News & Media

Retro Racing: Petty enjoys Monster turnaround in 1995

May 31, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Bad starting spot a blessing en route to first win on Dover's new concrete surface

Even before Kyle Petty climbed into the cockpit for the start of the 1995 Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway, he didn't think much of his chances.

After all, the No. 42 Pontiac was the same car with which Petty finished 20 laps off the pace the previous weekend at Charlotte. And it didn't appear things would be any better on the brand-new concrete surface at Dover, as Petty qualified a distant 37th in the 42-car field.

"We went from nearly last to first in one week in the same car."


Not only had no one won at the Monster Mile from that deep in the starting grid, but only two Pontiacs had visited Dover's Victory Lane in 26 years -- one of those belonging to Kyle's dad, Richard.

But one of the largest wrecks in NASCAR history, combined with crew chief Barry Dodson's race-day setup, helped Petty pull off a huge upset for his eighth and final Cup win.

However, when the car was first unloaded off the hauler, Petty was anything but enthused.

"I wasn't thrilled to jump right back into that same car," Petty said. "It was a sled at Charlotte, and it came out of the box just as slow at Dover."

But Petty didn't have to wait long for the fates to turn things in a new direction. Even before the field could complete one lap, John Andretti -- running in the top five -- got loose in Turn 4 and turned sideways, tapping front bumpers with Ricky Craven.

While Andretti and Craven escaped with minimal damage, many others weren't so lucky. Andretti's spin set off a chain-reaction crash that involved 19 cars and blocked the entire front straight. At the time, only a pair of accidents on superspeedways -- a 24-car accident in Daytona in 1990 and a 21-car wreck at Talladega in 1973 -- involved more carnage at one time.

Mark Martin saw the tire smoke in front of him and lifted off the gas, but Rusty Wallace could not -- and ran into Martin, which turned him into the cars of Terry Labonte and Ricky Rudd. With their vision obscured by smoke and nowhere to go, most of the others couldn't avoid clobbering the stopped cars.

For an incensed Martin, it was a carbon copy of what had happened to him in the Busch Series race the previous day. And he made his thoughts clear when interviewed on the television broadcast.

"Some dummy just ran into the back of us and wrecked us again," Martin said. "I could see [Andretti] spinning up in front of me and you knew you couldn't go. ... It would have been all right but that started the track getting blocked.

"And then everybody wrecked. I just don't understand why people can't just ride around for a while here, you know? There's no safe place on a race track because somebody from behind will run over you running wide open."

Several drivers were lucky enough to either be in front of the wreck or chose the right hole before it closed up. Michael Waltrip, for example, was able to squeeze to the inside next to the pit wall before the damaged cars blocked that escape route. On the other hand, Jimmy Spencer stayed high and followed Andretti through to safety.

Then there was Petty. By starting so far back, he was able to slow down and pick his way through the melee. That strategy also panned out for Ted Musgrave, Ken Schrader and Derrike Cope.

"We went from 37th to 20th right there," Petty said. "Then we somehow hit on the right handling setup. I mean, it drove like a go-kart. I could put it just about anywhere. It went right to the front, and wanted to stay there."

After two more early cautions, the race went green on Lap 49 and it stayed that way for 289 circuits. That played perfectly into Petty's hand and he led more than 150 laps during that stretch.

Petty regained the lead during a final round of green-flag stops with less than 50 laps to go, but soon was faced with two major problems. First, Petty was having problems breathing because of what was thought to be a carbon monoxide leak in the car.

"I was struggling to breathe those last laps," he said.

And then there was the issue of Bobby Labonte's Chevrolet and Musgrave's Ford. They were getting bigger and bigger in the rear-view mirror at the same time Petty's handling was going away.

1995 Results

Miller Genuine Draft 500
2.Bobby Labonte Chevrolet
3. Ted Musgrave Ford
4.Hut Stricklin Ford
5. Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet

Labonte and Musgrave caught Petty in the closing laps, with Labonte dogging Petty's bumper when the three took the white flag, nose to tail. Labonte took a look to the outside in Turn 1 but couldn't complete the pass.

He then nearly pulled up even with Petty heading into Turn 3, but while Petty was able to hug the white line around the corner, Labonte's car couldn't get traction up high, allowing Petty to hold on by a margin of 0.22 seconds.

Draped with ice packs on his shoulders and slumped in Victory Lane, Petty could barely get out the words.

"The last lap? How about that?" Petty said. "We were really, really good for 300 laps, 350 laps. But the last couple-hundred laps, we were getting a little bit pushy -- a little bit loose -- and we couldn't do nothing with it.

"I feel like the 18 car [of Labonte] and the 16 car [of Musgrave] wore my butt out."

For Petty, it was not only a victory, but a bit of vindication.

"We had just come off one of the worst weekends of the year at Charlotte," Petty said several years later. "We were really hanging our heads at how bad we were.

"That win really made us feel we had turned the program around. We went from nearly last to first in one week in the same car."