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The Callahan Report: Andretti Gives 'Stunning' Performance at Martinsville

18 April 1999

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
MARTINSVILLE, VA: It was like a sucker punch. Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon never knew what hit them. Neither did the 70,000 race fans in attendance at the Goody's Body Pain 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race Sunday. John Andretti came out of nowhere. He passed Gordon and Burton in the closing laps to capture his second career Winston Cup victory. The win was the first for Petty Enterprises at Martinsville since the late seventies.
John Andretti

"Good weekend,'' said car owner and 7 time champion Richard Petty. "We got behind, got a lap down and were able to make that back up. That was a heck of a race.''

Andretti's day got off to a dismal start. On lap 49 of the 500 lap event, Andretti found himself heading the wrong way on the track. He was tapped from behind and spun out. Andretti lost a lap to the field as a result.
Richard Petty

"I just thought, `Can I get off like O.J. did if I kill the guy that spun me with 60,000 people watching?' " Andretti said after the race. "I was so mad it was too hard for me to deal with to even think about winning.''

The former CART and NHRA driver hustled for the nearly a hundred laps to get back his lost lap.. Finally, on lap 135, Andretti was able to pass Jeff Gordon (the leader at that point) to put himself back into contention.

Andretti used a strong car and a courageous call from his pit crew to pull off the surprise win. He chipped away at the leaders all afternoon without being noticed. Andretti had moved to 14th place at the end of 200 laps. He dogged his way to 12th place when 300 laps had passed. On lap 383, Andretti had moved to 11th when the final yellow flag waved.

Then came the miracle. In order to gain track position, Andretti's crew slapped two tires onto his STP Pontiac Grand Prix. The strongest cars took on four tires during their pit stops. Andretti emerged from the pits in fourth place. His two new tires worked like some kind of magical formula. He was faster than he had been all day.

"There at the end, we said it's about the only thing we can do (take on two tires)'' said Andretti. "But the older the tires got, the better I hooked up compared to everybody else.''

Rusty Wallace, who led the most laps during the show, was the first to fall to the speeding Andretti. Wallace could only watch Andretti's bright blue and orange car fade into the distance. Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton were battling hard for the top spot. They did not realize they were racing for second place.

Andretti patiently waded through the traffic on the tight half-mile oval. With only eleven laps remaining in the race, he caught Jeff Gordon and easily disposed of him. Gordon was quite surprised to learn Andretti had only taken on two new tires, instead of four.

"There's no way,'' said Gordon. "I'd like to double check that. How can I get beat by two tires on a 110-lap run?''

It looked like Burton was long gone, but Andretti brought the crowd to its feet when he gobbled up the track between himself and Burton. There were seven laps to go when Andretti pulled beside Burton's Exide Taurus. They raced door to door for the next three laps. Andretti pulled to the lead on the 496th lap.

"As fast as he came, I knew it was going to be hard to hold him back,'' said Burton, who retained the Winston Cup points lead with his second place finish.

In the winner's circle Andretti spoke in his typical off-the-cuff style saying, "The car was awesome. It spits concrete. I'm so happy I can barely stand. I'm about ready to fall out of my skin.''

"I was seeing blood for a while after things settled down and they got me calmed down after about 200 laps and I got back in race mode,'' Andretti said. The win places Andretti 14th in the standings.

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