Martin takes inaugural Las Vegas 400 By Steve Waid - NASCAR Winston Cup Scene LAS VEGAS, Nev. (March 1, 1998) Gambling is a big part of life in Las Vegas, and as Sunday's inaugural Las Vegas 400 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race wound its way...
Martin takes inaugural Las Vegas 400 By Steve Waid - NASCAR Winston Cup Scene
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (March 1, 1998) Gambling is a big part of life in Las Vegas, and as Sunday's inaugural Las Vegas 400 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race wound its way to the finish, it was clear that on this day Mark Martin was a prohibitive favorite.
Martin, driver of the Valvoline Ford, took the lead for good on lap 202 of 267 around the 1.5-mile Las Vegas track and went on to beat Roush Racing teammate Jeff Burton by 1.605 seconds.
It was Martin's first victory of the season and the 23rd of his career. It was also the first win for the new Ford Taurus, which enjoyed a pretty heady day as the Fords swept up nine of the top-10 positions.
Leading the way was Roush Racing. In addition to the one-two sweep of Martin and Burton, Johnny Benson finished fourth, Ted Musgrave sixth and Chad Little 10th, all drivers for the five-team Roush organization.
"This is a brand-new team, too," said Martin, referring to the shift he helped orchestrate at the end of last season. The Martin team moved from Roush Racing hequarters in Liberty, N.C., to a newer site in Mooresville, N.C., and employed virtually all new personnel.
"I was so afraid people would say I did the wrong thing. I've got to thank all the guys on this team. I just can't tell you how much a win does for a team. This is just what we needed to move up in the points."
Martin moved to seventh in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points standings, a big leap from his previous position of 16th. Rusty Wallace continues to lead with 505 points, with Dale Earnhardt second, 56 points back.
Martin's victory capped a two-race comeback from a disappointing Daytona 500, where he finished 28th. He was third in the GM Goodwrench 400 at Rockingham, N.C., where he also led the most laps.
"We wanted a chance to move up in the points," Martin said. "Finishing third at Rockingham and leading the most laps helped and this win is just what we needed."
At first, Martin felt his day was going to be a short one. About 120 laps into the race, his car developed a vibration so strong he felt it would sideline him.
"It was a terrible vibration," he said. "I was sure I was going to fall out of the race. I said to myself, 'If I'm going to fall out, I want to be leading.' So I went to the front and tried to stay there."
Martin was among the top-four by lap 143 and moved into the lead on lap 172 when Dale Jarrett, then the leader in the Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford, pitted under the green. Martin pitted three laps later.
By this time, the vibration had become accepted -- if feared -- and Martin moved into third place behind Wallace, in the Miller Lite Ford, and Jarrett, on lap 178. On lap 198, he challenged Jarrett for position and took away the second spot on lap 200.
One lap later, he was battling Wallace, and on lap 202, he took the lead, which he held for 27 laps.
On lap 228, Martin made his last pit stop of the day. He was back in front on lap 245, when he zipped by Geoff Bodine's Philips Ford. Two laps later, Bodine pitted and Burton, in the Exide Batteries Ford, settled into second place, 3.13 seconds in arrears.
As the laps wound down, it became obvious the only way Burton would be able to challenge Martin would be with the help of a caution flag. It never flew.
"It was a good day for us, the kind we needed," Burton said. "I don't really know where Mark had us but he had track position on us, that's for sure."
"Jeff did a great job today," Martin said. "We're going to have to race him for a bunch of these things this year."
Wallace came home third, Benson fourth and Jeremy Mayfield took fifth in the Mobil 1 Ford. Sixth place went to Musgrave in the PRIMESTAR Ford, Jimmy Spencer was seventh in the Winston Ford, and Earnhardt was the lone GM driver among the top-10 with eighth place in the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet. Bill Elliott was ninth in the McDonald's Ford and Little rounded out the top-10 in the John Deere Ford.
Martin led 50 of the race's last 66 laps and led 82 laps in all, more than any other driver. He averaged 146.350 mph.