BUSCH: Daytona Another Wild Race

LaJoie survives, claims wild win By Rick Houston NASCAR Winston Cup Scene DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 13, 1999) This wasn't your run-of-the-mill, follow-the-leader finish. This was breathtaking stuff, the kind of finish that'll be a mainstay...

LaJoie survives, claims wild win By Rick Houston NASCAR Winston Cup Scene

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 13, 1999) This wasn't your run-of-the-mill, follow-the-leader finish.

This was breathtaking stuff, the kind of finish that'll be a mainstay of the highlight films. The few seconds of the NAPA Auto Parts 300 will be remembered for a long, long time.

As leader Randy LaJoie flashed under the white flag, Casey Atwood got tapped from behind by Andy Hillenburg. Atwood went sideways, then did a backward flip eerily reminiscent of Richard Petty's infamous mishap.

The 18-year-old Atwood then slid on his roof to the finish line, where his Brewco Motorsports Chevrolet dug into the dirt of the grassy apron and continued on in a series of barrel-rolls. Luckily, thankfully, he was uninjured.

LaJoie captured the win, his second at Daytona and first with Phoenix Racing after leaving BACE Motorsports at the end of last season.

"We're in victory lane, and it doesn't get any better than this," LaJoie said. "You always question your decisions about what to do. I questioned myself a lot about going to the Phoenix organization without a major sponsor.

"But James (Finch, team owner) has run this deal without a major sponsor for a long time, and I really wanted to work with (crew chief) Marc Reno. Obviously, it looks like I've made a good decision."

The two-time Busch Series champion led four times for 61 of the event's 120 laps. As strong as his mount was, however, it was a timely caution flag that probably meant the most.

LaJoie reported a tire going down on lap 55, and he had to come in for four fresh ones three laps later. He lost a lap.

As he roared off pit road on the 59th circuit, the caution came out for Johnny Benson's stalled car in turn four. LaJoie hustled around the track, passing leader Mike McLaughlin off turn four to get back on the lead lap.

Ironically, Johnny Benson was in a BACE Motorsports entry.

"That was the deal," LaJoie admitted. "We had a left rear tire come loose. I had picked up a bad vibration. Marc said, 'You need to bring it in.' I thought I was gonna get wrecked going down the backstretch trying to get out of line.

"We came in, and I said, 'Oh geez.' The spotter said, '(Leader's) coming out of (turn) three.' I left pit road, and he said, 'Caution's coming out, and I don't think the leader took the caution.'

"We had to get after it to beat the guys back to the line. Johnny Benson did bring out the caution. How about that? It might have won us the race."

Staying on the track while the rest of the lead pack pitted during the caution, LaJoie led the field to the lap-64 restart. Tim Fedewa crashed on the backstretch nine laps later, bringing out the event's fourth caution.

Lyndon Amick elected not to pit, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew got him off pit road just ahead of LaJoie. Again, fate smiled on LaJoie.

Amick broke something in the transmission as the green came out on lap 73, beginning a chain-reaction accident that eliminated Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Phil Parsons, Ron Hornaday, Todd Bodine, Dick Trickle and Jimmy Kitchens from contention. Kevin Grubb also sustained damage in the incident.

Somehow, LaJoie picked his way through the smoke and debris. He took on four fresh tires and fuel during the caution, and was 10th on the lap-83 restart. Three laps later, though, he was passing Kevin Lepage for second between turns three and four.

Another multicar accident off turn four thinned the field on lap 89. LaJoie found himself second behind Green on the lap-96 restart, and he was determined not to stay there for long.

On the 101st circuit, LaJoie went low, almost to the grass, to pass Green for the lead. The advantage was LaJoie's for good.

"Jeff Green was very fast," LaJoie said. "He kept lining up and pointing in the mirror to stay behind him. I said, 'If I stay behind him, I'm sure to finish second.' I was trying a couple of different things in the draft.

"I got a great run on him, and I was headed to the infield. It was not a pretty sight. I got on the brakes, I started to lift and he gave me some room. I think he wanted to cover the outside because Lepage was going to the outside. "Atwood came up and gave me a shove going into (turn) one, and that sent us on our way."

That's not to say his afternoon was free and clear of worry. LaJoie had a mirror full of Atwood and fellow teenager Adam Petty. Petty, however, scraped the wall coming off turn two on lap 117 and Atwood had his mishap coming off the fourth corner while racing Green and Hillenburg for second.

"These race cars don't cause accidents ... the drivers hitting each other cause the accidents," LaJoie said. "I did see Atwood go for a ride the last lap. They said the 27 (Atwood) and the 32 (Jeff Green) were gonna gang up on me.

"With no lettering on the quarter panels, I was just gonna make that thing as wide as these walls. I was watching, and they got side by side. It allowed me to get away. I was trying to catch a draft off the cars in front of me.

"When I came off (turn) four and seen Atwood get turned around, I was looking at the starter to see if I was catching the yellow and the white (flags). I coulda swore I did, but I seen Jeff Green still coming so we had to get after it."

It took Atwood a couple of minutes to collect himself and climb from his destroyed machine. He walked to an ambulance unassisted, and was later checked and released from the infield care center.

"We came out of (turn) four and I'm sure he (Hillenburg) was just trying to push me along," Atwood said. "You bump draft a little here, and he kind of caught it the wrong way and turned me sideways.

"I felt myself sliding on the roof for a little while and then it tumbled back up and took a few more hits. I'm just real happy nobody hit me when I was upside down. I'm glad everybody is all right.

"When that happens, it's out of your control. I got upside down. I just sat there and hung on tight. It feels like you're upside down forever. You just want it to stop. When the car finally stopped and I was all right, I felt a lot better."

According to Hillenburg, he was simply trying to do as Atwood had guessed.

"I hate I got into him, but coming down to the white flag at Daytona, you don't do any lifting," Hillenburg said. "I hit him square. I didn't hit him in the corner to try to turn him. I hit him dead square. He must have had the wheels turned just a little bit and it shot him to the right.

"It was show time and I had a big run. I was counting on trying to push Casey to the front and me being second on the white flag lap, then trying to put it on him, but it didn't work out that way. I gave him a shot square in the rear. I didn't try to turn him.

Green finished second, while Hillenburg avoided Atwood's flip to take third in his one-race deal with Joe Gibbs Racing. Matt Kenseth and Bobby Hillin were fourth and fifth, respectively, while Petty, Lepage, Grubb, Jeff Burton and Brad Loney rounded out the top 10.

It took LaJoie 2 hours, 10 minutes and 4 seconds to complete the race at an average speed of 138.391 mph. There were 11 lead changes among seven drivers, and six caution flags for 27 laps.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Dick Trickle , Adam Petty , Todd Bodine , Jeff Green , Kevin Lepage , Casey Atwood , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Mike McLaughlin , Lyndon Amick , Andy Hillenburg , Kevin Grubb , Richard Petty , Phil Parsons
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing