After slow start, Elliott-Johnson team speeding toward Cup title


Back in January, when Junior Johnson announced Bill Elliott would be his driver this season on the Winston Cup Circuit, Johnson also said he and Elliott were aiming to be seated at the head table, the champion's table, at the Waldorf in New York this December, when the 1992 Winston Cup champion is honored.

"Both Bill and I are sick of sitting in the audience," Johnson said then. "We want to be at the head table."

This week, Johnson tried to disclaim any such statement, but whenpressed, he admitted to a vague memory.

"Well," he said, in his best North Carolina drawl, "It was justifiably said. We do want to be at the top of the sport."

And going into Richmond for tomorrow night's Miller Genuine Draft 400, Johnson and Elliott are sitting out in front in the championship race.

Elliott holds a 119-point advantage over Davey Allison, the man who led until his 11-roll accident at Pocono Raceway in July. In that race, Allison broke his collarbone and his wrist and has been forced to use substitute drivers in three of the past four races.

Johnson gets visibly irritated when anyone suggests his team has taken advantage of Allison's misfortune and is No. 1 just because Allison has been less than 100 percent.

"I think we'd be long gone in the points race if we hadn't wrecked atDaytona," Johnson said. "We're not capitalizing on Davey. We're trying to pull out of the hole we dug at Daytona. It takes some doing."

Elliott seemed to have the strongest car in the Daytona 500 field in February. He started on the outside of the front row, beside teammate Sterling Marlin, and had dominated until near the halfway point, when Marlin and Ernie Irvan tried to make it three abreast coming out of Turn 2 on the backstretch.

All three cars crashed and Allison won the race, to start the season in the No. 1 position.

The next race, two weeks later in Rockingham, N.C., Elliott began a string of four consecutive victories, following Rockingham with wins at Richmond, Atlanta and Talladega. The streak matched the modern-day record for consecutive victories. Elliott then added six top-five finishes to be in position to take the points lead from Allison, when he faltered.

"We don't run our race team hoping someone else has problems," Johnson said. "We run our team to win. We've been fighting back from that Daytona wreck and from NASCAR rule changes since the start of the season and now we've caught back up.

"We haven't had any disasters like Davey has had -- and we feel vTC bad that those things have happened to him," Johnson said, referring to four major crashes and the death of Allison's brother, Clifford, at Michigan last month. "But we've had just as many problems. Because of the rule changes we've had to rebuild our cars three times."

With just eight races left, counting tomorrow's race, Elliott still saysit is too early to be worried about being No. 1.

"Being No. 1 right now is no big deal," he said. "Right now, we're just worried about geting through to the end of the season. We're getting better, but everyone else is getting better, too. I think it will come down to which guy has the least amount of bad luck over the next two months."

Johnson agreed.

"I don't think either Davey or Bill has it won," Johnson said. "Harry Gant and Alan Kulwicki are still right in it. One bad race and we could be third. But I think when we go into Atlanta for the last race of the season, you could be third in points and come out with the championship."

Races at a glance


What: Autolite Platinum 200, Grand National race

Where: Richmond (Va.) International Raceway

When: Tonight, 7:30

TV: Home Team Sports

What: Miller Genuine Draft 400, Winston Cup race

Where: Richmond (Va.) International Raceway

When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.

TV: TBS. Home Team Sports (tape) Sept. 20, 1 p.m.

Radio: WXCY-FM (103.7)

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