NASCAR-BGN: Total Team Effort Leads Mclaughlin to Charlotte Victory
5 October 1998
From the time the #34 Chevrolet Monte Carlo rolled off the truck on Thursday morning, McLaughlin was among the fastest cars at the track. Thursday afternoon, McLaughlin backed up his practice speeds by qualifying the Goulds Pumps Chevrolet in the 3rd position for Saturday's showdown at the 1.5 mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
As race day rolled around on Saturday, the drivers and fans were greeted with a clear day and pleasant temperatures in the 70's, perfect racing weather. McLaughlin held his own as the green flag dropped, signaling the start of one of the most prestigious races on the circuit. McLaughlin raced hard throughout the first part of the race, maintaining his position inside the top-five until he came to pit road for 4 fresh tires and gas on lap 78.
McLaughlin continued to race the Goulds Pumps Chevrolet hard over the next 20 laps, racing back into the top five. The decision of the race would come on lap 98 when a caution fell on the track, most of the leaders elected to come in for fresh tires and fuel, but McLaughlin remained on the track, moving into the lead. McLaughlin would lose the lead on the restart of the race, but the reward would come just 10 laps later as another caution came across the track. McLaughlin was one of the only cars to come to the pits for tires and fuel at that time. Few in the field realized at the time that the Goulds Pumps crew had just made the move that would win the race 92 laps later. The crew radioed to Mike, "We can make it on fuel now." Mike was surprised and wanted to question the decision, but laid his trust in the hands of the Goulds Pumps crew.
McLaughlin sat in 13th place on the restart, stuck in the middle of a ton of lapped traffic. Over the next 60 laps, McLaughlin managed to work his way back into the top-five. When most of his main competitors came to the pits for their final stop between laps 170-180, McLaughlin moved back into the lead. There would be no more stopping for McLaughlin, he had the fuel to finish the race. Over the last 15 laps McLaughlin drove at three-quarters throttle and coasted to a 24-second victory.
"This is really awesome!," McLaughlin said. "The Goulds Pumps crew made a great call on strategy and won the race for us. I have a great race team, I questioned them for a second when the decision was made, but I put my trust in their hands and here we are in Victory Lane at Charlotte!"
McLaughlin had a few uneasy moments over the last few laps, just waiting on the engine to sputter.
"I wasn't sure if we could make it or not, but we pulled it off and there are still a few drops of fuel in the tank. It never showed any signs of running out of gas," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin led the race twice for 26 laps. Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., rounded out the top three finishers.
The Busch Series will take this weekend off before moving to St. Louis for the Carquest 250 on October 17th. McLaughlin will spend the next few days testing the Goulds Pumps Chevrolet at Homestead Motorsports Complex, preparing for the season finale on November 15th.