Elliott's road smoother without off-track worries

THE BALTIMORE SUN

HAMPTON, Ga. -- It used to be that Bill Elliott worried when things at the racetrack didn't go just the way he'd hoped.

For instance, if he was considered the man to beat for the pole -- as he was for today's Motorcraft 500 -- and wound up fourth -- as he did in qualifying -- it would have gnawed at Elliott.

"Fourth in qualifying isn't so bad. We'll be fine in the race. But you don't like to fall short of what you think you can do," said Elliott, who hasn't fallen short much this season. "But, now, I just drive the car. The rest of it is somebody else's worry."

Elliott was the leader -- literally and emotionally -- of his family-run team before this season. He was the chief administrator, chassis setup man and driver for the Dawsonville, Ga.-based operation.

Now he is driving for Junior Johnson of Ronda, N.C., and the combination of driver Elliott, owner Johnson and crew chief Tim Brewer appears to be a natural.

Elliott started on the front row for the first three races and is riding a two-race winning streak -- equaling his victory total of the past two years -- coming into today's 500-mile event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The fast start has pumped up the team that has six Winston Cup championships to its credit but none since Darrell Waltrip's last title in 1985.

Fords continue to dominate the series heading into the race on the 1.522-mile oval.

Three of the top four starters are in the sleek Thunderbirds, with Mark Martin -- who won the race here last November -- on the pole, Dick Trickle on the outside of the front row and Elliott lurking on the outside of the second row, next to the Oldsmobile Cutlass of Terry Labonte.

The third row includes the Chevrolet Lumina of defending race champion Ken Schrader and the T-Bird of Elliott's teammate, Sterling Marlin.

1. Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 179.923 (breaks track record of 179.499 set in Nov. 1988 by Rusty Wallace). 2. Dick Trickle, Ford Thunderbird, 179.664. 3. Terry Labonte, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 179.006. 4. Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 178.948. 5. Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Lumina, 178.685. 6. Sterling Marlin, Ford Thunderbird, 178.220. 7. Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Lumina, 178.133. 8. Alan Kulwicki, Ford Thunderbird, 178.122. 9. Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 177.879. 10. Harry Gant, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 177.769.

11. Rick Mast, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 177.297. 12. Rusty Wallace, Pontiac Grand Prix, 176.925. 13. Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet Lumina, 176.823. 14. Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 176.783. 15. Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 176.225. 16. Ted Musgrave, Chevrolet Lumina, 175.954. 17. Dale Jarrett, Chevrolet Lumina, 175.903. 18. Greg Sacks, Chevrolet Lumina, 175.677. 19. Bobby Hamilton, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 175.492. 20. Jimmy Spencer, Chevrolet Lumina, 175.351.

21. Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 177.596. 22. Ernie Irvan, Chevrolet Lumina, 177.355. 23. Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 176.920. 24. Ricky Rudd, Chevrolet Lumina, 175.245. 25. Davey Allison, Ford Thunderbird, 175.222. 26. Hut Stricklin, Chevrolet Lumina, 175.172. 27. Wally Dallenbach Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 175.004. 28. Derrike Cope, Chevrolet Lumina, 174.881. 29. Chad Little, Ford Thunderbird, 174.842. 30. Charlie Glotzbach, Ford Thunderbird, 174.547.

31. Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Lumina, 174.541. 32. Richard Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 174.143. 33. Dave Mader III, Chevrolet Lumina, 173.816. 34. Stanley Smith, Chevrolet Lumina, 173.662. 35. Mike Wallace, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 173.640. 36. Bobby Hillin Jr., Chevrolet Lumina, 173.601. 37. Buddy Baker, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 173.206. 38. Jimmy Horton, Chevrolet Lumina, 173.053. 39. Lake Speed, Chevrolet Lumina, 172.998. 40. Eddie Bierschwale, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 172.764. 41. Dorsey Schroeder, Ford Thunderbird, provisional starter. 42. Jimmy Means, Pontiac Grand Prix, provisional starter.

Atlanta Motor Speedway 300

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Jeff Gordon came back after running out of gas early in the race to win going away in the Busch Grand National stock car race.

Gordon, 20, started from the pole for a record-tying third consecutive race and the fourth time in his budding career, but this was his first Grand National victory. It came in the Indiana driver's 35th start.

The race was marred by a 12-car crash on the fourth lap that injured Ernie Irvan.

The trouble began when Tom Peck began spinning off Turn 1 after something apparently broke in the car's rear end. Before it was over, cars belonging to Irvan and fellow Winston Cup star Darrell Waltrip, as well as Grand National drivers Ward and Jeff Burton, Richard Lasater, Joe Bessey, Robert Huffman, Clifford Allison, Chuck Bown, Shawna Robinson-Pearson and Troy Beebe were involved.

Nine of those cars were knocked out of the race, but the only injury was to Irvan, who was knocked unconscious and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where his injuries were diagnosed as a mild concussion, a hairline fracture of the left collarbone and a badly bruised jaw.

Morgan-McClure Racing officials were trying to determine whether Irvan could at least start today's race to get the series points before giving way to relief driver Bobby Labonte, the defending Grand National champion who drove in three Winston Cup events last season.

1. (1) Jeff Gordon, Ford, 197, $30,170, 124.427. 2. (29) Harry Gant, Buick, 197, $12,340. 3. (20) Hut Stricklin, Chevrolet, 197, $9,485. 4. (19) Davey Allison, Ford, 197, $8,625. 5. (14) Morgan Shepherd, Ford, 197, $8,500. 6. (25) Dave Mader III, Buick, 197, $7,005. 7. (2) Tracy Leslie, Oldsmobile, 197, $8,580. 8. (3) Mark Martin, Ford, 197, $5,970. 9. (12) Dale Jarrett, Chevrolet, 197, $5,150. 10. (11) Phil Parsons, Oldsmobile, 197, $4,780.

11. (10) Bill Elliott, Ford, 197, $4,350. 12. (15) Kenny Wallace, Chevrolet, 197, $5,890. 13. (8) Jack Sprague, Chevrolet, 197, $3,900. 14. (40) Mike Wallace, Oldsmobile, 197, $5,890. 15. (13) Butch Miller, Oldsmobile, 197, $5,500. 16. (7) Rick Mast, Oldsmobile, 195, $3,420. 17. (30) Steve Grissom, Oldsmobile, 195, $6,645. 18. (9) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet, 195, $3,270. 19. (31) Tommy Houston, Oldsmobile, 195, $4,645. 20. (26) Todd Bodine, Buick, 195, $6,480.

21. (6) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 184, $4,320. 22. (18) Robert Pressley, Oldsmobile, 180, $5,900. 23. (33) Joe Bessey, Oldsmobile, 179, $5,900. 24. (43) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 179, $3,500. 25. (4) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 169, $5,700. 26. (22) Jeff Burton, Oldsmobile, 163, $5,150. 27. (42) Ed Berrier, Oldsmobile, 153, $3,350. 28. (27) Michael Waltrip, Pontiac, 139, rear end, $2,925. 29. (41) Bobby Dotter, Oldsmobile, 137, $3,250. 30. (23) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet, 130, crash, $7,350.

31. (5) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 118, head gasket, $2,550. 32. (21) Jim Bown, Chevrolet, 108, $2,500. 33. (16) Jimmy Spencer, Oldsmobile, 103, rear end, $2,450. 34. (35) Robert Huffman, Buick, 59, engine failure, $2,400. 35. (17) Tom Peck, Oldsmobile, 3, crash, $3,000. 36. (24) Ernie Irvan, Chevrolet, 3, crash, $2,900. 37. (32) Ward Burton, Buick, 3, crash, $4,750. 38. (34) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet, 3, crash, $2,400. 39. (28) Richard Lasater, Pontiac, 3, crash, $3,175. 40. (36) Clifford Allison, Oldsmobile, 3, crash, $2,400. 41. (37) Chuck Bown, Pontiac, 3, crash, $4,750. 42. (39) Troy Beebe, Ford, 3, crash, $3,000. 43. (38) Shawna Robinson-Pearson, Oldsmobile, 3, crash, $2,400.

Time of race: 2:24:58. Margin of victory: 3.57 seconds. Caution flags: 7 for 35 laps.. Lead changes: 13 among 9 drivers. Lap leaders: Gordon 1-67; Martin 68-69; Gant 70-74; Earnhardt 75-79; Martin 80-103; Gant 104-107; Earnhardt 108; Mast 109-111; Mader 112-115; Stricklin 116-132; Leslie 133-135; Martin 136-139; Jarrett 140-161; Gordon 162-197. Point standings: K.Wallace 567; Gordon 554; D.Allison 540; Grissom 516; W.Burton 479; Martin 458; Craven 457; Nemechek 452; Leslie 430; Labonte 423.

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