Darlington Musgrave's Best Chance

Musgrave sees Darlington as his big chance Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 19, 1998) Victory at Darlington Raceway. It's so close now that Ted Musgrave can smell it. The driver of the No. 16 PRIMESTAR Ford, who...

Musgrave sees Darlington as his big chance Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online

DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 19, 1998) Victory at Darlington Raceway. It's so close now that Ted Musgrave can smell it.

The driver of the No. 16 PRIMESTAR Ford, who has never won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in his seven full seasons on the circuit, has posted four consecutive top-10 finishes in the TranSouth Financial 400 at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. That includes a second-place finish in last year's event, in which he took eventual winner Dale Jarrett down to the wire on the final lap, only to lose by less than two-tenths of a second.

If he's ever going to get his first victory, Musgrave figures there's no better time this weekend than in the TranSouth Financial 400, and no better place than Darlington, a place that has given many drivers nightmares in the past.

"I'm actually really comfortable there," Musgrave said of NASCAR's original superspeedway, the track 'Too Tough to Tame.' "It's a little challenging and will test your bravery as far as how quick you want to get into the new turn one (following the reconfiguration of the track last year) and how good you can get out of turn two before the car slides up and hits the wall.

"I really like the track, and the race track is unique. There are no similarities anywhere around the track. The car does different things at different points, but the key is not to be worried about who is gaining on you; you race the race track. That's something I've learned over the years I've been here, and that's why I guess I've had some success here."

Musgrave's previous best finish at Darlington was third, in the 1995 TranSouth Financial 400. That event was won by Sterling Marlin in a thrilling battle with Dale Earnhardt and Musgrave.

Three times in his career Musgrave has finished second in a race. He did it twice in 1995, but never was he closer to taking the checkered flag for the first time than in last March's race. He never led a lap in the 293-lap event, but stayed in contact with the leader continuously during the second half of the race after starting from the 21st position.

"We kept hanging around the top-10 all day long and kept getting better and better," Musgrave said. "Track position on the last pit stop was the big thing. Ernie Irvan and Dale Jarrett were the first two in the pits, and I was like fourth or fifth. My guys did a really good job on the last pit stop (with approximately 60 laps remaining) and got me second out and put me right behind Dale."

Musgrave had several opportunities to try and pass Jarrett in the final few laps, but just couldn't find the right opening. Tire wear began to become a factor for the PRIMESTAR Ford, and he wasn't about to take any unnecessary chances.

"With about 10 laps to go, we started to get a little bit side-by-side and started bouncing off each other, but with about 15 laps to go, our tires were worn out so bad that we were just trying to hang on," Musgrave said. "When I was trying to get him (Jarrett) loosened up, if I rubbed on him a little bit, my car was starting to turn sideways and I've to try and save mine at the same time. We were both slowing own and third and fourth place cars were coming. The one thing I didn't want to do was spin both of us out. That would have been the world's biggest screw up.

"I can only imagine what would have happened with five laps to go, if I would have drove in there real hard to try and get by, lost control and hit him. The two of us would have spun around and third place (Jeff Gordon) would have won the race. That would have been one of those classic deals on television, and I didn't want to be part of that."

Jarrett, a seven-time winner on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series a year ago, showed just how tough he is when he gets in front in the final stages of a race, and never allowed Musgrave to get by.

"Any little slip he was going to make, I was going to try and capitalize on, but he never did," Musgrave said. "His car was a little tight in the center of the corner of one and two, and so was mine. Whatever his car did, mine was doing, so he could take away that line. He knew that I couldn't cut underneath him coming off, at that particular time, turn two. He ran the high line to keep up his momentum, knowing I couldn't get down underneath.

"Lap after lap I just stayed right behind him and tried to loosen him up, if I could, by staying right on his bumper. Then I tried to lay back and cool my tires to try and make another run at him, but we never got the chance. Dale is an excellent driver as far as knowing where to place his car to use it the best and also to protect that line he needs. It was a really neat race to be up there fighting for the win."

Something Musgrave hopes to be doing again on Sunday at Darlington.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Ernie Irvan , Dale Jarrett , Sterling Marlin , Ted Musgrave