Elliott sets Pocono record with victory
Sunday, July 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LONG POND, Pa. (AP) _ Bill Elliott was getting tired, but so was Sterling Marlin's car.
So, Elliott, who had stalked Marlin throughout the race, finally passed him with 21 laps remaining Sunday and took the crash- and rain-delayed Pennsylvania 500 to set a record with his fifth career victory at Pocono Raceway.
``I'm not getting any younger,'' Elliott said after winning what amounted to a marathon on wheels. ``It took a toll on my clock.''
The win was the first on the mountaintop since 1989 for the 46-year-old driver from Dawsonville, Ga. It also was the 42nd victory for the 1988 NASCAR champion, who went winless in six years as an owner-driver before selling his team and joining Evernham Motorsports last season.
Ray Evernham isn't surprised by the resurgence of Elliott.
``I knew he was a great driver when I hired him,'' the car owner said.
The race lasted 6 hours, 35 minutes, 51 seconds because of the rain and a spectacular accident involving Steve Park on the first lap. Park was not injured in the crash, which forced a delay of 1:05 while repairs were made to the infield retaining wall just beyond the first turn.
Less than a half-hour later, rain caused another red flag, which halted the $3.7 million event for an additional 2:02 after the 27th of 175 laps. The race was halted 25 laps short of its scheduled distance because of darkness.
``I want to thank God for being with me and not getting hurt,'' said Park, who missed 12 of 36 races last year while recovering from a head injury. ``I was trapped and I tried to stay calm.''
The crash, which also involved Park teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Rusty Wallace and Ricky Craven, forced the track to replace 16 support posts and 110 feet of guardrail.
The accident began when Wallace hit the wall after leaving the first turn on the 2 1/2-mile track. Park attempted to avoid contact, but got sideways and was hit hard by Earnhardt.
On a TV replay, it appeared that Wallace veered into Park. Craven then hit Park in the rear, causing him to get sideways and into the path of Earnhardt.
``I was on the outside of Rusty ... and he started moving up,'' Park said. ``I backed off, then he pulled back down like his spotter might have said something was on the outside.''
Wallace refused to blame his spotter, but conceded that in close racing a spotter cannot always see that well.
``You're supposed to drive the car yourself,'' he said.
Park's Chevrolet, pushed across the grass by Earnhardt's car, hit the steel wall and was badly crumpled, then flipped twice before coming to rest on its roof. It took course workers several minutes to free Park, who emerged to cheers from a crowd of 100,000.
Marlin dominated the race, leading 106 laps. But Elliott got by Marlin with a bold move on the high side as the cars approached the second turn, and drove away.
Still, Elliott praised Evernham and his crew.
``They make it easy to come out here every Sunday and do my job,'' Elliott said.
It also was the second win for Evernham, the point man in Dodge's return in 2001 after a 16-year absence from NASCAR's top division. As a crew chief, Evernham guided Jeff Gordon to three of his four series championships and the first 47 of his 58 career victories.
Polesitter Elliott led 35 laps, and beat the Ford of Kurt Busch by 1.721 seconds.
``I was surprised as anybody that he made the pass that easily,'' Busch said of Elliott's winning move. ``The 9 car sat there all day, rode behind the 40 car, played possum, and the end he showed his cards and won it.''
But Elliott denied sandbagging.
``I was trying to pass Sterling as hard as a could, but I couldn't get to him until the track cooled down,'' Elliott said. ``When it was hot, I was struggling.''
Third was the Dodge of Marlin, followed by the Ford of June Pocono winner Dale Jarrett and that of rookie Ryan Newman.
``We run good race all day and we deserved to win it if he didn't,'' Marlin said.
The victory, on the heels of Ward Burton's a week earlier at New Hampshire International Speedway, marked the first back-to-back wins since Dodge returned to NASCAR's top division.
Marlin, the series leader after all but the first race this season, is 106 points ahead of Mark Martin as the circuit heads for Indianapolis for next Sunday's Brickyard 400. Martin finished 13th
The winner averaged 125.809 mph in a race slowed by caution five times for 29 laps. There were 17 leads changes among 11 drivers.
Elliott broke a tie for Pocono victories with Wallace, Darrell Waltrip and Tim Richmond. Wallace wound up 40th Sunday.
Completing the top 10 were Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Terry Labonte and Ricky Rudd.
The victory was the first by a Dodge at Pocono since Richard Petty in 1976, and gave the manufacturer a sweep of the NASCAR weekend. Robert Pressley won the truck series race in Brooklyn, Mich., and Hank Parker Jr. took the Busch event in Fountain, Colo.
Also, Evernham driver Casey Atwood won the Pepsi 200 ARCA race Saturday at Pocono.