The Frontstretch: Turning Back the Clock: 1992 Mountain Dew 500 by Phil Allaway -- Wednesday April 20, 2011

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Turning Back the Clock: 1992 Mountain Dew 500

Phil Allaway · Wednesday April 20, 2011


Hello, race fans. The Sprint Cup Series is off this weekend for the traditional Easter break. As far as off weeks go, Easter is essentially the only weekend that NASCAR feels that Sprint Cup absolutely must take off. This is something that has stood for decades.

However, such has never really been the case in the Nationwide Series. Easter weekend races are the norm in the AAA series, and even races on Easter Sunday are not out of the question.

In the early 1990’s, Easter weekend typically saw the then-Busch Grand National Series (if they weren’t off themselves) race at a standalone venue. In 1992, the series returned to Hickory Motor Speedway in order to make up the Mountain Dew 500, which had been originally scheduled to be the second race of the season (in between Daytona and Rockingham). The race had been postponed due to rain, and rules of the time allowed for races postponed due to rain early in the season to be made up on an off-weekend later in the season rather than the next available day.

On this warm April afternoon, the action on track was not necessarily the big story (although, there was plenty of it). The race had a very popular winner driving with a heavy heart. However, the track itself was the story.

For some reason, the track in Turns 3 and 4 was freshly repaved a few days prior to the race. Anyone who knows anything about road construction could tell you that paving a track and not giving it proper time to cure is a recipe for disaster. At least when this happened in Phoenix around the same time, the powers that be decided on using a rosin-like substance to help the track cure. There were no break-up issues when the Cup Series made the long haul to Arizona that year.

Back to Hickory. Steve Grissom started his No. 31 Channellock Oldsmobile on the pole. Alongside was supposed to be Ken Schrader in his own No. 15 Chevrolet. However, Schrader couldn’t be in Hickory due to an ASA commitment. So, he called on good buddy Dale Earnhardt, who brought sponsorship from Western Steer Steakhouses and Mom n’ Pops, to take his place.

The new pavement was said to have given the drivers issues with grip in practice. The field barely completed a full lap before the first of what would turn out to be many incidents of the day. Richard Lasater and Ricky Craven collided in Turn 4, resulting in Craven’s DuPont Automotive Finishes No. 99 spinning. This brought out the first yellow of the day, but both drivers continued without an issue, however Craven did lose a lap, though

After the restart, Earnhardt made his move to the inside of Grissom in the treacherous Turns 3 and 4 to take the lead. Such a move would have been quite fitting of Earnhardt’s style. With the groove being right next to the grass, Grissom ended up being drop-kicked back to fifth.

Bobby Labonte, who followed Earnhardt past Grissom, took the lead on Lap 16. Shortly afterward, Chuck Bown’s NesCafe No. 63 basically went straight in Turn 4 after getting out of the groove. The new pavement was already starting to break up, resulting in the area outside of the groove being like dirt, and it only got worse as the race wore on.

Shortly afterwards, Jeff Green spun the Day Enterprises No. 16 and hit the wall in Turn 2, bringing out the second yellow. Green’s 31-W Insulation Chevrolet had rear end damage and was able to restart but pulled off and retired shortly afterwards.

Labonte led on the restart, but got off in the gravel in Turn 4 and hit the wall on Lap 28, allowing Grissom to re-take the lead. By this point, NASCAR had taken notice of the pavement issues and threw a caution, which quickly became a red flag to address the track. During the red flag, TNN’s Glenn Jarrett moseyed over to Turn 4 to check out the situation in person. While there, he scooped up some of the track that had come up and showed it to viewers. The small pieces of pavement can be seen at the 1:30 mark of this clip.

Honestly, it looked similar to some of the roads in Upstate New York after really bad attempts to patch massive holes during this winter. Luckily, the situation didn’t result in massive potholes, like what happened that summer at Volusia County Speedway (now Volusia Speedway Park). Track crews really couldn’t do much to alleviate the problems. A sweeper was dispatched to sweep away the stones that had already come up in the first 35 laps of the race.

A rule disallowing teams from changing tires under caution was lifted due to the track issues. Had that not occurred, changing tires under caution would have earned drivers a two-lap penalty. This was simply because Hickory’s pit road was really not conducive to live pit stops. However, if a team were to take tires under yellow, they’d have to do it quick to avoid getting lapped. Once the red was lifted, Jeff Burton and Jack Sprague fell victim to Hickory’s tight confines and lost a lap in the pits.

When the green came back out, everyone raced to get themselves down to the bottom. Earnhardt, who had gotten himself lapped early on, cut across the nose of fourth-place Ward Burton. Meanwhile, Jim Bown spun his No. 98 Buick in Turn 1 towards the back of the pack. That did not bring out the fourth caution, but another wreck in Turn 3 involving Ernie Irvan (in a No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet painted identically to his Cup car at the time) and Ed Ferree in his No. 49 Buick did bring out the fourth yellow. Both drivers continued.

At the time, the Busch Grand National Series had double-file restarts in which the lead lap cars lined up on the inside. Such a setup allowed the leaders to easily access the all-important inside line in the turns. With the track in as bad shape as it was, it made getting a lap back for drivers like Tommy Houston nearly impossible.

Meanwhile, the incidents kept on coming. Ferree spun again just a couple of laps after the restart to bring out caution No. 5 on Lap 49. Jeff Gordon had the crankshaft break off his engine on Lap 62, then ran over it and blew a tire in Turn 3. His Baby Ruth No. 1 then stalled on track roughly where the auxiliary pit road that came into use in the mid-1990’s emptied onto the track, bringing out the sixth caution. The failure was a great shame for Gordon, having amazingly advanced to seventh from a 21st-place starting spot.

During the sixth yellow, the red flag was once again brought out for additional track cleanup and the sweeper was brought to get rid of more loose stones just out of the groove.

Even with the freshly swept track, it was still dangerous once the green came back out. Robert Pressley nearly wiped out his Alliance No. 59 in Turn 4 after getting out of the groove right after the restart. Jim Bown spun for a second time shortly afterwards to bring out the seventh caution. At the same time, Sprague spun out in Turn 3 trying to get a lap back from Grissom. Earnhardt had already gotten his lap back a little earlier by forcing the issue on Grissom in Turn 1 (and dropping a tire into the dirt).

Grissom continued to lead with Jimmy Spencer coming up to challenge him in his No. 77 Buick. However, another yellow on Lap 90 put a temporary stop to the festivities. This time, Kenny Wallace spun his Dirt Devil Pontiac in Turn 2, and at the same time, Houston spun his Roses Stores Buick in Turn 4.

Right before that yellow, Ward Burton ripped the rear bumper off Mike Wallace’s No. 20 Daily’s 1st Ade Oldsmobile, and it ended up wedging under Todd Bodine’s front bumper, knocking off the oil pump. As a result, Bodine stalled right after the restart, bringing out the ninth caution and putting the Hungry Jack Chevrolet out of the race.

After a couple more laps under green, the tenth yellow flew when Lasater was spun out by Kenny Wallace in Turn 1. Mike Wallace slid into the wreck and hit both cars. The Wallace’s were both able to continue with damage, but Lasater’s Innkeeper Chevrolet was done for the day. A good in-car replay of the crash can be seen at the 5:45 mark of this clip.

On the restart, Spencer forced the issue on Grissom and was able to grab the lead. At the same time Spencer completed the pass, Ferree spun for the third time to bring out the 11th caution on Lap 113. Then, after another short run, Jim Bown spun for the third time to bring out the 12th caution. Houston simply beat out Spencer on the restart to get one of his two laps back before a fourth spin by the No. 98 brought out the 13th caution a couple of laps later.

After the restart, Jimmy Hensley began to assert himself in the Beverley Racing No. 25. First, he took care of Grissom in a couple of laps, then he dispatched of Spencer with veritable ease to take over the lead on Lap 134. Once in the lead, Hensley began to pull away from Spencer. As for Grissom, he began to drop back through the field due to a combination of getting stuck on the outside lane and worn out tires.

The 14th caution came out at halfway when Steve Boley, driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for owner Jack Ingram, spun in Turn 1 after being hit by Earnhardt. On the restart, Hensley continued to lead, but was feeling the pressure from Chuck Bown. Meanwhile, brother Jim was still having serious handling issues in his Buick. The No. 98 stacked up the field in Turns 3 and 4 the lap after the restart, then got into the wall exiting Turn 2 a couple of laps later to bring out the 15th caution.

On the restart, Houston swept around Hensley on the outside to get back onto the lead lap. However, Hensley was not content to just let Houston go and kept the pressure on. Unfortunately, you can probably figure what happened. Two laps after the restart, they collided and Houston spun for the second time, bringing out the 16th caution. Houston ended up back a lap down, right where he was before.

Hensley opened up a slight gap over the pack on the restart. Behind the No. 25, the presence of Jim Bown’s Buick messed up his older brother’s line. This eventually allowed Butch Miller to take second away. Pressley followed Miller by and dropped Chuck Bown to fourth.

Of course, the shenanigans continued as Ferree crashed for the fourth time to bring out the 17th caution on Lap 169. TNN couldn’t even get out of commercial before the 18th caution flew about a lap after the restart. This time, Jeff Burton bumped into the left rear of Sprague exiting Turn 4. The resulting ricochet bounced Burton into the right front of Earnhardt, which spun Jeff out. On that restart, Houston once again got by Hensley to get back on the lead lap and was able to make it stick. After getting caught up to the back of the field, Houston pitted for tires.

On the restart, Sprague got the jump on Hensley and got a lap back. Meanwhile, Miller went up the track and fell back through the field, vaulting Pressley up to second. Pressley then immediately put the pressure on Hensley for the lead. In Turn 1 on Lap 181, the two came together, putting Hensley up the track, while Pressley took over the lead. TNN didn’t show the contact live, but did give a replay of the contact. The incident can be seen at the 4:40 mark of this clip. As if the race couldn’t get more insane.

Behind Pressley, Chuck Bown, Earnhardt and Labonte were battling for second. Spencer then entered the picture and looked inside of Labonte for fourth entering Turn 1. You know what happened. Spencer dumped Labonte, bringing out the 19th caution. The yellow allowed Hensley and Miller to both pit for tires, along with Labonte.

Pressley put the lapped car of Jim Bown between himself and the rest of the pack on the restart, which allowed him to open up a substantial lead. Meanwhile, Spencer executed a sweet move to take third from Earnhardt in Turn 3 on the outside. Earnhardt did help him out a little by putting his left side tires in the dirt, but it was still impressive regardless.

Shortly afterwards, the record-tying 20th caution of the race flew for Boley crashing again in Turn 1, this time after contact from Ward Burton that can be seen in this replay at the 3:00 mark. Burton appeared to have the left side tires below the white line entering Turn 1 when the contact happened. Because of that, NASCAR judged the move to be over the line and a black flag was given to the A.G. Dillard Racing driver.

Pressley once again opened up a gap on the restart, but this time thanks to a couple of lapped cars getting in between the No. 59 and the rest of the leaders. Meanwhile, Spencer put a move on Chuck Bown to take second away. Bown then ended up also losing spots to Grissom, Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip after getting in the loose stones once again.

The record-breaking 21st caution flew on Lap 215 when Tracy Leslie ran over Mike Wallace in Turn 3. Leslie continued, while Mike Wallace ended up in the outside wall. Of course, even under yellow, silly things can still happen. Getting ready for the restart, Jim Bown was spun out by Jeff Burton in Turn 1. The No. 8 then bumped Pressley and Spencer had slight contact with Jim Bown. You couldn’t write the scenario if you tried.

On the restart, Jim Bown smacked the wall again in Turn 2 due to an apparent tire or suspension failure. No yellow was thrown, but that hit finally finished off the No. 98 for the day. Pressley continued to lead, but contact with Spencer caused part of his rear bumper to come loose. In response, NASCAR black flagged Pressley and forced him to pit to remove the offending piece.

Spencer continued to pressure Pressley and actually knocked the offending piece off of the No. 59 right before Pressley obeyed the black flag and pitted. Meanwhile, Waltrip was now all over Spencer for the lead, however, Leslie and Mike Wallace decided that their little duel wasn’t over yet. The two drivers came together in Turn 4 and drove each other into the wall right in front of the leaders. That did not draw the caution, but the rear bumper falling off of Leslie’s Detroit Gasket Oldsmobile did draw Caution No. 22.

Spencer led Waltrip and Houston back to the restart with 56 laps to go. Waltrip tried to challenge the No. 77 at first but didn’t really have the speed to keep up. Eventually, a bump from Houston in Turn 3 sent the Western Auto No. 17 into the loose stones, dropping Waltrip out of contention and putting the No. 6 up to second after starting dead last (30th).

A few laps after the restart, Ward Burton spun his Gwaltney Meats Buick in Turn 2, but no yellow was thrown. Both Jeff Burton and Earnhardt were black flagged for smoking by NASCAR. They both pitted for repairs and knocked out of the top-10.

With 41 laps to go, Houston made the move inside of Spencer in the treacherous Turn 3 to take the lead away. Of course, Spencer didn’t give up the lead easily, body slamming the No. 6 in the process. Houston, racing with a heavy heart since his father died the day before the race, had the hometown crowd staunchly in his corner.

The 23rd caution flew with 33 laps to go when Jay Fogleman spun exiting Turn 4 and bumped the inside wall. Earnhardt (Houston’s son-in-law) passed the No. 6 on the restart to get back on the lead lap. Meanwhile, Spencer put the pressure right back on Houston for the lead lap, however he was able to hold off the challenge.

The 24th caution came out when Pressley got loose exiting Turn 4 with 25 to go. The car sideswiped the wall, then spun in Turn 1 and went head-on into the outside wall. The Alliance Oldsmobile had severe front end damage in the crash. However, the crew was able to repair the car enough that Pressley was still able to finish 13th, one lap down.

Another caution, No. 25, came out with 19 to go when Waltrip and Miller got together in Turn 2. On that restart, Houston got a great jump on Spencer and briefly opened up a gap. However, Spencer took advantage of a little bit of grass to reel Houston back in, along with Labonte. With 11 laps to go, Labonte got a run on Spencer entering Turn 3 and took away second, forcing Spencer into the loose stones. Spencer’s Buick slid into the wall exiting Turn 4, but no yellow was thrown. The move put Labonte on Houston’s bumper, with Joe Nemechek in tow.

Houston got held up with six laps to go by the lapped car of Ward Burton, allowing Labonte to get a run on the No. 6, but he couldn’t do anything with it. Meanwhile, Chuck Bown took third away from Nemechek. Labonte continued to fight for the win, but it just simply wasn’t to be.

With four to go, Spencer and Sprague crashed in Turn 2, bringing out the 26th and final caution of the day. Sprague had gotten his right rear tire in the loose stones exiting Turn 4. Such a line would be good if Hickory were a dirt track. Not on this day. The stones got Sprague loose, but he recovered. Spencer got alongside and was passed for position entering Turn 1. However, Sprague ran into the back of Spencer, spinning both cars out.

The track crews were unable to get the track cleaned up in time for a one-lap shootout, so Houston was able to claim the 24th and final victory of his Busch Grand National career. It was also his eighth Busch Grand National win just at Hickory.

In Victory Lane, Houston was very happy for the win, but overcome with emotion.

“You know, my daddy didn’t go to the races a whole lot, not like he did back in the dirt days,” Houston said to TNN’s Glenn Jarrett. “I think today, he must have been watching from upstairs. By all means, this is dedicated to my daddy.”

Behind Houston and Labonte was Chuck Bown in third. Nemechek finished fourth and Waltrip rounded out the top 5 as the best Winston Cup interloper. Grissom came back from a lap down to finish sixth, while Ward Burton finished seventh despite the late spin. Hensley finished eighth, followed by Miller and Sprague to round out the top 10. Spencer and Earnhardt finished 11th and 12th, the last two cars on the lead lap.

The previous record for cautions before this race was 20 at South Boston in the Spring of 1991. There was a similar theme in that race as well. New pavement came up during the race, making it near impossible to compete. The 26 cautions from this race still stand as an all-time record in the now-Nationwide Series (although the 2007 Sam’s Town 250 at Memphis did make an assault on the record). They collectively took up 132 laps. As a result, the average speed was kept down to a pedestrian 53 mph. Even with the record number of yellows, the race time was just over two hours (not including the red flags).

I hope you enjoyed this look back at one of the quirkiest races in Nationwide Series history. We’ll be back at an undetermined time with another interesting look back at a historical race.

Contact Phil Allaway

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04/20/2011 03:16 AM

This weekend would be much better if they were running at the Nashville Fairgrounds instead.

04/20/2011 07:15 AM

The Fairgrounds would be a sell-out as it was before moving.
It would be a big help to saving the Fairgrounds Speedway if the Busch and Trucks series ran there, and once again brought 20,000 fans into Nashville.

Phil Allaway
04/20/2011 08:14 AM

Those Busch races at the Fairgrounds were quite interesting. It was added to the schedule at a fairly unusual time since the Busch Series was gravitating away from short tracks then. Winning one of those 320 lap races was no easy feat.