RICHMOND, Va. -- Perhaps the biggest question is whether NASCAR will allow this rout to continue. After yesterday's performance in the Pontiac Excitement 400, there is no more doubt that the Fords are in control and that Bill Elliott's Ford is in control of all the others.
It was the seventh consecutive victory by a Ford on the Winston Cup circuit dating to last season. It was also the Budweiser Ford's second victory in three races this season.
Elliott dominated for 380 of the 400 laps on the three-quarter-mile oval Richmond International Raceway.
Round and round he raced. Round and round they chased. Finally, with 20 laps to go, Alan Kulwicki appeared on Elliott's rear bumper.
"I gave him all the room I could," said Elliott, who took the high road. "I knew I could beat Alan if I kept my cool, if I didn't get into the marbles [gravel] at the top of the track, if I could keep him low. I knew I could beat him if I didn't make a mistake."
They came out of Turn 4 side-by-side on the last lap. The sellout crowd of 65,200 was on its feet.
This is what they had paid $40 a person to see. With the sun behind them, the white finish line 50 yards ahead, Elliott and Kulwicki strained for every inch: Elliott's red Ford up against the wall, Kulwicki's orange-and-white Ford up against Elliott's as they streaked to the line.
"I knew I had won," Elliott said.
But Kulwicki didn't, as he radioed his crew:
"Who won? Who won?"
"Alan's left front tire was just behind my front left tire," said Elliott, whose left fender bore witness, smeared as it was with clashing orange paint. "There wasn't any doubt in my mind."
He averaged 104.378 mph and won by 18 inches.
"We just came up a little bit short," said Kulwicki. "I just -- damn, we were so close! I'm just really disappointed. To not win, but to not win by only a couple inches . . . "
Harry Gant, Davey Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Ricky Rudd followed them across the line, the only other drivers on the lead lap.
When Elliott crossed the finish line first, he became the first driver this season to collect the Unocal bonus of $197,600 that goes to the driver who wins from the pole position. It brought his race earnings to $272,700. He also will collect a $50,000 bonus from Ford, bringing his earnings for the day to $322,700.
That figure is a short-track record, the second-biggest, single-day payday in Winston Cup history and is $57,700 more than car owner Junior Johnson won as a driver in his 13-year, 50-victory career, mostly in the 1950s.
But yesterday's victory meant more than a big paycheck, to the winners and the losers.
Everyone in the Winston Cup garage is worried about the Elliott/Johnson combine. The power is so blatant, the team isn't even bothering to hide it.
When Johnson arrived at the track last Thursday, he told anyone who bothered to ask that Elliott would win the pole and the race.
Yesterday, as crew chief Tim Brewer was helping push the car into position for the start, he, too, was confident.
"It feels like 1981," Brewer said, referring to the first year Darrell Waltrip competed for the Johnson team and won 12 races. "It feels good."
Johnson said that, while the competition is much better than it was in 1981, the first of back-to-back championship seasons for Waltrip, he also said, "I think we've got a better chance to do what that team did than we did then.
"With Bill, we have a driver who knows exactly what he needs in a race car and a driver who knows how to communicate that
need to his crew chief," Johnson said.
Communications were part of the game yesterday. When the green flag came out after a caution on lap 346, Sterling Marlin, who drives the Maxwell Coffee Ford (also owned by Johnson), was battling side-by-side with Elliott. Marlin was a lap down, trying to get his lap back.
Suddenly, headed toward Turn One on lap 349, Marlin braked and pulled in behind Elliott -- where he stayed until Kulwicki raced by him to challenge Elliott for first.
"I told Sterling to back off and get behind Bill," Johnson said. "He was a lap down. He wasn't battling for position. All he could do was wreck both of them like at Daytona -- not that that was Sterling's fault. But it was simply senseless to be racing Bill like that, when nothing was at stake. If they had been on the same lap, I would have let them go at it and fight it out. Personally, I'd like to see that."
NOTES: The race was run in 2 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds. . . . There were five lead changes among four drivers and four caution flags for 23 laps. . . . Elliott's total earnings are $11,250,099, second only to Dale Earnhardt's $15,364,769. The defending Winston Cup champion finished 11th yesterday. . . . Dale Jarrett, who drives for the Interstate Batteries team owned by Joe Gibbs, finished 13th, two laps down.