Daytona Pepsi Race Report

Pepsi 400 had a circus finish By Dave Rodman DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 17, 1998) Restarting Saturday night's Pepsi 400 with three laps to go after a brief rain delay at Daytona International Speedway -- with five drivers lined up behind ...

Pepsi 400 had a circus finish By Dave Rodman

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 17, 1998) Restarting Saturday night's Pepsi 400 with three laps to go after a brief rain delay at Daytona International Speedway -- with five drivers lined up behind leader Jeff Gordon who either had never won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race, had not won in a heckuva long time or were in the midst of ugly losing streaks -- you knew it was going to be akin to dangling fresh meat in front of hungry lions.

And it was.

The problem was, the lions fought each other and the trainer -- Gordon -- danced away to his 40th series victory -- which was good enough not only for a tie for 13th on the all-time career victories list, but which also probably secured his third championship.

On the green Gordon made one of his trademark jumps in the DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet. But by the time the field reached Turn 2 of the 2.5-mile trioval teammates Jeremy Mayfield in the Mobil 1 Ford and Rusty Wallace in the Miller Lite Ford had sandwiched Mike Skinner's Lowe's Chevrolet and run down Gordon in the process.

Ward Burton's MBNA America Pontiac and Ken Schrader's Skoal Bandit Chevrolet had fallen back into the clutches of Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte in the Interstate Batteries Pontiac and Kellogg's Chevrolet, respectively.

The scenario was this: Mayfield had not even come close to winning since he scored his first victory on June 21 at Pocono, Pa.; Skinner had never won in 72 starts; Wallace was winless since March 2, 1997; Burton hadn't scored since Oct. 22, 1995; and Schrader's dry streak stretched all the way back to June 2, 1991.

But in the end it was a classic case of the hungry getting leaner. Bobby Labonte took a push from his brother and a soaring outside move through turn two on the last lap that carried him to second. Skinner got beside Mayfield as Gordon raced away, and beat the teammates' one-two punch to end up third while Mayfield and Wallace happily settled for fourth and fifth. Burton fell to seventh and Schrader, ninth.

Skinner said he was treated so poorly at Talladega that he wasn't going out of his way to work with anyone, and Bobby Labonte's outside move took him by surprise as well. At any rate he was only too happy to cut his own slice of the pie into third -- even if it meant Gordon escaped with his 11th win of the year.

"We didn't make any deals with nobody," he said. "We knew none of them would hold up. We made deals last week and every one of them ripped us off, so why make a deal? If you can't win, take what you can get.

"It was take no prisoners down the stretch. I'm not going to wreck anybody, but I really wanted to push Jeremy by so I could make it three-wide. Richard (Childress, car owner) said if I could push Jeremy by and get him beside him (Gordon) maybe I could do it.

"It beats the heck out of me where that 18 car came from. My spotter was a little late telling me he was coming because I was watching Jeremy.. Me and him were back there going at it and by the time I looked up it was too late to get over."

"I was just hanging in there," said Mayfield, who was not unhappy to finish in one piece. "Nobody knew what was going to happen. We had made it this far and nobody was going to do anything stupid and get in trouble."

The end was actually written when Bobby Labonte scooted past everyone but Gordon and Skinner kicked up beside Mayfield.

"I figured that was it, so we just took our third place and were happy with it," said Mayfield, who actually settled for fourth. "If I had my partner (Wallace) behind me, there would have been more we could do, but we got split up. I didn't have a teammate there."

"We were trying to get together ... I tried to hook up with all I could and then I saw the 18 car coming and he brought himself and Terry and I thought 'Oh man this is going to be a gunfight right to the Start/Finish line.'" Wallace said. "I finished fifth and I'm happy with that (considering) I used to come to Daytona and wreck all the time."

Burton also preferred to accentuate the positive and revel in his third top-11 finish in four races since undergoing a major personnel change within his team.

"I'm real happy with that," Burton said. "Our new crew chief, Tommy Baldwin, has been with the team four races now and we've had two really good runs and we could have had three. The cars are handling and it's easy when this Pontiac is handling."

And while the overflow crowd, only slightly dampened by the night's third rain delay, eagerly lapped up the finish, Chad Little -- who wrote off Jack Roush's vaunted last superspeedway Ford Thunderbird coming off Turn 4 on the run to the checkered -- and Schrader were truly sorry the race had to end ... as it did.

"I wish they had never restarted the race, and that's about all I've got to say," Schrader snapped, before stalking away to contemplate his drop from fifth to ninth, and the extension of his winless streak to 232.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Mike Skinner , Ken Schrader , Chad Little , Jack Roush