Thursday, August 28, 2008

NASCAR: Going Back In Time: Where Things Stood Entering Labor Day 10 and 20 Years Ago

Summer's Last Hoo-Rah

Let's have a little fun, travel back in time and see where things stood at this point in the season in years past. Ten years ago, the tranformation to the modern age was underway as new tracks had been added with one race each at California, Las Vegas, and Texas. Also, the previous year, 1997 was the last year of the Winston Million, won by Jeff Gordon. Thus heading into Darlington for Labor Day weekend lacked the drama of the possibility of a Winston Million winner. The shape of the future was taking shape in 1998. First, Ford had discontinued the Thunderbird. The four door Taurus was mutated to fit a Winston Cup style template, but the "stock" aspect was becoming less and less a reality. Dates were now on the calendar for California, Las Vegas, and Texas. Fans were getting used to the new Coast to Coast style with North Wilkesboro sacrificed after the 1996 season.

Here's the Top 10 from Bristol, August, 1998

1. #6 Mark Martin, Ford, Valvoline
2. #99 Jeff Burton, Ford, Exide Batteries
3. #2 Rusty Wallace, Ford, Miller Lite
4. #88 Dale Jarrett, Ford, Quality Care / Ford Credit
5. #24 Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet DuPont
6. #3 Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet, GM Goodwrench Service Plus
7. #31 Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, Lowe's
8. #12 Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, Mobil 1
9. #10 Ricky Rudd, Ford, Tide
10. #16 Kevin Lepage, Ford, Primestar

Standings after Bristol, 1998
(Rank, Driver, Points, Margin)

1. Jeff Gordon, 3417, Leader
2. Mark Martin, 3350, -67
3. Dale Jarrett, 3194, -223
4. Rusty Wallace, 3033, -384
5. Bobby Labonte, 2932, -485
6. Jeremy Mayfield, 2899, -518
7. Jeff Burton, 2778, -639
8. Dale Earnhardt, 2671, -746
9. Terry Labonte, 2606 -811
10. Ken Schrader, 2533, -884

Twenty years ago, a new era in NASCAR had become common place. Virtually all races were broadcast live on ESPN, TBS, or over the air, mostly on CBS. The smaller, mid-sized race cars had been on the track for a few years. The old guard of Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, and Cale Yarborough had been turned over to a new generation of stars. Darrell Waltrip was the big noise of the series with Dale Earnhardt sporting a new look to match his Intimidator attitude in his black #3. As triumphant as the 1988 season began with father Bobby Allison racing his son for the Daytona 500 victory, all would turn to sorrow when Bobby Allison wrecked at Pocono ending his career. However, 1988 was Bill Elliot's year. 1988 was the the first year of the restrictor plate more or less as it is used today at both Daytona and Talladega. 1988 would be the last year NASCAR would race in Southern California as the last Riverside race had already been run. That date would move up to Wine Country at Sears Point in the Napa/Sonoma region. Racing would resume in LA-LA land in 1997 with the opening of the Fontana Track.

Bristol madness prevailed in 1988 as 12 cars failed to compete our of a starting lineup of only 32 starters. Earnhardt and Elliott were the only drivers to finish all 500 laps.

Here's the Top 10 from Bristol, 1988

1. #3 Dale Earnhardt, Chevy, GM Goodwrench
2. #9 Bill Elliott, Ford, Coors
3. #5 Geoffrey Bodine, Chevy, Levi Garrett
4. #28 Davey Allison, Ford, Havoline
5. #7 Alan Kulwicki, Ford, Zerex
6. #33 Harry Gant, Chevy, Skoal Bandit
7. #17 Darrell Waltrip, Chevy, Tide
8. #43 Richard Petty, Pontiac, STP
9. #27 Rusty Wallace, Pontiac, Kodiak
10. #8 Bobby Hillin, Jr., Buick, Miller High Life

Standings after Bristol, 1988
(Rank, Driver, Points, Margin)

1. Bill Elliott, 3027, Leader
2. Rusty Wallace, 3011, -16
3. Dale Earnhardt, 2901,-126
4. Ken Schrader, 2702, -325
5. Terry Labonte, 2654, -373
6. Geoffrey Bodine. 2640, -387
7. Sterling Marlin, 2544, -483
8. Phil Parsons, 2511, -516
9. Darrell Waltrip, 2504, -523
10. Bobby Hillin, Jr., 2369, -658

Before the "Chase" format was adopted in began in 2004, Labor Day marked the beginning of the traditional stretch drive where it was pretty clear to all who the real championship contenders were and who were going to be singing, "until wait until next year." Drivers had much incentive to finish in the top ten, as the top ten drivers shared in additional championship money to be awarded at the annual NASCAR banquet at the Waldorf Astoria. Look at the points results given here for 1998 and 1988 and see how many drivers went into Darlington thinking they'd have a shot at the Cup trophy at year's end.

No comments: