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1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
41st season of NASCAR stock-car racing
The 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Season was the 41st season of professional stock car racing in the United States and the 18th modern-era Cup season. It began February 12 and ended November 19. Rusty Wallace of Blue Max Racing won the championship. This was the first year that every Winston Cup race had flag-to-flag coverage, with almost all of them being televised live.
Rusty Wallace became the first driver to claim the Unocal 76 Challenge. After one rollover, and bonus money added at the season ending banquet, Wallace received an additional $22,800 for winning from the pole.
Richard Petty was a factor among the leaders, and led 9 laps. But during a pit stop, the gas can leaked fuel onto the exhaust pipe, and started a bad pit fire. Crew member Robert Callicutt suffered second degree burns over 40% of his body and was hospitalized. Petty was forced to drop out of the race. The incident led to new rules regarding crew member fire protection, and newly designed gas can nozzles to prevent leakage. In addition all pit road reporters for ABC and ESPN would be required to wear fire protected suits for future races telecast by either network.
This race was scheduled for the weekend after the Daytona 500 (February 26), but snow fell in Richmond, and blanketed the Speedway. The race was postponed a month, and in subsequent seasons, the spring Richmond race was moved later and later into the season. It is one of the rare times a NASCAR race has been held on Easter Sunday, a weekend that has not had an originally scheduled NASCAR Cup race in the modern era.
After qualifying for 513 consecutive races, Richard Petty failed to make the field for this race. He wrecked his primary car during practice, and could not get the backup car up to speed. His consecutive starts record would stand until the 1996 First Union 400 when Terry Labonte broke the record.
This race marked the end of the first tire war, as Hoosier Racing Tire left NASCAR when they could not sell enough tires to be economically viable. Hoosier returned to the Winston Cup Series in 1994, but left for good after that season.
By winning the Daytona 500 earlier in the season, and now the Coca-Cola 600, Waltrip secured a $100,000 bonus for winning two of the Winston Million races, and put himself in position to win the Winston Million later in the season at Darlington.
Mark Martin actually rolled his car during the race due to an error by a new tire changer (only two of the five lug nuts were properly fastened on the car). Right after the car left the pits, the right rear came off, the car spun, hit the tire barrier and rolled onto its roof. However, he came back to finish the race in 31st, 5 laps down.
This was the last Pepsi 400 to be shown on tape delay, but was shown flag-to-flag. Previous to this, the race was aired as part of ABC's Wide World of Sports and only the last 25 laps or so of the race would be aired.
AC Spark Plug 500
The AC Spark Plug 500 was held on July 23 at Pocono International Raceway. Ken Schrader won the pole. This race was notable for two wrecks that tore open portions of the track's boilerplate walls. Jimmy Horton crashed in Turn Two and tore open a hole in the wall. Later a big wreck erupted in Turn One involving Greg Sacks in the Tom Winkle No. 48 and the No. 83 of Lake Speed. The two cars got together going into Turn One and smashed into the boilerplate wall head-on. The hit punched open the wall and sent Sacks flipping. The yellow remained out for the duration of time needed to repair the wall. Speed broke his shoulder in the crash and had to sit out for a couple weeks.
Elliott cut a tire on the opening lap but rallied to take the lead from Wallace in the final ten laps. The win tied Elliott with Tim Richmond for most wins at Pocono. Richmond, battling illness, was the subject of a short retrospective piece on the ESPN telecast and former Richmond crew chiefs Barry Dodson and Harry Hyde were interviewed on-air about him.
Joe Ruttman substituted for Lake Speed in the No. 83, and crashed spectacularly on lap 145. Ruttman hit the wall nearly head-on and almost got on his side as a result.
The Budweiser at the Glen
The Budweiser at the Glen was held August 13 at Watkins Glen International. Morgan Shepherd won the pole. This race is notable for a big wreck on lap 89 involving the No. 5 of Geoffrey Bodine. Bodine lost a tire at the end of the backstraight, spun around and went through the barrier and hitting a fence behind the barrier (more or less marking off the property line of Watkins Glen International's land). Bodine was uninjured. Also on that day, Tim Richmond who had a long battle with AIDS, died earlier in the day.
The race was red flagged briefly because of a crash involving Neil Bonnett. Bonnett, who broke his sternum in the incident, had to leave the car for the next three races. Since there was no way to get out of the track from the infield, the track had to be cleared so the ambulance could drive Bonnett out.
Two cars entered by Hendrick Motorsports (the No. 46 City Chevrolet driven by Greg Sacks and the No. 51 Exxon Chevrolet driven by Bobby Hamilton) were entered to get in-race footage for the 1990 film Days of Thunder. Hamilton actually led the race with 100 laps to go (in his first career start) before the engine blew. A third movie car (the No. 18 Hardee's Chevrolet driven by Tommy Ellis) failed to make the race.
Atlanta Journal 500
The Atlanta Journal 500 was held November 19 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The No. 7 of Alan Kulwicki won the pole. Three drivers entered the race mathematically eligible for the Winston Cup championship. Rusty Wallace had a 78-point lead over Mark Martin, and a 79-point lead over third place Dale Earnhardt. Wallace had to finish 18th or better to clinch the title, but went into the race proclaiming he was going to 'run as hard as he could.' The statement was seen as thinly veiled criticism of Bill Elliott whom Wallace lost the championship to a year earlier, in a similar situation. In that year, Elliott elected to drive a very conservative race, easily clinching the title, much to the ire of the hard-charging Wallace. Dale Earnhardt qualified 3rd, Wallace qualified 4th, but Martin would start back in 20th.
Despite his plan to race all-out, Wallace encountered problems that complicated his day. On the first round of pit stops, he pitted under green, but lost a lap when the caution came out shortly thereafter. Later, he suffered a flat tire, and fell all the way back to 33rd position. Wallace slowly and steadily worked his way back up the standings. Dale Earnhardt meanwhile, dominated the race leading 294 of the 328 laps en route to victory. Mark Martin, the other driver in the mix for the championship did not end up being a factor. He dropped out on lap 224 with a blown engine that resulted in a fire. In the closing laps, Wallace was three laps down in 15th place, just barely holding on to the hypothetical points lead. Wallace managed to finish the race in 15th, and won the Winston Cup championship by a mere 12 points over Earnhardt. It was Wallace's first and only Winston Cup championship, and the first championship in the modern era for Pontiac.
On Lap 203, Grant Adcox struck the wall and suffered a heart attack and severe head injuries. Adcox died shortly after the accident.