1992 Hooters 500
The 1992 Hooters 500 was the final race of the 1992 NASCAR season. It was held on November 15, 1992, at Atlanta Motor Speedway and was televised live on ESPN. The race is widely considered the greatest NASCAR race of all time, with three stories dominating the race: the debut of Jeff Gordon in the Winston Cup Series, the final race of seven-time champion Richard Petty's thirty-five-year career, and the battle for the series points championship with six drivers mathematically eligible to win the title.
|Race 29 of 29 in the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season|
Layout of Atlanta Motor Speedway (used until March 1997)
|Date||November 15, 1992|
|Official name||Hooters 500|
|Location||Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Georgia|
Permanent racing facility|
1.522 mi (2.449 km)
|Distance||328 laps, 499.216 mi (803.410 km)|
|Weather||Cold with temperatures up to 57 °F (14 °C); wind speeds up to 13 miles per hour (21 km/h)|
|Average speed||133.322 miles per hour (214.561 km/h)|
|Driver||Richard Jackson Racing|
|Most laps led|
|Driver||Alan Kulwicki||AK Racing|
|No. 11||Bill Elliott||Junior Johnson & Associates|
|Television in the United States|
|Announcers||Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett|
The race was won by Bill Elliott in the No. 11 Budweiser Ford for Junior Johnson and Associates. Owner-driver Alan Kulwicki, driving the No. 7 Hooters Ford, finished second behind Elliott, and secured the series title. Kulwicki remarkably won the title by virtue of accumulating the championship points based on his second-place finish, and more importantly having led the most laps during the race, which awarded him 5 bonus points. It was the closest points championship battle in NASCAR history at the time (10 points), and Kulwicki's margin of most laps led compared to Elliott's total was a mere single lap.
The 1992 Hooters 500 represented the 33rd running of the Atlanta fall race, and the sixth time the event was held as the NASCAR season finale.
Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of nine current intermediate tracks to hold NASCAR races; the others are Charlotte, Chicagoland, Darlington, Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, and Texas. However, at the time, only Charlotte and Darlington were built.
The layout at Atlanta Motor Speedway at the time was a four-turn traditional oval track that is 1.522 miles (2.449 km) long. The track's turns are banked at twenty-four degrees, while the front stretch, the location of the finish line, and the back stretch are banked at five.
This race, and its subsequent championship outcome, took place in the era before the introduction of NASCAR's "Chase". In 1992, the Winston Cup Championship (now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Championship) utilized the 1975 points system, which awarded equal points for all events, and collectively included all 29 events, without exceptions, automatic advancements, or "postseason" formatting/seeding. The existence of six drivers mathematically eligible for the title going into the final race of the 1992 season was a series record at the time, and an unusually high number that deep into the season. Most years saw at best only two to three drivers with a chance at the title, while in some years, the title had been clinched prior to the final race of the season, leaving the finale as anti-climactic.
Coming into the race, six drivers had a mathematical chance to win the title, the most ever. The points standings were led by Davey Allison, driving the #28 Texaco/Havoline Ford for Robert Yates Racing, who had experienced a roller-coaster season. Allison had won the season opening Daytona 500, and four other races. However, his season was nearly halted on more than one occasion, after bad wrecks at Bristol in April, The Winston in May and at Pocono in June. In August, he mourned the death of his brother Clifford, who was killed practicing for the Busch Series race at Michigan. Disappointment also met Allison at Darlington in September. A win at the Southern 500 would clinch him the coveted Winston Million. However, a crew member misread a weather radar screen, and the crew brought Allison in for a pit stop. Moments later, an approaching rain storm ended the race early, and Allison settled for 5th place.
Allison rebounded, and won the second to last race of the season at Phoenix. Allison was attempting to become the second second-generation driver to win the Winston Cup Championship - his father Bobby won the title in 1983. At the time, Lee and Richard Petty were the only father-son duo to have won the championship.
Bill Elliott, driving for Junior Johnson as mentioned above, had departed from his longtime ride at Melling Racing's #9 car to join the six-time champion team and pilot the #11 Ford. He had already won the spring race at Atlanta earlier in the season, which was the third in a span of four consecutive victories that tied the NASCAR record for consecutive Cup Series wins in a season. Altogether, he earned 16 top-ten finishes. Experiencing a generally more consistent season up to that point, Elliott led by as many as 154 points in the season championship on September 20. But he began to falter, and had three bad races in a row, dropping his lead to 39 with three races left. At the second to last race of the season at Phoenix, Elliott's car suffered a cracked cylinder head and overheating problems, which relegated him to a 31st-place finish, and dropped him from first to third in the standings going into the final race.
Owner/driver Alan Kulwicki (AK Racing) was considered the third and final primary contender, and the underdog to win the championship. While he had only won two races in 1992 up to that point, he had 11 top-5s and 16 top-10s. He was running at the finish at all but two races so far. Despite a crash at Dover in September, he rebounded to post finishes of 12th or better in the five races leading up to Atlanta. Kulwicki received approval from NASCAR and Ford to change the "Thunderbird" lettering on his bumper by putting two Mighty Mouse patches on the "TH" in "THUNDERBIRD" because he felt like the underdog for winning the championship, and Kulwicki admired the character, which symbolized him and his team (many of whom later became champions themselves long after his death).
Allison would mathematically clinch the championship if he finished sixth or better, regardless of the other five drivers' performances. If Allison were to lead a single lap during the race, all he had to do was finish 7th or better; if he had led the most laps, he needed only to finish 8th or better. Numerous other championship scenarios generally favored Allison, provided he finished ahead of, or close to his competitors, and led a lap during the race. Kulwicki entered the race needing to make up thirty points, while former points leader Elliott needed to make up forty.
After Kulwicki, three other drivers had an outside chance to win the championship. Harry Gant, driving the #33 Skoal Oldsmobile for Leo Jackson Motorsports, entered the race 97 points behind Allison, and had won two races during the season. Kyle Petty, driving the #42 Mello Yello Pontiac for Team SABCO, was one point behind Gant, having also won twice. Kyle Petty's opportunities were particularly noteworthy. He would be the first third-generation Winston Cup Champion (behind grandfather Lee and father Richard), and he would also have the chance to win the title on the same day his father Richard was retiring. The last driver with a chance was Mark Martin, in the #6 Valvoline Ford for Roush Racing, who was 113 points behind Allison. Attention during the day focused on Gant, Petty, and Martin, but all three basically needed to win the race, lead the most laps, and hope for the other championship contenders to drop out. Martin's attempt, in particular, would have been the most difficult to pull off.
Of the six championship contenders, the only one that was a former Winston Cup champion was Elliott, who was the 1988 series champion. The closest former champion to Elliott in points was eighth place Darrell Waltrip, the owner-driver of the #17 Western Auto Chevrolet who was not mathematically able to win the title.
Championship standings entering the 1992 Hooters 500
- Davey Allison, 3928 points
- Alan Kulwicki, −30
- Bill Elliott, −40
- Harry Gant, −97
- Kyle Petty, −98
- Mark Martin, −113
- Ricky Rudd, −281
- Darrell Waltrip, −363
- Terry Labonte, −414
- Ernie Irvan, −429
Bold indicates drivers mathematically eligible for the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup championship
Richard Petty's Fan Appreciation TourEdit
Since this was the last event of the season, it also marked the final stop on Richard Petty's "Fan Appreciation Tour." On October 1, 1991, Petty announced he would retire at the end of the 1992 season. He planned on running the entire season, not just selected events, and to that point, had managed to qualify for all 28 of the events in 1992. Media coverage of Petty's final race was extensive, and the weeks leading up to the race saw considerable pre-race hype and anticipation. Ticket sales were brisk, and a record sell-out crowd was expected at Atlanta to see "King Richard" in his final event.
Under the spotlight of attention during the 1992 season, Petty's on-track results had been so far unimpressive. He had scored zero top tens, and had a best finish of 15th (three times). His most notable race of the season came at Daytona during the July 4 Pepsi 400. With President George H. W. Bush in attendance, Petty was honored during the pre-race ceremonies. He qualified on the outside of the front row, and led the first five laps of the race.
At Atlanta, facing the intense pressure of a hectic schedule of appearances and honors, not to mention the actual on-track activities, Petty barely managed to qualify for the Hooters 500. He posted the 39th-fastest speed out of 41 cars. He would not have been eligible for the provisional starting position, and had to qualify on speed. Petty stood on his first round time, and sweated out second round qualifying. He slipped from 36th to 39th on the grid, but was not bumped from the lineup. With Petty safely in the field, the stage was set for a huge sendoff. Ceremonies to honor Petty were planned in the pre-race and post-race, and Petty was expected to take a ceremonial final lap around the track after the race to formally conclude his career. On the night before the race, Alabama held a concert honoring Petty at the Georgia Dome, with 45,000 in attendance.
On the night before pole qualifying, Richard Petty's cousin and longtime crew chief and team manager Dale Inman was robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of the Atlanta airport. The robber tried to grab a necklace from Inman's neck, but failed. He pointed his gun and pulled the trigger, but it did not fire, and no one was injured.
The first round of qualifying was held on Friday November 13. Rick Mast won his first career pole position in the No. 1 car. His qualifying speed of 180.183 miles per hour (289.976 km/h) was the first-ever NASCAR qualifying speed over 180 mph at an intermediate length circuit. Previously that speed had only been achieved at Daytona and Talladega. It would be the final NASCAR pole for Oldsmobile.
Under the rules at the time, the first round of qualifying locked in only the top twenty cars. In first round qualifying, all of the six championship contenders except for Harry Gant qualified. Mark Martin (4th) was the highest of the six contenders. Richard Petty was not among the top twenty. A field of 40 cars (plus at least one provisional) was expected to comprise the starting grid. With Petty sitting 36th-fastest after Friday's first round, he was precariously close to being bumped from the field on Saturday.
- Source: The (Lexington, NC) Dispatch, Saturday, November 14, 1992, p. 2B.
Second round qualifyingEdit
Second round qualifying was held on Saturday November 14. Under the rules at the time, drivers who did not qualify during the first round moved on to second round qualifying. Each driver could elect to stand on his time from the first round, or erase their time and make a new attempt. Rookie Jeff Gordon bettered his time from the day before, and became the fastest qualifier of the second round. That entered him into the wild card drawing for the 1993 Busch Clash.
Most drivers stood on their times, including Richard Petty, who held on to qualify 39th. Jimmy Hensley elected to try again, and wound up losing eleven spots on the grid. Stanley Smith, who did not even make top 40 on Friday, made a big improvement, qualifying 33rd. Likewise, Jimmy Horton went from only 47th-fastest on Friday, to qualify 36th.
*Stood on Friday time
Failed to qualify
A record 160,000 fans, some with seats in hastily-built temporary grandstands, arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway to witness Petty's final ride, and to watch the exciting championship battle. At the start, polesitter Rick Mast in the #1 Chevrolet for Richard Jackson Motorsports and Brett Bodine in the #26 Quaker State Ford for King Racing, battled into turn 1, with Bodine leading the first lap. On lap 2, the two cars tangled, and crashed in turn 1. Dale Earnhardt, the defending series champion whose reign was ending that day and who was running third in his familiar #3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, slipped by, and took over the lead. Several other cars were collected in the crash, and five of the championship contenders got through unscathed. Davey Allison, however, slowed to avoid the crash, and was tagged from behind in the left rear by Hut Stricklin's #41 Chevrolet. The left rear fender was badly bent, but did not puncture the tire. Allison stayed out on the track, and the crew would be able to bend the bodywork away from the tire on the next pit stop.
During the caution, Mark Martin ducked into the pits to change all four tires, because he was afraid he ran over debris from the incident, as well as flat-spotting the tires when he locked up the brakes and slid sideways to avoid it.
Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan, driving the #4 Kodak Chevrolet, traded the lead for the first 60 laps. Championship contenders Elliott, Allison, and Kulwicki ran near the top 10, while Gant, Martin, and Kyle Petty ran near the back of the pack. Richard Petty worked up to 30th.
By lap 60, entering the first round of green flag pit stops, the highest running of the championship contenders was Elliott in fifth. With the leaders in for service, Michael Waltrip spun out in the #30 Pennzoil Pontiac and brought out the caution. Earnhardt and several other front runners lost a lap after being stuck on pit road. After the cycle completed under caution, four of the top five positions were filled by championship contenders. Elliott assumed the lead with Kulwicki second, Martin fourth, and Gant fifth.
The news was not all good for the #7 team. Kulwicki's gearbox malfunctioned as he came into pit, and he lost the use of first gear for the remainder of the race.
Richard Petty crashEdit
At lap 90, another series of yellow flag pit stops had shuffled the field, bringing Allison to the lead. Martin took the lead on lap 91. With this, the two joined Elliott and Kulwicki with the five point bonus for leading a lap. The #6, #28, and #33 were running in the top three with Gant's car the only one of the three that had yet to lead a lap (he would not do so for the remainder of the event). Elliott and Kulwicki were inside the top 10. Petty's fortunes were not so lucky, as he was having engine trouble and was unable to keep pace; since he was one of the drivers that needed to win, lead the most laps, and rely on trouble striking the other contenders, his title chase was all but over.
On lap 95, the #25 Chevrolet Kodiak of Ken Schrader and the #8 Snickers Ford of Dick Trickle tangled on the frontstretch. The cars spun wildly to the inside. Darrell Waltrip's #17 Western Auto Chevrolet spun to avoid the crash, and ran into the #16 Keystone Beer Ford driven by Wally Dallenbach, Jr.. The #45 Terminal Trucking Ford of Rich Bickle was also collected, which led to Richard Petty running into him and destroying the front end of the car, breaking the oil cooler. The oil started a fire, and Petty's car coasted to the infield in flames. Petty (who was overheard on ESPN's in-car camera shouting to the rescue crews "BRING THE FUCKING FIRE EXTINGUISHER!") was uninjured, however the car was badly damaged, and his return to the race was in question.
At the 100 lap mark, Allison continued to hold the hypothetical lead in the points standings, with Kulwicki second, and Elliott close behind in third.
The second half settled down to the top three championship contenders: Allison, Elliott, and Kulwicki. Around lap 118, rookie Jeff Gordon made a pit stop. The Ray Evernham-led "Rainbow Warriors" crew were still unrefined, and made many mistakes. Evernham himself referred to them as the bumbling "Keystone Kops." The crew accidentally left a roll of duct tape on the hood, and it fell off out on the track. Davey Allison, running second, hit the debris and suffered a damaged front air dam. He lost several positions and the handling of the car was affected.
Mark Martin dropped out on lap 160 with a blown engine. He was the first of the six championship contenders to drop out, and his chances for the title were over. After a strong first half, Harry Gant slid down the standings, and he too fell out of contention for the title. Kyle Petty was still running at this point, but was nay a factor. The title would be settled between Allison, Elliott, and Kulwicki.
Rookie Jeff Gordon's debut ended on lap 164. Battling a loose race car all day, he hit the wall and was unable to continue. Gordon's 31st-place finish was largely overlooked in light of the day, and it marked the only time Gordon ever drove with Richard Petty in a NASCAR race.
Elliott shuffled to the front, and led for 42 laps. The hypothetical points race tightened, Allison (running 7th) held a mere 11-point lead over Elliott and Kulwicki, who were tied for second.
On lap 210, Kulwicki passed Elliott for the lead. Allison ran sixth, which would still be enough for him to clinch the title if he stayed there.
With 74 laps to go, Ernie Irvan's #4 Kodak Chevrolet blew a tire exiting turn four. Irvan spun into the path of his good friend Allison, who t-boned Irvan's car and suffered critical tie rod and steering damage as both cars came to rest on the inside wall on the front straightaway. The #28 crew would work to try to get Allison back out to finish the race, but his championship hopes were now over. With two of the six mathematical contenders now out of the race and two more (Gant and Petty) running further back in the pack, the race was realistically between just two drivers: the veteran Elliott and the independent Kulwicki.
With Kulwicki now in control of both the race and the points lead, strategy would now become a factor. Under the caution, Kulwicki's penchant for thinking outside the box led him and his crew chief Paul Andrews to consider a "gas and go" pit stop to save whatever time they could and gain that amount of time in track position. Originally the idea was for Kulwicki to come in to fill his fuel tank under the caution at lap 258. The two decided against it, since even with the potential for more cautions, it would have required Kulwicki to run seventy laps on a single fillup and the car was not capable of doing that.
As the race resumed on lap 259 it was finally decided that Kulwicki was better staying out for as long as he could for two reasons. One, as long as he stayed there and clear of traffic, he could avoid the trouble that plagued Allison and cost him the championship. Two, he was fast approaching the bonus for the most laps led in the race. This would give him five more bonus points, and he needed every point he could get to stay ahead of Elliott; if the two ended the race in a tie for the lead in points, the tiebreaker would go to Elliott based on his having more victories during the season.
Elliott closely battled Kulwicki, trying to take the lead, but Kulwicki held off the challenge. Elliott backed off, and at lap 300, Kulwicki held about a two-second lead. Kulwicki's team planned to make their last pit stop on lap 306, again intending to take on fuel only. With Elliott narrowing the margin, however, Kulwicki's crew moved the pit stop up to lap 309 as he was nearing the point where he would clinch those five extra bonus points.
Kulwicki finally stopped on lap 310, ceding the lead to Elliott but also boosting his laps led total to 103. The call was, as they had discussed, to only take fuel. Since Kulwicki only needed to finish the final eighteen laps, Andrews calculated that he needed a little more than half a tank of gas. The rest of the crew stood by to push in case Kulwicki stalled, since he had to start in higher gear, but they did not need to. The bigger concern was whether or not the fuel man got enough gas into the tank. Elliott stretched his fuel to lap 314, then came in to top off. He settled back into the lead at lap 316, after Terry Labonte briefly assumed the lead then pitted, with Kulwicki running in second.
The crew informed Kulwicki shortly thereafter that he had clinched the most laps led, as even if Elliott led every lap from that point until the race ended he would only reach 102 total laps led. In order to clinch the championship, all Kulwicki needed to do was hold his position and conserve every drop of fuel he could, as the crew still was not sure they gave him enough to finish. Since he was too far behind Elliott to try to win, and third place Geoff Bodine was in no position to overtake him this late in the race, Kulwicki settled into second and held there as the laps ticked down hoping that he would not run out of gas.
When the checkered flag fell, Elliott came across first and recorded his fifth victory of the season. Kulwicki's fuel held up, and he won the championship while finishing a distant second. Kulwicki's final lead in the standings was just ten points, the closest margin in NASCAR history until the 2011 season when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished in a tie for first place, with the championship going to Stewart due to him winning 5 races to Edwards' 1.
Richard Petty's crew worked diligently all afternoon to get his car running again, and with two laps remaining, Petty pulled out of the pits. His car had no sheet metal on the front end and no hood. He finished 35th, and was credited as running at the finish in his final race. Commenting on the fire, Petty said, "I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory; I just forgot about the glory part." After the victory lane celebration, Petty climbed in the car for one final ceremonial lap to salute the fans. He waved out the window while the song "Richard Petty Fans" by Alabama was played on the public address system.
Immediately after taking the checkered flag, Alan Kulwicki drove back around to the frontstretch. He proceeded to stop at the flagstand and turn around, to drive what he referred to as a "Polish victory lap", clockwise (backwards) around the track, waving to fans. It mimicked a similar celebration he did at his first victory in 1988 at Phoenix.
- Time of race – 3:44:20
- Average speed – 133.322 mph
- Margin of victory – 8.06 seconds
- Lead changes – 20 amongst 9 drivers
- Total purse: US$785,787 (winner's share $93,600)
- Busch Pole Award: Rick Mast
- Busch Beer Fastest Second round Qualifier: Jeff Gordon
- Gillette Halfway Challenge: Ernie Irvan
- Goody's Headache Award: Davey Allison
- AP Parts Meet the Challenge Award:
- True Value Hard Charger Award: Bill Elliott
- Gatorade Circle of Champions Award: Bill Elliott
- Plasti-kote Winning Finish Award: Tim Brewer (Elliott)
- Western Auto Mechanic of the Race: Danny Glad (Kulwicki)
- Unocal 76 Challenge: $22,800 available to polesitter Rick Mast – not won (rollover)
Final points standingsEdit
This race is considered the transition from the old age of NASCAR to the new age. As veteran Richard Petty retired, future champion Jeff Gordon made his debut. Gordon is one of the most successful and popular drivers NASCAR's modern era. This is also the only race in NASCAR history to feature Petty, Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt taking the green flag together. All three are considered among the best NASCAR drivers of all time. In total, nine former or future NASCAR Winston Cup champions drove in the race; Morgan Shepherd was a former Late Model Sportsman Series champion; and Mike Skinner (who failed to qualify) would eventually win the Truck Series championship – accounting for 11 NASCAR touring series champions entered in the event.
The race took place on the old "classic oval" configuration of Atlanta Motor Speedway. Later, Atlanta was re-configured to a quad-oval layout, and the start/finish line was moved to the old backstretch.
After coming up short in the championship battle, Bill Elliott's crew chief Tim Brewer was fired from Junior Johnson Motorsports. Had Elliot led the most laps, the season championship would have ended in a tie between Elliott and Kulwicki. Thus, Elliott would have been awarded the championship due to his having more wins during the season than Kulwicki (five to Kulwicki's two). This was perhaps Johnson's last hurrah as a team owner, as his cars never contended for a championship again. Despite Jimmy Spencer driving the team's #27 to two wins and Elliott recording a victory during the 1994 season, the team recorded more failure than success. Following the loss of his primary driver, Elliott, and his two sponsors, Budweiser and McDonald's, after the 1994 season, Johnson released Spencer and signed Lowe's to sponsor the #11 for one more season. He sold the operation to driver Brett Bodine in 1996 and retired.
The 1992 season was also considered Dale Earnhardt's worst season of his career, finishing outside of the top ten in points, with only one win all season. He led the race early, but pitted at a yellow and fell a lap down. After battling back to the lead lap, he brushed the wall and finished 26th.
Capping off the season with an 8th-place finish, Jimmy Hensley locked up the 1992 Rookie of the Year award. The rookie race for 1992 was mostly uncompetitive, however, as Hensley won by a large margin. All of the eligible rookies ran only partial schedules in 1992.
The race broke the existing ESPN auto racing television audience record, registering a 4.1 rating and 2.5 million households. It fell just short of ESPN's all-time auto racing rating record (4.2 rating/1.8 million households for the 1987 Winston 500).
Alan Kulwicki stood as the last owner-driver to win a series championship until Tony Stewart accomplished the feat in 2011. Like in 1992, the championship came down to the final race and was decided by a tiebreaker when Stewart won the race to tie Carl Edwards for the points lead and was awarded the title by virtue of his five victories versus Edwards' single victory.
Tragedy strikes in 1993Edit
Two of the principals in the championship chase that the Hooters 500 resolved would not survive the next season. On April 1, 1993, three days before the Food City 500 at Bristol, Alan Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash along with Hooters executives, while they were flying back from an appearance at a Hooters restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee.
A little over three months later on July 12, 1993, Davey Allison was flying his helicopter to Talladega Superspeedway to watch his friend David Bonnett (Neil Bonnett's son) test a Busch Series car. While trying to land the helicopter in a closed-in section of the Talladega infield, Allison crashed and suffered grave head injuries. He died the next morning.
Both Kulwicki and Allison were in the top five of the Cup series points at the time of their deaths, with Allison recording a victory at Richmond. Allison and Kulwicki were also invited to participate in IROC XVII based on their performances, with Kulwicki automatically qualifying as the NASCAR Winston Cup champion, and at the time of their deaths, both drivers were in the top five in IROC points. Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt took over for the deceased drivers and Labonte's effort in the final two IROC races gave the series title to Allison posthumously.
To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the race, Jeff Gordon served as grand marshal and Richard Petty the honorary starter for the 2007 Pep Boys Auto 500 that took place on October 28, 2007.
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