This year's NAPA Autocare 500 at Martinsville Speedway was all about a right call-and a left fist. The right call was made by Brian Whitesell, the new crew chief for the #24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet. In his first race as the replacement for Ray Evernham, Whitesell gambled by leaving Jeff Gordon on the track when a Chad Little spin on Lap 475 brought out a caution. The risk was rewarded when Gordon was able to fend off a hard-charging Dale Earnhardt to snare the checkered flag.
"Brian was the one who made that call," Gordon later said. "This is a tough, tough place. We knew we didn't want to lose track position. We were fighting for track position all day long."
Gordon was not alone in his struggles. Two of Winston Cup's youngest stars came close to just plain fighting. Earlier in the race, Tony Stewart spun Kenny Irwin twice, and by Lap 146, Irwin had enough. Almost immediately after a restart, Irwin's #28 Texaco/Havoline Ford slammed into the back of Stewart's #20 Home Depot Pontiac, bringing both Stewart and the #11 Paychex Ford of Brett Bodine to a halt. Stewart climbed from his car, hurled the heat shields from his race shoes at Irwin's windshield, and reached into cockpit of the #28 in an attempt to land a left jab on his rival as Irwin slowly passed by under caution. Stewart, known for having a low boiling point, has since been reprimanded and fined by NASCAR for his on-track behavior.
"It's the same thing when we ran Sprint cars," said Stewart, who admitted the first spin was his fault. "He didn't like to be behind me then, either."
Irwin said, "I just treated him like he treated me. I would have given Tony the first one. We've raced together for a long time, but I wasn't going to give him two of them."
Race NotesIn gentler moments, "Front Row" Joe Nemechek, still reveling in his first Winston Cup win two weeks earlier, took his second Bud Pole award of the year in front of a surprising first two rows comprised of Ted Musgrave, Geoffrey Bodine, and Kyle Petty. The four were ranked 29th, 32nd, 31st, and 30th, respectively, in the point standings. Bodine finished third, the highest of the four fastest qualifiers.
Earnhardt battled the stomach flu to finish a highly commendable second after starting 38th. Rusty Wallace brought his #2 Miller Lite Ford across the line in fourth, just ahead of his brother Kenny Wallace, who grabbed his second top-five of the season in the #55 Square D Chevrolet. Bobby Labonte was leading with 100 laps remaining but lost a cylinder and ended the day in Eighth Place, yet he still took over second position in the points in front of Mark Martin, who finished back in 16th.
Winston Cup Point Standings Following the NAPA Autocare 500
|1. DALE JARRETT ||4276 |
|2. BOBBY LABONTE ||4025 |
|3. MARK MARTIN ||4000 |
|4. TONY STEWART ||3898 |
|5. JEFF BURTON ||3869 |
|6. JEFF GORDON ||3851 |
|7. DALE EARNHARDT ||3732 |
|8. RUSTY WALLACE ||3395 |
|9. MIKE SKINNER ||3192 |
|10. WARD BURTON ||3187 |