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The Callahan Report: Martin Wins; NASCAR Stars Brighten Southern California

3 May 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
FONTANA, CA: Southern California is bright with stars from Hollywood. The light was even more intense as the stars of America's number one spectator sport shined at the California Speedway.

Mark Martin
Mark Martin
A year ago, Mark Martin would have given his right arm for a gallon of gas at the end of the California 500. He ran out of fuel at the finish after dominating the race. He and his Valvoline Racing team corrected their fuel mileage problems over the Winter. It paid off today as Martin once again dominated the California 500. This time he won.

Martin's performance in California puts fear into the competition. Consider...there have been ten races on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit in 1998. Martin has won almost a third of them. Today's victory in California was the third of the season for Martin. He found victory lane in Las Vegas and in Texas earlier this season. It was the 25th win of his Winston Cup career. Martin is already a superstar on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit

Martin shows dominance on the sheer horsepower tracks. There are plenty of them left on the NASCAR circuit. Enough that Martin could capture the first Winston Cup Championship of his career. Martin came close last year. He was in a heated three-way battle for the championship that lasted all the way to the end of the season. The Jack Roush prepared Valvoline team appears to be even stronger this season.

Jeremy Mayfield
Jeremy Mayfield
Another star is on the horizon. Jeremy Mayfield is ready to explode onto the NASCAR superstar list. His performance in the California 500 proved that he is as talented as any of the "stars" on the circuit today. Mayfield even blew past his teammate, Rusty Wallace, in the heat of battle. On one sequence, Mayfield was deep in the pack. He used patience and his emerging talent to run to the front. Drivers are getting used to looking at the back of the Mobil 1 Ford it fades into the distance.

After finishing second in the California 500, Mayfield appears to belong in the "star" category. He has posted top five finished time after time this year. For those who may have thought it was a fluke, think again. Mayfield is young. When he finally breaks though and gets a victory, stay out of his way. Winning is an addiction. After he gets his first taste, he will be even hungrier for more.

There were other relative newcomers to NASCAR who shined as bright as the sport they represent in California. Chad Little posted a strong sixth place finish in the Jack Roush prepared John Deere Ford Taurus. Little is teamed with Mark Martin. He has been threatening to win a NASCAR race all season. The name "Little" could be "big" very soon in NASCAR.

Jack Roush is proving there is truly strength in numbers. A third member of the team also finished in the top ten. Johnny Benson landed an eighth place finish in the Roush Cheerios Ford Taurus. Benson has race three seasons in NASCAR's top division. The time is near for the mild-mannered gentleman from Michigan.

Speaking of stars, there were several drivers who proved exactly why they are stars. Four of them were driving the still struggling Chevy Monte Carlos. For most of the race the leader board was filled with the familiar Ford emblem. When it came time to go racing in the last 50 laps, the top ten list started becoming a bow tie affair. Chevrolets moved in at the finish with familiar names like Terry Labonte (3rd), Jeff Gordon (4th), Darrell Waltrip (5th), and Dale Earnhardt (9th) were all in the mix.

Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon

Waltrip's performance at California was flawless. He drove as if it were the early 1980's. Waltrip didn't look like a driver who hadn't won a Winston Cup event in quite some time. He looked like a competitor who challenged week after week. At one point he even blocked his car owner (Dale Earnhardt) as he was trying to make a pass late in the race. It worked. Waltrip stuck to Jeff Gordon's rear bumper all the way to the checkered flag as his car owner faded slightly. Waltrip is substituting for the injured Steve Park in the Pennzoil Monte Carlo. Park, the new star, witnessed a lesson from one of NASCAR's brightest stars ever. Waltrip still has some racing years left.

Dale Earnhardt showed the benefits of determination. He spun while trying to avoid a big crash involving Bill Elliott and Kyle Petty. While he was spinning, he damaged the rear of his Goodwrench Chevrolet. Earnhardt made several pit stops repairing his damaged race car. With the sheet metal, duct tape, and pop rivets flapping in the draft, Earnhardt stayed determined. His team kept him on the lead lap. Earnhardt's toughness earned him another top ten finish.

Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt

Some bright stars had a dull day. Dale Jarrett was suffering from a stomach virus all weekend. He crashed his car during qualifying on Friday. He started 36th and was moving through the field when his engine exploded. His day was done....finally. Jarrett is one star who will shine brightly again after a week of rest.

Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott
It may take more than a couple of weeks rest for the 10-time most popular driver in NASCAR, Bill Elliott, to return to full throttle. After suffering a bruised sternum in a horrifying crash at Talladega last weekend, Elliott carefully climbed into his McDonald's Ford Taurus for another Sunday drive. His drive in California was no more enjoyable than at Talladega. For the second week in a row, Elliott got the worst of a race stopping accident.

Kyle Petty and Bill Elliott were following Dale Jarrett on the track when Jarrett's engine blew. Petty spun in the oil and slid up into Elliott. It looked like an instant replay from Talladega as Elliott went on his side and crashed hard into the wall. Fire erupted and spread at both ends of Elliott's car. Again, Elliott walked away from a fire filled crash. Elliott will enjoy having the weekend off. Petty will begin his annual motorcycle ride for charity across America on Monday.

The NASCAR Winston Cup teams will have Mother's Day weekend off (next weekend). Selected drivers will race in "The Winston" on Saturday night, May 16, at Charlotte, North Carolina. They won't even need to turn the lights on....there will be enough star power on the track to light the North Carolina sky.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in the Visions of Speed Art Gallery and the Racing Image Galleries.

FONTANA, CA: The results of the NASCAR California 500 follow with finishing position, (starting position), driver, hometown, car make, laps completed, reason out (if any) and money won:

1. (3) Mark Martin, Batesville, Ark., Ford, 250, $141,375.
2. (2) Jeremy Mayfield, Owensboro, Ky., Ford, 250, $88,800.
3. (9) Terry Labonte, Corpus Christi, Texas, Chevrolet, 250, $96,200.
4. (1) Jeff Gordon, Pittsboro, Ind., Chevrolet, 250, $98,800.
5. (11) Darrell Waltrip, Owensboro, Ky., Chevrolet, 250, $47,950.
6. (40) Chad Little, Spokane, Wash., Ford, 250, $57,450.
7. (26) Geoff Bodine, Chemung, N.Y., Ford, 250, $55,600.
8. (5) Johnny Benson, Grand Rapids, Mich., Ford, 250, $51,700.
9. (43) Dale Earnhardt, Kannapolis, N.C., Chevrolet, 250, $53,800.
10. (21) Jeff Burton, South Boston, Va., Ford, 250, $56,950.
11. (23) Ricky Rudd, Chesapeake, Va., Ford, 250, $58,025.
12. (8) Ward Burton, South Boston, Va., Pontiac, 250, $45,775.
13. (22) Ernie Irvan, Salinas, Calif., Pontiac, 250, $44,675.
14. (14) Sterling Marlin, Columbia, Tenn., Chevrolet, 250, $36,325.
15. (15) Ken Schrader, Fenton, Mo., Chevrolet, 250, $45,975.
16. (18) Kenny Irwin, Indianapolis, Ford, 249, $50,425.
17. (20) Robert Pressley, Asheboro, N.C., Ford, 249, $32,625.
18. (19) David Green, Owensboro, Ky., Chevrolet, 249, $35,725.
19. (34) Kenny Wallace, St. Louis, Ford, 249, $34,925.
20. (37) Michael Waltrip, Owensboro, Ky., Ford, 249, $43,775.
21. (28) Jimmy Spencer, Berwick, Pa., Ford, 249, $41,625.
22. (6) Joe Nemechek, Lakeland, Fla., Chevrolet, 248, $41,025.
23. (35) Gary Bradberry, Chelsea, Ala., Ford, 247, $30,425.
24. (10) Morgan Shepherd, Conover, N.C., Chevrolet, 247, $33,525.
25. (30) Rick Mast, Rockbridge Baths, Va., Ford, 247, $33,225.
26. (33) Jerry Nadeau, Danbury, Conn., Ford, 247, $29,825.
27. (31) Bobby Hamilton, Nashville, Tenn., Chevrolet, 246, $54,625.
28. (38) Brett Bodine, Chemung, N.Y., Ford, 245, $39,525.
29. (42) Wally Dallenbach Jr., Basalt, Colo., Pontiac, 245, $29,225.
30. (41) Steve Grissom, Gadsden, Ala., Chevrolet, 245, $39,025.
31. (25) John Andretti, Indianapolis, Pontiac, 244, $43,850.
32. (16) Lake Speed, Jackson, Miss., Ford, 243, $31,650.
33. (24) Ted Musgrave, Franklin, Wis., Ford, 243, $38,150.
34. (4) Rusty Wallace, St. Louis, Ford, 242, engine, $43,250.
35. (27) Mike Dillon, Winston-Salem, N.C., Chevrolet, 239,$28,050.
36. (39) Randy LaJoie, Norwalk, Conn., Chevrolet, 210, crash, $34,950.
37. (29) Dick Trickle, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., Ford, 193, handling, $34,750.
38. (7) Bobby Labonte, Corpus Christi, Texas, Pontiac, 191, engine, $42,350.
39. (32) Derrike Cope, Spanaway, Wash., Pontiac, 153, crash, $34,325.
40. (13) Kevin LePage, Shelbourne, Vt., Chevrolet, 93, oil leak, $27,300.
41. (36) Dale Jarrett, Hickory, N.C., Ford, 86, engine, $44,275.
42. (17) Kyle Petty, Randleman, N.C., Pontiac, 85, crash, $34,250.
43. (12) Bill Elliott, Dawsonville, Ga., Ford, 84, crash, $36,725.