1992 Hooters 500

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1992 Hooters 500
Race details
Race 29 of 29 in the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Date November 15, 1992 (1992-November-15)
Location Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Georgia
Course Permanent racing facility
1.522 mi (2.449 km)
Distance 328 laps, 499.216 mi (803.410 km)
Weather Temperatures up to 57 °F (14 °C); wind speeds up to 13 miles per hour (21 km/h)[1]
Average speed 133.322 miles per hour (214.561 km/h)
Pole position
Driver Rick Mast Richard Jackson Racing
Time 30.409
Most laps led
Driver Alan Kulwicki AK Racing
Laps 103
Winner
No. 11
Bill Elliott
Junior Johnson & Associates
Television in the United States
Network ESPN
Announcers Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons, and Ned Jarrett

The 1992 Hooters 500 was the final race of the 1992 NASCAR season, and effectively decided the 1992 Winston Cup Championship. It was held on November 15, 1992, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and was televised live on ESPN. The race is widely considered one of the greatest NASCAR races of all-time.[2][3] The race is further noteworthy in that it marked the final NASCAR start for seven-time champion Richard Petty and the first Winston Cup start for future four-time champion Jeff Gordon.

Bill Elliott won the race, his fifth victory of the 1992 season. However, second place finisher Alan Kulwicki led the most laps, and clinched the 1992 Winston Cup championship by a mere 10 points, the closest margin in NASCAR history at the time. Kulwicki was the most recent owner/driver to win a championship until Tony Stewart in 2011.

The race marks a somber memory in the NASCAR family, as two of the key fixtures of the race were killed a short time afterwards. Kulwicki would be killed in a plane crash on April 1, 1993, and Davey Allison died from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash on July 13, 1993.

Richard Petty, who retired from driving at the conclusion of the race, crashed in a fiery accident early in the going. He was uninjured, and his team was able to repair his car such that he was running at the finish of his final race.

Pre-race[edit]

Coming into the race, six drivers had a mathematical chance to win the title, the most ever. The points standings were led by Davey Allison of Robert Yates Racing, who had experienced a roller-coaster season. Allison had won the season opening Daytona 500, and four other races. However, his season was nearly halted on more than one occasion, after bad wrecks at The Winston in May and at Pocono in June. In August, he mourned the death of his brother Clifford, who was killed practicing for the Busch Series race at Michigan. Allison rebounded, and won the second to last race of the season at Phoenix.

Bill Elliott, driving for Junior Johnson, experienced a much more consistent season in 1992, winning four races up to that point, and earning 16 top-10 finishes.[4] Elliott led by as many as 154 points in the season championship on September 20, but he began to falter, and had three bad races in a row, dropping his lead to 39 with three races left. At the second to last race of the season at Phoenix, Elliott's car suffered a cracked cylinder head and overheating problems, which relegated him to a 31st-place finish, and dropped him from first to third in the standings going into the final race.

Owner/driver Alan Kulwicki (AK Racing) was considered the third and final primary contender, and the underdog to win the championship. While he had only won two races in 1992 up to that point, he had 11 top-5s and 16 top-10s.[5] He was running at the finish at all but two races so far. Despite a crash at Dover in September, he rebounded to post finishes of 12th or better in the five races leading up to Atlanta.

Davey Allison needed to finish sixth or better to clinch the championship.[6] Allison led second-place Alan Kulwicki by 30 points and Bill Elliott by 40.

After Kulwicki, three other drivers had an outside chance to win the championship. Harry Gant entered the race 97 behind Allison, and had won two races during the season. Kyle Petty was one point behind Gant, having also won twice. Finally, Mark Martin was 113 points behind Allison. Attention during the day focused on Gant, Petty, and Martin, but all three basically needed to win the race, and hope for the other championship contenders to drop out. Martin's attempt, in particular, would have been the most difficult to pull off.

Championship standings entering the 1992 Hooters 500

  1. Davey Allison, 3928 points
  2. Alan Kulwicki, −30
  3. Bill Elliott, −40
  4. Harry Gant, −97
  5. Kyle Petty, −98
  6. Mark Martin, −113
  7. Ricky Rudd, −281
  8. Darrell Waltrip, −363
  9. Terry Labonte, −414
  10. Ernie Irvan, −429

Bold indicates drivers mathematically eligible for the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup championship

Kulwicki received approval from NASCAR and Ford to change the "Thunderbird" lettering on his bumper by putting two Mighty Mouse patches on the "TH" in "THUNDERBIRD" because he felt like the underdog for winning the championship, and Kulwicki admired the character, which symbolised he and his team (many of whom later became champions themselves long after his death).

Richard Petty's Fan Appreciation Tour[edit]

Richard Petty entered the race, his final career start, at the conclusion of his year-long "Fan Appreciation Tour." On October 1, 1991, Petty announced he would retire at the end of the 1992 season. He planned on running the entire season, not just selected events, and to that point, had managed to qualify for all 28 of the events in 1992. Facing the intense pressure of a hectic schedule of appearances, honors, and on-track activities, Petty barely managed to qualify for this race. He posted the 39th-fastest speed out of 41 cars. He would not have been eligible for the provisional starting position, and had to qualify on speed.

On the night before pole qualifying, Richard Petty's cousin and longtime crew chief and team manager Dale Inman was robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of the Atlanta airport. The robber tried to grab a necklace from Inman's neck, but failed. He pointed his gun and pulled the trigger, but it did not fire, and no one was injured.

Qualifying[edit]

Pole qualifying[edit]

Rick Mast won his first career pole position in the No. 1 car. His qualifying speed of 180.183 miles per hour (289.976 km/h) was the first-ever NASCAR qualifying speed over 180 mph at an intermediate length circuit. Previously that speed had only been achieved at Daytona and Talladega. It would be the final NASCAR pole for Oldsmobile.

In first round qualifying, all of the six championship contenders except for Harry Gant qualified. Mark Martin, 4th, was the highest of the six contenders. Richard Petty was not among the top 20.

Source: The (Lexington, NC) Dispatch, Saturday, November 14, 1992, pg 2B

Second round qualifying[edit]

Rookie Jeff Gordon bettered his time from the day before, and became the fastest qualifier of the second round. That entered him into the wild card drawing for the 1993 Busch Clash. Most drivers stood on their times, including Richard Petty, who held on to qualify 39th.

Race[edit]

Start[edit]

A record 160,000 fans arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway to witness Petty's final ride, and to watch the exciting championship battle. At the start, polesitter, Rick Mast and Brett Bodine battled into turn 1, with Bodine leading the first lap. On lap 2, the two cars tangled, and crashed in turn 1. Dale Earnhardt, who was running third, slipped by, and took over the lead. Several other cars were collected in the crash, and five of the championship contenders got through unscathed. Davey Allison, however, slowed to avoid the crash, and was tagged from behind in the left rear by Hut Stricklin. The left rear fender was badly bent, but did not puncture the tire. Allison stayed out on the track, and the crew would be able to bend the bodywork away from the tire on the next pit stop.

During the caution, Mark Martin ducked into the pits to change all four tires, because he was afraid he ran over debris from the incident, as well as flat-spotting the tires when he locked up the brakes and slid sideways to avoid it.

Early race[edit]

Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan traded the lead for the first 60 laps. Championship contenders Bill Elliott, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki ran near the top 10, while Kyle Petty, Harry Gant, and Mark Martin were deeper in the field. Richard Petty worked up to 30th.

As of about lap 30, Allison was holding on to a 20-point lead in the standings over Elliott and Kulwicki. By lap 60, Elliott had worked up to 5th place, the highest running of the championship contenders. During the first sequence of pit stops a yellow came out, and trapped several cars (including leader Dale Earnhardt) a lap down. Alan Kulwicki's car had trouble pulling from the pit area, and lost first gear. Bill Elliott was the first driver off of pit road, and took over the lead. The pit stop shuffle saw Kulwicki up to second, with Mark Martin in 4th, and Harry Gant up to 5th.

Richard Petty crash[edit]

At lap 90, another series of yellow flag pit stops had shuffled the field, bringing Davey Allison to the lead. Mark Martin took the lead on lap 91, with Harry Gant third. Elliott and Kulwicki were in the top ten, with Kyle Petty at the tail end of the lead lap.

On lap 95, Ken Schrader and Dick Trickle tangled on the frontstretch. The cars spun wildly to the inside, Darrell Waltrip spun to avoid the crash, and ran into Wally Dallenbach, Jr. Rich Bickle was also collected. Richard Petty ran into the back of Bickle, and destroyed the front end of the car, breaking the oil cooler. The oil started a fire, and Petty's car coasted to the infield in flames. Petty was uninjured, however the car was badly damaged, and his return to the race was in question.[7]

At the 100 lap mark, Allison continued to hold the hypothetical lead in the points standings, with Kulwicki second, and Elliott close behind in third. Five of the six championship contenders were running 1st–5th.

Second half[edit]

The second half settled down to the top three championship contenders: Allison, Elliott, and Kulwicki. Around lap 118, rookie Jeff Gordon made a pit stop. The Ray Evernham-led "Rainbow Warriors" crew were still unrefined, and made many mistakes. Evernham himself referred to them as the bumbling "Keystone Kops."[8] The crew accidentally left a roll of duct tape on the hood, and it fell off out on the track. Davey Allison, running second, hit the debris and suffered a damaged front air dam.[8] He lost several positions and the handling of the car was affected.

Mark Martin dropped out on lap 160 with a blown engine. After a strong first half, Harry Gant slid down the standings, and fell out of contention.

Rookie Jeff Gordon's debut ended on lap 164. Battling a loose race car all day, he hit the wall and was unable to continue.[7] Gordon's 31st place finish was largely overlooked in light of the day, and it marked the only time Gordon ever drove with Richard Petty in a NASCAR race.

Bill Elliott shuffled to the front, and led for 42 laps. The hypothetical points race tightened, as Davey Allison (running 7th) held a mere 11 point lead over Elliott and Kulwicki, who were tied for second.

On lap 210, Alan Kulwicki took the lead, a lead he would hold for 101 laps. Bill Elliott was second, with Davey Allison in 6th.

With 74 laps to go, Ernie Irvan blew a tire in turn four, and spun into the path of Davey Allison.[6] Allison t-boned Irvan's spinning car, and the cars slid to a stop along the inside wall. Allison re-fired the car, but was unable to pull away. The car had a broken right front tie rod, and he lost all steering. He would lose 43 laps as the crew repaired the damage, ending his championship hopes.[7]

Finish[edit]

With Allison and Martin out of the race, and Gant and Kyle Petty running outside the top ten, the championship battle came down to Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott.[3]

The green came out on lap 259, with 69 laps to go. Alan Kulwicki was known for being an intelligent driver who thought outside the box, and worked with crew chief Paul Andrews to plot their strategy late in the race. The team considered a quick "gas-and-go" stop during the caution on lap 258. However, they determined that doing so would not allow them to make it to the finish without yet another stop. They decided it was a better idea to stay out and instead try to lead more laps. By staying out front in clean air, they might avoid being caught up in a crash like Allison had just suffered.

Elliott closely battled Kulwicki, trying to take the lead, but Kulwicki held off the challenge. Elliott backed off, and at lap 300, Kulwicki held about a two second lead. Kulwicki's team planned a "gas-and-go" stop at lap 306. With Elliott narrowing the margin, Kulwicki's crew moved the pit stop up to lap 309. Kulwicki stayed out on the track – he was thinking about the 5 bonus points for leading the most laps. Kulwicki finally stopped on lap 310, boosting his laps led total to 103.[9] Kulwicki's pit crew did a "gas and go" stop,[9] which allowed the team to push the car, preventing it from stalling since he did not have first gear.[9]

Elliott pitted on lap 314. He had a quicker pit stop since he still had use of first gear. He came out ahead of Kulwicki on the track. Terry Labonte led lap 315, then he pitted. Elliott assumed the lead on lap 316, and led the final 13 laps. Elliott's laps led total came to 102 – one lap fewer than Kulwicki's 103. With Elliott leading, Kulwicki tucked into a comfortable second, conserved fuel, and did not mount a challenge for the lead. Elliott went on to win the race, and Kulwicki finished second.[3] By leading one more lap than Elliott, Kulwicki claimed the 5 bonus points for leading the most laps. Kulwicki became the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion by only 10 points over Elliott,[3] the closest margin in NASCAR history until the 2004 season, when Kurt Busch won by 8 points over Jimmie Johnson.

Richard Petty's crew worked diligently all afternoon to get the his car running again, and with two laps remaining, Petty pulled out of the pits. His car had no sheet metal on the front end[7] and no hood. He finished 35th, and was credited as running at the finish in his final race.[10] Commenting on the fire, Petty said, "I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory; I just forgot about the glory part." After the victory lane celebration, Petty climbed in the car for one final ceremonial lap to salute the fans. He waved out the window while the song "Richard Petty Fans" by Alabama was played on the public address system.

Immediately after taking the checkered flag, Alan Kulwicki drove back around to the frontstretch. He proceeded to stop at the flagstand and turn around, to drive what he referred to as a "Polish victory lap", clockwise (backwards) around the track, waving to fans. It mimicked a similar celebration he did at his first victory in 1988 at Phoenix.

Box score[edit]

Finish Start Car
No.
Driver Car Name Car Make Entrant Laps Status
1 11 11 Bill Elliott Budweiser Ford Junior Johnson & Associates 328 Running
2 14 7 Alan Kulwicki Hooters Ford AK Racing 328 Running
3 8 15 Geoffrey Bodine Motorcraft Ford Bud Moore Engineering 328 Running
4 18 12 Jimmy Spencer Raybestos Brakes Ford Bobby Allison Motorsports 328 Running
5 6 94 Terry Labonte Sunoco Chevrolet Billy Hagan 328 Running
6 15 2 Rusty Wallace Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac Penske Racing South 328 Running
7 12 22 Sterling Marlin Maxwell House Coffee Ford Junior Johnson & Associates 327 Running
8 34 66 Jimmy Hensley TropArtic Ford Cale Yarborough Motorsports 326 Running
9 22 55 Ted Musgrave Jasper Engines Ford RaDiUs Racing 326 Running
10 32 18 Dale Jarrett Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Joe Gibbs Racing 326 Running
11 9 21 Morgan Shepherd Citgo Ford Wood Brothers Racing 325 Running
12 27 68 Bobby Hamilton Country Time Ford Tri-Star Motorsports 325 Running
13 29 33 Harry Gant Skoal Bandit Oldsmobile Leo Jackson Motorsports 324 Running
14 25 30 Michael Waltrip Pennzoil Pontiac Bahari Racing 324 Running
15 10 10 Derrike Cope Purolator Chevrolet Whitcomb Racing 322 Running
16 20 42 Kyle Petty Mello Yello Pontiac Team SABCO 320 Engine
17 35 9 Chad Little Mayflower Transit Ford Melling Racing 320 Running
18 13 83 Lake Speed Purex Ford Lake Speed 320 Running
19 40 23 Eddie Bierschwale SplitFire Oldsmobile Don Bierschwale 319 Running
20 38 88 Mike Wallace FDP Brakes Ford Barry Owen 317 Running
21 37 52 Jimmy Means Hurley Limo Ford Means Racing 317 Running
22 41 71 Dave Marcis Southeastern Tech Group Chevrolet Marcis Auto Racing 317 Running
23 24 17 Darrell Waltrip Western Auto Chevrolet Darrell Waltrip Motorsports 307 Running
24 36 32 Jimmy Horton Active Trucking Chevrolet Active Motorsports 303 Running
25 16 5 Ricky Rudd Tide Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports 300 Engine
26 3 3 Dale Earnhardt GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Richard Childress Racing 299 Running
27 17 28 Davey Allison Havoline Ford Robert Yates Racing 285 Running
28 1 1 Rick Mast Skoal Classic Oldsmobile Richard Jackson Motorsports 253 Running
29 5 4 Ernie Irvan Kodak Film Chevrolet Morgan-McClure Motorsports 251 Crash FS
30 31 90 Bobby Hillin, Jr. Wrangler Jeans Ford Junie Donlavey 235 Engine
31 21 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Paints Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports 164 Crash
32 4 6 Mark Martin Valvoline Ford Roush Racing 160 Engine
33 28 57 Bob Schacht Pronto Auto Parts Oldsmobile Doug Stringer 120 Ignition
34 26 45 Rich Bickle Terminal Trucking Ford Gene Isenhour 97 Crash
35 39 43 Richard Petty STP Pontiac Petty Enterprises 95 Running
36 23 25 Ken Schrader Kodiak Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports 94 Crash FS
37 7 8 Dick Trickle Snickers Ford Stavola Brothers Racing 94 Crash FS
38 30 16 Wally Dallenbach, Jr. Keystone Beer Ford Roush Racing 94 Crash FS
39 33 49 Stanley Smith Ameritron Batteries Chevrolet Stanley Smith 60 Engine
40 2 26 Brett Bodine Quaker State Ford King Racing 1 Crash T1
41 19 41 Hut Stricklin Kellogg's Chevrolet Larry Hedrick Motorsports 1 Crash T1

Race statistics[edit]

  • Time of race – 3:44:20
  • Average speed – 133.322 mph
  • Margin of victory – 8.06 seconds
  • Lead changes – 20 amongst 9 drivers
  • Total purse: US$785,787 (winner's share $93,600)

Selected awards[edit]

Final points standings[edit]

  1. Alan Kulwicki, 4078 points
  2. Bill Elliott, −10
  3. Davey Allison, −63
  4. Harry Gant, −123
  5. Kyle Petty, −133
  6. Mark Martin, −191
  7. Ricky Rudd, −343
  8. Terry Labonte, −404
  9. Darrell Waltrip, −419
  10. Sterling Marlin, −475

Legacy[edit]

This race is considered the transition from the old age of NASCAR to the new age. As veteran Richard Petty retired, future champion Jeff Gordon made his debut. Gordon is one of the most successful and popular drivers NASCAR's modern era. This is also the only race in NASCAR history to feature Petty, Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt taking the green flag together. All three are considered among the best NASCAR drivers of all time.[12] In total, nine former or future NASCAR Winston Cup champions drove in the race; Morgan Shepherd was a former Late Model Sportsman Series champion; and Mike Skinner (who failed to qualify) would eventually win the Truck Series championship – accounting for 11 NASCAR touring series champions entered in the event.

The race took place on the old "classic oval" configuration of Atlanta Motor Speedway. Later, Atlanta was re-configured to a quad-oval layout, and the start/finish line was moved to the old backstretch.

After coming up short in the championship battle, Bill Elliott's crew chief Tim Brewer was fired from Junior Johnson Motorsports. Had Elliot led the most laps, the season championship would have ended in a tie between Elliott and Kulwicki. Thus, Elliott would have been awarded the championship due to his having more wins during the season than Kulwicki (five to Kulwicki's two). This was perhaps Johnson's last hurrah as a team owner, as his cars never contended for a championship again. Despite Jimmy Spencer driving the team's #27 to two wins and Elliott recording a victory during the 1994 season, the team recorded more failure than success. Following the loss of his primary driver, Elliott, and his two sponsors, Budweiser and McDonald's, after the 1994 season, Johnson released Spencer and signed Lowe's to sponsor the #11 for one more season. He sold the operation to driver Brett Bodine in 1996 and retired.

The 1992 season was also considered Dale Earnhardt's worst season of his career, finishing outside of the top ten in points, with only one win all season. He led the race early, but pitted at a yellow and fell a lap down. After battling back to the lead lap, he brushed the wall and finished 26th.

Capping off the season with an 8th place finish, Jimmy Hensley locked up the 1992 Rookie of the Year award. The rookie race for 1992 was mostly uncompetitive, however, as Hensely won by a large margin. All of the eligible rookies ran only partial schedules in 1992.

This was also the final race Dick Beaty served as the NASCAR director, as he retired after the 1992 season. It was also Eddie Bierschwale's final career start.

The race broke the existing ESPN auto racing television audience record, registering a 4.1 rating and 2.5 million households. It fell just short of ESPN's all-time auto racing rating record (4.2 rating/1.8 million households for the 1987 Winston 500).[13]

Tragedy strikes in 1993[edit]

Two of the principals in the championship chase that the Hooters 500 resolved would not survive the next season. On April 1, 1993, three days before the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, defending series champion Alan Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash while flying back from a personal appearance at a Hooters in Knoxville, Tennessee. Then, on July 12 of that year, Davey Allison was flying his helicopter to Talladega Superspeedway to watch David Bonnett, son of friend and fellow "Alabama Gang" member Neil Bonnett, perform a test for a Busch Grand National Series race. While trying to land the helicopter in a closed-in section of the Talladega infield, Allison crashed and suffered grave head injuries. He died the next morning. Both drivers were running in the top 5 in the Cup series points at the time of their deaths, with Allison recording a victory at Richmond. Allison and Kulwicki were also invited to participate in IROC XVII based on their performances and at the time of their deaths, both drivers were in the top 5 in IROC points. Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt took over for the deceased drivers and Labonte's effort in the final two IROC races gave the series title to Allison posthumously.

Fifteenth anniversary[edit]

To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the race, Jeff Gordon served as Grand Marshall and Richard Petty the honorary starter for the 2007 Pep Boys Auto 500 that took place on October 28, 2007.

Additional reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Weather information for the 1992 Hooters 500". The Old Farmers' Almanac. Retrieved March 18, 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Day: 1992 Hooters 500". The Day. Season 1. Episode 3. 2011-09-17. 60 minutes in. SPEED. http://www.speedtv.com/programs/the-day/. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d "Greatest NASCAR rivalries". CMT.com. Retrieved August 9, 2007. 
  4. ^ Bill Elliott career statistics at Racing-Reference.info
  5. ^ Alan Kulwicki career statistics at Racing-Reference.info
  6. ^ a b McCarter, Mark (November 11, 2002). "10 years after: the points race isn't as tight as it was in 1992, but—like in '92—a new generation of drivers is taking over at the top.". The Sporting News. Retrieved September 19, 2007. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b c d "In Memory of Alan—Ten Years Gone (Revisited)". SpeedwayMedia.com. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved September 20, 2007. 
  8. ^ a b Kallmann, Dave (August 29, 2011). "1992 Hooters 500: Need I say more?". Racing Beat (JSOnline). Retrieved November 2, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c Patty Kay (March 30, 2003). "Alan Kulwicki: Always a Champion". Insider Racing News. Archived from the original on April 18, 2007. Retrieved July 4, 2007. 
  10. ^ Racing summary at Racing-Reference.info, Retrieved September 19, 2007
  11. ^ The Official NASCAR 1993 Preview and Press Guide: 1992 Hooter's 500 Recap
  12. ^ "NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers". History (NASCAR.com). Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  13. ^ "ESPN set viewer record for final race of season" – Mike Harris, AP Motorsports Writer, Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Sunday December 6, 1992 (page D9)