Originally created 04/27/97

Weather may challenge drivers in Winston 500

TALLADEGA, Ala. - The rain that delayed Saturday's Grand National race and washed out the second round of qualifying for the Winston 500 looked like it would stick around for the weekend.

The forecast called for a 60 percent chance of rain today with possible heavy storms. Saturday morning's steady drizzle subsided just after noon and the Birmingham Auto Dealers 500K started about two hours late.

When the race was over, Mark Martin continued to carve out a remarkable Busch Grand National record, especially considering he isn't even a series regular.

The Winston Cup star took another shot at the BGN series Saturday and came up with his fifth victory in eight starts this season, winning the Birmingham Auto Dealers EasyCare 500-Kilometer race and tying Jack Ingram's record of 31 career victories.

Ingram, who retired several years ago, earned his last win in 1987, the same year that Martin got his first. Martin's 31 victories have come in 150 starts.

"We tied the record," said Martin, who also owns 18 Winston Cup victories, although he currently is riding a 42-race winless string. "Now we've got one more to go to break it. But there are no guarantees in this sport. Like I've said before, you never know if you're ever going to win one of these things again."

Meanwhile, NASCAR officials have vowed to do everything possible to get the Winston 500 in on Sunday and haven't finalized a plan if they get washed out.

Normally, the race would go Monday, but that could be difficult this week because the teams need more time to get to the next race, in Sonoma, Calif. Another plan would be to race May 11, Mother's Day, which is the next open Sunday on the schedule.

A week ago, NASCAR's Winston Cup cars were banging and bumping around Martinsville Speedway, the smallest and slowest track on the circuit.

Now they're at big, bad Talladega Superspeedway, the longest, fastest and unquestionably the most dangerous oval for stock cars.

If the Winston 500 goes off as scheduled, it's likely there will be at least one multi-car pileup sometime during the 188 laps on the 2.66-mile, high-banked oval.

That's been the recent history of this track, a situation exacerbated by the continuing use of carburetor restrictor plates mandated by NASCAR to keep the cars from reaching 200 mph, which they once did routinely.

Jeff Gordon, who won here last July, understands the pitfalls of racing at Talladega in an era when the competition is close, throttle response is limited by the plates and speeds still get into the low 190s.

"We get here and not a lot happens or goes on, and then you get into the race and this place is so big and so wide, you really forget about how fast you're going until something like that happens," said Gordon, who has won four of eight races this season, including the last two.

"Hopefully, we can all keep our heads on straight and be patient," Gordon added. "But it's hard to be patient at a place like this. You've got a good car and a fast car to be up with the leaders. Then you can't make a pass as easily as you could if you were that much faster at some other race tracks.

"I've been in that position, and everybody else has, too, where you start to lose your patience. That's when you start causing problems or incidents happen.

Dale Jarrett, the series points leader, has three consecutive second-place finishes at Talladega. He has much the same opinion as Gordon.

"I don't dread coming here," Jarrett said. "In fact, I enjoy coming here. It's a fun race, especially if we can avoid having an accident.

"I would love to see 43 cars finish this race on Sunday and everybody be there because that makes it fun. The downside is that everybody is in a big pack, and when somebody loses that patience ..."

John Andretti will start from the pole, with Bobby Hillin Jr. alongside and Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace right behind.

Jarrett will start ninth and Gordon 11th in the 43-car field.

Gordon won the Daytona 500, giving him a leg up on the Winston Million, a bonus to any driver who can win three of NASCAR's Big Four events - the Daytona 500, the Winston 500, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 at Darlington.

Jarrett won Daytona and Charlotte last year, earning a $100,000 consolation prize, but he lost by 0.22-seconds to Sterling Marlin at Talladega in April and had a costly run-in with the wall at Darlington as Gordon won in September.

"We've only won one leg of it, and we've got our work cut out for us," Gordon said. "I guess that's why you can put a million dollars up for it because it is very difficult to do. But, if you can do it, I think it's worth a million dollars."

Jarrett said, "Jeff has won the first leg and he's won here and he's won at Charlotte and he's won at Darlington, so you've got to think that things are looking pretty good for him right now.

"But we would like to get ourselves back in the running for it here Sunday, and we feel like we can do that. Then we can go to Charlotte (in May) and battle Jeff in trying to get the money."


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