1981 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
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|1981 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season|
The 1981 NASCAR Winston Cup Series began on Sunday, January 11 and ended on Sunday, November 22. Darrell Waltrip won his first Winston Cup championship by 53 points over Bobby Allison. Ron Bouchard was crowned NASCAR Rookie of the Year.
1981 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Drivers
- Western 500 – The final race where 115-inch wheelbase cars were eligible to run, the field was a mix of 1977 racecars and 1981 models. Dale Earnhardt drove a 1981 Pontiac while race winner Bobby Allison drove a 1977 Monte Carlo.
- Daytona 500 – The new cars proved to be disturbingly ill-handling and there were several airborne crashes in testing and preliminary events. NASCAR increased spoiler size twice during the week to keep the cars on the ground. The ensuing 500 saw only four minor cautions and 49 lead changes. Bobby Allison drove a 1981 Pontiac Lemans whose sloped rear glass made it more stable and faster, but Richard Petty got out to the lead after his last pitstop by not changing tires; once in the lead he was uncatchable by Allison as he took his seventh 500 win.
- Richmond 400 – Darrell Waltrip drove Junior Johnson's Buick to his first win of the season, edging Ricky Rudd, driving Waltrip's former car, the DiGard Oldsmobile. Bobby Allison wrecked his Pontiac Lemans and drove Butch Lindley's car rather than run a backup Oldsmobile in the team's shop for fear NASCAR would use the existence of the backup to justify banning the Lemans altogether.
- Atlanta 500 – Team owner Harry Ranier protested NASCAR-mandated spoiler reduction to the Pontiac Lemans the team was running but got no support from rival teams. Cale Yarborough edged Harry Gant for the win while Dave Marcis flipped violently after sliding hard into a mammoth truck tire shielding the pit wall abutment.
- Rebel 500 – Waltrip edged Gant, who was making his debut in a Pontiac Grand Prix owned by Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham. Bobby Allison debuted a new Buick as the team gave up on the Lemans because of NASCAR spoiler reduction on the car.
- Virginia 500 – Rookie Morgan Shepherd dominated en route to his first career Grand National win.
- Winston 500 – Allison slugged it out with Waltrip, Rudd, and Buddy Baker en route to a wild last-lap win.
- World 600 – Allison won in a crash-torn race in which his brother Donnie suffered a serious leg injury.
- Michigan 400 – After 50 lead changes Bobby Allison was running seventh when Kyle Petty's blown engine sent four of the top six in the field spinning in Turn Two while race leaders Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip crashed in Turn Three. The win put Allison nearly 300 points ahead of Waltrip in the standings. Following the race Earnhardt's team owner Rod Osterlund sold the team to J.D. Stacy.
- Talladega 500 – Bobby Allison led the most laps but slipped back in the final laps, leaving Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, and rookie Ron Bouchard in contention for the win. On the final lap in Talladega's trioval Labonte swung high on Waltrip and as the two jostled Bouchard dove to the bottom and beat them to the stripe by inches.
- Yankee 400 – Richard Petty stormed past five cars with five laps to go and held off Waltrip and Ricky Rudd in the most competitive race of the season (65 lead changes among 14 drivers).
- Southern 500 - Neil Bonnett led 216 laps and edged Darrell Waltrip by one car length; Waltrip's runner-up finish pulled him to within 18 points of Bobby Allison.
- Delaware 500 - Neil Bonnett put the entire field a lap down as he led 185 laps en route to his second win in three races. Darrell Waltrip beat Bobby Allison for second and thus took the point lead.
- Old Dominion 500 - Harry Gant led over 200 laps but faltered as Darrell Waltrip grabbed the lead with 36 laps to go; Waltrip's win was the first of four straight.
- American 500 - Waltrip and Allison fought for the win as the lead changed between them during the final 19 laps; with his fourth straight win Waltrip increased his point lead to 68.
- Atlanta Journal 500 - ESPN broadcast the race live, the first such NASCAR broadcast for the third-year cable network, with Mike Joy, Larry Nuber, and Ned Jarrett handling the broadcast duty. The race was a hard-fought affair as Neil Bonnett battled Richard Petty, Joe Ruttman, and Harry Gant; Waltrip cut a tire in mid-race but battled and got his lap back; he rallied and took the lead at the white flag, but Bonnett stormed to the win while Waltrip all but clinched the championship.
Final Point Standings
- 11-Darrell Waltrip 4880
- 28-Bobby Allison 4827
- 33-Harry Gant 4278
- 44-Terry Labonte 4052
- 90-Jody Ridley 4002
- 88-Ricky Rudd 3988
- 2/3-Dale Earnhardt 3975*
- 43-Richard Petty 3880
- 71-Dave Marcis 3507
- 15-Benny Parsons 3449
- Earnhardt drove races 1–20 in the #2 Rod Osterlund Wrangler Jeans Pontiac Grand Prix but left the team when Osterlund sold it to J.D. Stacy. He finished the season driving for Richard Childress in the #3 Wrangler Pontiac Grand Prix.
- Racing-Reference.info (links to race results)