Sunday, August 06, 2000

BRICKYARD NOTEBOOK


11th place good as a win for Waltrip

By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Darrell Waltrip raced to the most exciting 11th-place finish in the otherwise dull history of 11th-place finishes here Saturday.

        Waltrip's final Winston Cup season had been miserable, with a previous high finish of 22nd. But he qualified second for Saturday's race and hung around the top 15 most of the way, surprising those who thought he'd slide back toward his season points standing (38th).

        Waltrip's shockingly high starting position was the talk of the weekend.

        “There's been people saying, "Oh, he needs to quit, he shouldn't race anymore,'” Waltrip said. “Now there's just a shadow of a doubt.”

        Waltrip, 53, will race until the end of the season. His retirement is firm, he said.

        “I've got other things to do.”

        That includes work as a NASCAR analyst for NBC and as a consultant to Jerry Carroll's Kentucky Speedway.

        Waltrip, a three-time Winston Cup champion in the early 1980s, has reached the point of being remembered more for his recent failures. But he is never at a loss for words or optimism.

        “I've never had fans treat me the way these (Indy) fans have,” said Waltrip, who got a huge pre-race ovation. “I mean, I feel the love. They feel my pain and I feel their love, and it's been a great weekend.

        “I couldn't have done any better.”

        Waltrip's finish was his best since running sixth at Pocono in June 1998.

        SUPER WIN: Maybe it was the thrill of the moment. But car owner Joe Gibbs ranked Bobby Labonte's victory on a par with his three Super Bowl victories as Washington Redskins coach.

        Gibbs also rated the Brickyard alongside the Super Bowl of stock car races, the Daytona 500, which he won in 1993 when Dale Jarrett drove for him.

        “I dreamed someday of coming to the Brickyard to watch a race,” he said. “And then to have a chance to do that. ... and then to say I've got a car that's out here. And then to win the race at one of the great sporting events in the world, I was just thrilled to be a part of it.

        “Today was as great a win as I've had in any sport.”

        LABONTE SCORECARD: Saturday's victory was Labonte's second of the season and 14th of his career. His previous 2000 win came at Rockingham, N.C., in February.

        • The average race speed was 155.918 mph, a Brickyard record. The previous record was 155.218 by Dale Earnhardt in 1995.

        • It was the first Brickyard victory for a Pontiac. Chevrolet and Ford each have three Brickyard wins.

        NICE WAGE: Labonte banked $831,225 for winning Saturday, in a Brickyard-record purse of $6.5 million. The smallest paycheck went to Ricky Craven, who won $80,860 for his 41st-place finish.

        FOLLOW THE LEADER: There were nine lead changes among five drivers Saturday, the fewest lead changes in Brickyard 400 history. The five “lap leaders” were also the fewest in race history.

        NOT HIS DAY: Two-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon had a bad weekend. He qualified 29th and finished 33rd, with an early accident causing damage to his car. He also ended his streak of leading at least one lap in every Brickyard race.NOT THEIR DAY: Mark Martin's run of bad luck continued, as he completed only 15 laps before an accident took him out.

        The only other big crash was John Andretti, a single-car accident on lap 41.

        Martin has slipped from sixth to 10th place in the points standings. He has finished last (43rd) in each of the past two races.

        IRWIN REMEMBERED: Saturday's race was dedicated to Indianapolis native Kenny Irwin, killed last month at New Hampshire International Speedway. A video remembrance was shown on the speedway's big-screen TVs.

       



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