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Retro: Waltrip makes most of a fowl day at Pocono

June 10, 2011, Mark Aumann,

There have been some unusual occurrences during NASCAR races at Pocono Raceway over the years, but none more odd than the chicken delay during the 1991 Champion Spark Plug 500.

Due to its location in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains, the weather at Pocono can be foul at times. In addition to the almost expected rain relays, fog has created havoc at the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped oval. But in this case, it was a fowl that fouled up the on-track action.

"The car started vibrating, and that's when Darrell got by me. It got worse, and I was just trying to hold Mark [Martin] off for second place. Except for that, I think I could have beat Darrell."


Ken Schrader had moved up from his seventh starting position to grab the lead from Ricky Rudd about the time track workers spotted a large white bird on the racing surface in Turn 1. NASCAR officials were forced to throw a caution flag on Lap 19, as at least a dozen members of the safety crew were sent to catch the poultry in motion.

That proved to be easier said than done, as the chicken had other ideas. Approaching from both sides, workers finally were able to trap the bird up against the outside concrete wall. One brave soul grabbed the chicken and handed it over the wall into the waiting arms of someone who either took it to safety or had it for dinner.

From that point, the race settled into a four-way battle between Darrell Waltrip, Ernie Irvan, Sterling Marlin and Harry Gant, as all four led significant portions of the first half of the race. But as the clouds began to darken and the leaders eventually needed to pit, Pennsylvania native Jimmy Spencer took a gamble.

Instead of taking on fuel and tires, Spencer made a fuel-only stop, and found himself in front when the rains came on Lap 131 and the race was red-flagged seven laps later. However, the move eventually backfired when the track dried and the race resumed 102 minutes later.

"I think we led the longest time today, not the most laps," Spencer said after finishing 14th.

Waltrip's biggest concern was if the engine in his No. 17 Chevrolet would even refire. He had needed a push start from a safety truck at the beginning of the race, and his starter continued to malfunction once the signal was given to roll back onto the track.

"I have no idea why the car wouldn't crank to start the race or again after the rain delay," Waltrip said. "It would crank, it just wouldn't start. I guess the thing is just cold-natured."

When the race resumed, Rudd passed Spencer for the lead, but Dale Earnhardt was on the charge and turning the fastest laps of anyone on the track. He passed Rudd on Lap 157 and steadily pulled away, building a lead of more than a second.

Even after Hut Stricklin brought out the caution for a blown engine on Lap 166, Earnhardt quickly reasserted himself in front and it seemed nothing could keep him from winning, even as Waltrip -- now running second with no further engine issues -- gamely attempted to stay within striking distance. But the Intimidator didn't count on what happened next.

"The car started vibrating, and that's when Darrell got by me," Earnhardt said. "It got worse, and I was just trying to hold Mark [Martin] off for second place. Except for that, I think I could have beat Darrell."

Given that golden opportunity, Waltrip passed Earnhardt with 18 laps to go and tried not to look back.

"If you notice, I didn't linger around to give him a chance to retaliate," Waltrip said.

Waltrip won by nearly two seconds over Earnhardt. Martin, the pole-sitter, finished third, followed by Gant and Geoff Bodine. It was Waltrip's second win of the year, coming on the heels of an injury-riddled and winless 1990 after which he left Hendrick Motorsports and started his own team.

"I still have as much ability now as I ever had, natural or otherwise, but I have to work harder," Waltrip said.

Waltrip won again at Pocono the following season, then added victories at Bristol and Darlington to finish his career with 84 wins.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.