Charlotte Post Race Notebook

Coca-Cola 600 Sunday Notebook Shawn A. Akers CONCORD, N.C. (May 24, 1998) Notes and quotes from Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway: Mark Martin's attempt at the May "Triple Crown" at Charlotte ...

Coca-Cola 600 Sunday Notebook Shawn A. Akers

CONCORD, N.C. (May 24, 1998) Notes and quotes from Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

Mark Martin's attempt at the May "Triple Crown" at Charlotte Motor Speedway fell just a bit short, as Martin finished fourth in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600.

The driver of the No. 6 Valvoline/Cummins Ford had already won last Saturday night's running of The Winston, and then came back to win the CarQuest Auto Parts 300 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division race on Saturday.

Martin led the most laps, nine times for 164, but couldn't keep up with eventual winner Jeff Gordon, nor Rusty Wallace or Bobby Labonte near the end of the 600-mile event.

"We got in front, but we couldn't stay in front because we didn't have the tires," Martin said. "But we had a good night. It was a good run for us. I'm proud of this race team and maybe we can win this next race at Dover with the Valvoline car."

With his victory, his third career Coca-Cola 600 win, Gordon moved into the points lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. After 11 races in 1998, Gordon has 1,590 points, followed by Jeremy Mayfield with 1,563, Wallace with 1,559, Martin with 1,504, and Terry Labonte with 1,461.

Mayfield, who owned the points lead coming in, was never really in contention Sunday night, finishing 19th, two laps down.

The evening ended a bit prematurely for both Dale Earnhardt and Randy LaJoie, as the two got together and wound up next to the wall coming out of turn 4 on lap 336.

The two raced side-by-side for several laps, and then the No. 50 Budweiser Chevrolet of LaJoie's got loose and hit Earnhardt, sending both cars spinning.

"I hate it for myself and Dale Earnhardt," said LaJoie, who finished 38th. "He's a home- track hero. The car got loose. We made an adjustment and were racing real hard there. The 16 car (Ted Musgrave) tucked up behind me and got the air off my spoiler and I ran out of race track and got into the 3 car."

"I was riding along there on the outside and LaJoie lost it," Earnhardt said. "He hit me pretty hard. I guess I'm alright. I'm not going to the hospital. I can heal up better on my own."

Ricky Craven spent Sunday night in the pits of the No. 50 Budweiser Chevrolet team. The regular driver of the car, Craven is still recovering from post-concussion syndrome, extending from injuries suffered in a crash last year at Texas.

Craven told PRN Radio that the tests he underwent in his latest visit to the doctor turned out well, and that he fully expects to be back behind the wheel of the car at Daytona for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.

"I actually had the same type of tests that pulled me out of the car, but this time I passed them," Craven said. "I could be back in the car at Dover next week, but we're not going to push it at this point. Randy's (LaJoie) is doing a great job in the car.

"I hate to miss this race because it's one of my favorites. But I've learned that life doesn't end if you miss a race, and I've learned that you can't play injured. I tried to ignore it (the injury), but it just didn't go away."

Craven has been out of action since late March. Randy LaJoie has substituted brilliantly for Craven during his absence.

Morgan Shepherd, the regular driver of the No. 46 First Union Chevrolet, which failed to make the field for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, stood by as a relief driver for Mike Skinner and took over for Skinner in the No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet just past the midway point of the race.

Skinner, injured in a hard crash at Texas in early April, missed several races until returning to action last weekend for The Winston Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Shepherd drove two races in relief of Skinner in the No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet during that time.

Skinner said he was feeling okay, but that a 600-mile race, like Sunday night's event, would be too hard for his body to take at this time..

"My neck's doing pretty good," Skinner said. "My knee hurts a little bit, but we decided to let Morgan Shepherd finish the race. If we had been running in the top-10, we would probably have stuck it out. Dover (next week's race) is real hard on you, so every lap I can rest is going to be better for us in the future."

The Skinner-Shepherd combination wound up finishing 29th.

Bill Elliott also called on a relief driver during the race. Elliott, who suffered hard crashes at Talladega and California leading up to the Coca-Cola 600, gave way to Jeff Green just before the halfway point.

Green had practiced the No. 94 McDonald's Ford on Thursday in Elliott's absence while Elliott was visiting his father in Texas, who was recuperating from surgery.

"It was a situation where (Team Manager) Mike (Beam), (crew chief) Joe (Garone) and myself had decided before the race that if we got a lap down, we'd put Jeff in the car," Elliott said. "He had practiced for me on Thursday and did a good job. Really, I need another week to be 100 percent. Dover's one of the toughest race tracks, and I'll need all my strength to get around there."

Elliott Sadler's first venture in a NASCAR Winston Cup car wasn't too successful, as he wound up finishing 42nd, dropping out on lap 208 with engine problems. Still, that didn't dampen the spirits of the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division standout.

"I had a great time," said Sadler, driver of the No. 92 OP/Tower Clothing Chevrolet. "The car was getting better, and my crew kept working hard all night. Toward the end, I was feeling pretty racy. The drive train broke on lap 214, but we had a good time. We're going to build a couple of new cars and try to come back for the Brickyard."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Jeff Green , Ted Musgrave , Ricky Craven , Morgan Shepherd , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin