For a year, many knew that the season finale in
1992 would be a special occasion.
Richard Petty would make his final appearance on the track at the
Atlanta Motor Speedway. As the season went on, another story was
unfolding that would also end at that race: It was one of the closest points
battles in Winston Cup history. A future champion also made his debut in
NASCAR's big leagues that day. Part 3 of this series takes a look at the 1992
Before the green flag dropped on the 1992 NASCAR
season, the winningest driver in the history of the sport made it known when
his final race would be. "King"
Richard Petty announced that the Hooters 500
on November 15th at the
Atlanta Motor Speedway would be the final race of his historic career.
Leading up to that final race of the season, 1992 in
NASCAR became a year long tribute to
Richard Petty and his legacy. Country music super group Alabama
even recorded a song called "Richard
Petty Fans" as a tribute to him. So in that respect, this race was
already a historic one.
But, as the season wore on, another big story was
coming to life that would also reach its climax in
Atlanta. It was the race to the Winston Cup Championship. It
was building as one of the most exciting ever in
NASCAR. Six drivers had a mathematical shot at the title, but the
focus was on three: Davey
Alan Kulwicki, and
Bill Elliott. Allison went into the Hooters 500 leading in the
standings with Kulwicki second and Elliott third. In a literal sense, the
championship could turn on any lap.
Early in the race,
Richard Petty was involved in a wreck that took him out of the race for
the most part. He returned to the event on the final lap, then took a lap on
the track by himself afterwards to salute the fans. He finished 35th,
completing officially 95 laps.
So with Petty out of most of the race, the focus
became the championship. While Kulwicki and Elliott held their end of the
bargain, racing near the front for most of the race, Allison struggled. Davey
did lead five laps, but spent a lot of the race in the middle of the pack.
Then on lap 204, he got tangled up in a wreck with Ernie Irvan, ending any
title hopes. He finished the race 27th and third in the championship
And then there were two: The owner driver and the
Alan Kulwicki and the popular former champ
Bill Elliott on his home track, seeking his second title. It would
come down to bonus points and laps led. In
NASCAR, you get five points for leading at least a lap and an
additional five bonus points for leading the most laps. Elliott led 102
laps. Kulwicki led 103. Elliott won the race with Kulwicki finishing
second. But since Kulwicki led the most laps by just one, he edged Elliott
for the championship by ten points. Had it been reversed and Elliott led the
most laps, the two would have finished tied. Elliott would have won the title
based on the fact he won the most races in 1992 of the two drivers (Elliott
won five, Kulwicki two). It was the closest finish in the history of the
Winston/Nextel Cup until 2004.
Bill Elliott never won another title in his career (Other than his one
in 1988). He finished his career with 44 wins. Sadly, we'll never know how
good the careers of his '92 title chase opponents might have been. Both
Alan Kulwicki and
Davey Allison were killed in aviation crashes less than a year after
the Hooters 500. Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash
on April 1st in
Tennessee while on his way to the Bristol Spring race.
On July 12th, Allison was going to
Talladega to watch fellow "Alabama Gang" member Neil Bonett practice at
the track in his comeback attempt. He was piloting a helicopter with
Red Farmer riding with him when it crashed in the infield at the
track. Farmer walked away, but Allison suffered grave injuries. Davey died
Birmingham, Alabama hospital the next morning.
With the final race of
Richard Petty's career and the close points battle, the 1992 Hooters
500 has its place among the great races in NASCAR history. There is one other
side note that some fans forget about that race. A young driver made his
debut in the Winston Cup Series that very same afternoon in
Atlanta. He would go on to be a future champion himself and would
change the way some look at
NASCAR. That future star making his debut in the 1992 Hooters 500 was
Below are a couple clips from Youtube.com
Alan Kulwicki Victory
Lane Championship Speech
Alan Kulwicki does his
Polish Victory lap