DOVER, Del., (September 19, 2001) - Harboring a range of deep emotions over the tragedies that has affected millions of Americans in the past week, Bill Elliott will make his 650th Winston Cup Series career start, Sunday, at Dover Downs Int'l Speedway - and under the circumstances he'll have given the milestone very little thought.
But for legions of race fans, such achievements don't go unnoticed. For those who will gather at Dover Downs this weekend, Elliott's presence will stand as a significant as the love that brings fans to the track, even in difficult times.
650 career Winston Cup starts is what has turned one red-headed kid from Georgia into "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville," Winston Cup Champion, winner of the first Winston Million Dollar award in 1985 and champion of millions of race fans' hearts, having been voted NASCAR's most popular driver in 15 of the past 17 years.
Elliott made his first NASCAR Winston Cup start at Rockingham on Feb. 29, 1976. He qualified 34th and finished 33rd in that event, earning him a $640 paycheck. Since then, Elliott has won 50 poles, 40 races and more than $26 million. He's currently 13th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings in his first year driving the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T for car owner Ray Evernham.
Despite the achievements he has made in 26 years of Cup racing, Elliott's amassed 650 starts is an achievement in and of itself. Among active drivers, only Ricky Rudd (721), Dave Marcis (758) and Terry Labonte (699) have more starts.
Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T
This weekend you'll be trying for your 650th career start. Do you think about records like that at all? "It's hard to believe I'm still mentally able to be doing this. I don't really think about it though. I'd drive myself crazy if I did. I just go do it. I think that's why I'm still able to do this. I don't think about it too much. It's not my persona. I never think of how many starts I've had. I never worry about it. I don't dwell on that stuff. I'm just out there doing what I like to do."
You've moved to 13th in the points race. Talk about your runs in the second half of the season. "The guys on the team have worked for it. They have busted their butts, and I think that's what helps drive me every week. They have really worked hard. They deserve more than what we've done, and that keeps me going. I know how much blood, sweat and tears they've put into this deal, and that's the key."
Bill Elliott By the Numbers
* Elliott set a Dover Downs record for the fastest time in a 500 mile race, when he won the 1990 Peak 500 (125.945 mph, 3 hours, 58 minutes, 0 seconds, Sept. 16, 1990). Dover Downs has hosted 53, 500-mile races in the Winston Cup Series from 1971-1997.
* In his 36 appearances at Dover, Elliott has earned four wins, three poles, 11 top fives and 18 top-10 finishes. His most recent win came in 1990 when Elliott was the fastest qualifier and pole winner before capturing his most recent victory at the track. His average start at Dover is 10th and his average finish is 12th place.
* In the first Dover race this year, Elliott started 19th based on his points standing after rain postponed qualifying. But the dark clouds stayed out for Elliott on race day as he was caught up in an accident on the third lap. The No. 9 car was forced to come into the garage for repairs, and though Elliott would return to the race with 150 laps to go, he would finish only as high as 40th place.
* Elliott and the No. 9 car have been running at the end of all 26 races this year. Only one other Winston Cup Series driver has also finished every race in 2001.
* In the last race at Richmond, Elliott spent the evening picking his way through the field after starting 37th. He ran in the top 15 past the midway point of the race until an incident on lap 362. Elliott was forced to come in for repairs to the right front, but the No. 9 crew worked quickly to repair the damage, keeping the car on the lead lap. Elliott finished 17th, earning 112 points and moving him from 14th to 13th in the points standings. His average start for the year is 14th and his average finish is 17th.
* Elliott and the No. 9 team have earned eight top 10 finishes for the year, including four in their last seven races (fifth at Darlington, third at Michigan, eighth at Indianapolis and fourth at Pocono). With 10 races to go, Elliott has already surpassed last year's season total of seven top 10 finishes. The last time Elliott earned more than seven top 10s in a single season was in 1997 when he earned 13 top 10s.
* With $2,405,351 in official earnings, Elliott is second in total winnings for all Dodge drivers this year (behind Ward Burton). After finishing eighth at Indy, Elliott became the first Dodge driver in history to break the $2 million earnings mark in a single season. By the season's end, Elliott looks to break his career-high yearly earnings record of $2,580,823 from last year.