6th place. After the race Stewart and Gordon engaged in a shoving match, hurling obscenities and threats before being separated.
After the race, a much calmer Gordon commented, "I've been saying all weekend that if we don't win it, I sure would like to have a good, strong finish and we just didn't have an opportunity to do that, unfortunately. We got going and I got a run on Tony. I told myself that every chance I get to make a clean pass I'm going to take it. I made a clean move, and I don't think he wanted me to pass him. We ran side by side in an area you can't run side by side. I think he hit the curb and ran me into the wall. It's one of those things, two guys going for the same spot. Maybe I was trying to go too hard too early, but I think there could have been a little more consideration there."
Labonte would hold the lead until lap 8 when Jeff Burton moved to the front with Ward Burton and Rusty Wallace close behind. Labonte would steal the lead back from Burton on lap 22 as they exited the Carrousel turn. As the field started to space out around the track, two cars were working their way to the front. Steve Park and Robbie Gordon were both passing cars and moving up through the field. By lap 24 Park had moved up to 5th place and running as fast as the leaders. Robbie Gordon started in the 42nd starting position and would eventually finish in 4th place, tying his previous best effort in NASCAR.
On lap 29, Bobby Labonte led the leaders down pit road for their first pit stops of the day. Following him down pit lane were Jeff Burton, Ricky Rudd, Ward Burton and Steve Park. It was here that Park's crew gave him the opportunity to win the race. In all the other races on the Winston Cup circuit the pit wall is on the left, at Watkins Glen the race is run clockwise with the pit lane being on the right. As such, the much choreographed pit procedures are reversed for this race. Completing an awesome tire and fuel stop, Park's crew had everyone beat and he was first out of the pits. Once everyone had cycled through their pit stop Park would inherit the lead on lap 32.
On lap 35, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would tear up his second car of the weekend. After wrecking his primary car in practice, Jr. would crash again, this time in the "S" section of the track in turns 2 and 3. The race went back to green flag racing at lap 38 with Park in first, Jeff Burton in second and Jerry Nadeau in third.
But the green only lasted one lap as Kyle Petty crashed out on lap 39 bringing out another caution period. The leaders stayed on the track, not wanting to pit until they were in a window to finish the race. Jerry Nadeau's bid for a win ended when he lost third gear during the caution, he was running in 3rd place when the trouble occurred.
Green flag racing resumed on lap 42 with Steve Park in the lead. The New York State native would stay tough and keep his car on the point for most of the next 40 laps. Mark Martin passed Jeff Burton late in the race and set his sights on the leader. Martin tried everything he could to get by Park the last five laps of the race. In some sections of the track Park was quicker and in other sections Martin seemed to have the dominant car. But Martin raced Park clean, and he had to settle for second place while Park claimed the checkered.
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