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NASCAR Winston Cup Series DieHard 500: Pre-Race Notes

12 October 1997

 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 Pre-Race Notes
 DieHard 500
 Talladega Superspeedway
 October 12, 1997



Jeff Gordon's magic number is five. A fifth-place finish or better in each of 
the four remaining races will clinch the Hendrick Motorsports driver's second 
career NASCAR Winston Cup championship.  


Race statistics indicate that up front is THE place to start at Talladega 
Superspeedway. Of 56 events held at the 2.66-mile facility, 82% have been won 
from a top-10 starting position.  

Two drivers posted their best starting positions of the season and are 
seeking their first victory of 1997. Jimmy Spencer's third-place qualifying 
effort beat his previous best -- a fifth at Daytona in July. The Berwick, PA 
native's last victory came at Talladega in July 1994 when he was driving for 
the legendary Junior Johnson. "This has been a good race track for me over 
my career," said Spencer who has four top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 
fifteen starts at the superspeedway. "I can't think of a better one to be at 
this late in the season. "It's the same car we had at Daytona, and ran really 
well down there. We ended up losing a lap in an accident. Hopefully, that 
won't happen here. If it doesn't, I think we can do it here, too. We stayed 
up there all day long at Daytona, and we think we're going to have the same 
result Sunday."

Derrike Cope, who lines up fifth on the grid, will start his first event of 
the season from the top-five. His highest start thus far was a 9th at the 
second Bristol event. Cope's last visit to victory lane came at Dover Downs 
International Speedway back in 1990.  


Sterling Marlin will make his 400th start in today's DieHard 500. Marlin has 
won four of the the 11 restrictor-plate races since 1995 with two of them 
coming at Talladega Superspeedway (1995 DieHard 500 and 1996 Winston 500). 
"I've always really enjoyed running here," said Sterling, who will start 
"We came and tested last week and one of our best shots to win this year 
would be here, with three races left. We had a real good car here this 
Spring. We started way back (16th) and we came up to lead and had a bad pit 
stop and then got back to fourth before we lost an engine. We carried the 
same car to Daytona and had a good shot to win there and came up third. It's 
a big shuffling match, and hopefully, you get into a position to win the race 
with a couple of laps to go."

Another driver reaching a milestone this weekend is Steve Grissom who is 
making his 100th career Winston Cup start. The 34-year old driver from nearby 
Gadsden, AL would like nothing better than to record his first victory in 
front of the homestate fans. "I began my race-driving career right here at 
the Talladega Short Track (just down Speedway Boulevard from the 
superspeedway)," Grissom said. "A victory in the DieHard 500 at the big track 
would really be something to add to the memories. I believe we have all the 
ingredients to make it (first win) happen, and nothing would be better than 
to achieve it here at home before a lot of family and friends."


The Winston Leader Bonus is worth an additional $40,000 to the driver who 
wins the DieHard 500 and leads the season point standings at the conclusion 
of the event. With 125 points separating first and second place, Jeff Gordon 
and Mark Martin are the only two drivers eligible to collect the cash this 
weekend. Gordon was the last driver to win the bonus, collecting $20,000 for 
his victory in the CMT 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway four races 


If Ernie Irvan can win today's race from the pole, he'll pocket $22,800 in 
the form of the Unocal 76 Challenge Bonus. Eleven of 58 series events at 
Talladega Superspeedway have been won from the top spot.


The name of the game at the superspeedways is drafting. Everybody knows that 
two cars running nose-to-tail can run faster than a single car running by 

"Drafting proved to play a major role in our finish in May," said Derrike 
Cope, who finished 13th in the Winston 500 and is seeking the first victory 
ever for Pontiac in a restrictor-plate race. "Restrictor-plate racing makes 
the racing more competitive and stresses the importance of drafting. This 
time we'll make sure to find the right drafting partner and work our way up 
to the very front."

The key, of course, is knowing who to run with. Drivers in the past have 
talked about making deals with competitors before the race to determine who 
will run with who. But does it really work that way?

At least three drivers say no way. 

"You can go into this race with a plan, but it's hard to activate a plan," 
explained Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Ford. "Once we get to 
racing and things start happening, it's hard to stay with somebody. There's 
been a lot made about having teammates and all that stuff. And we try to work 
together, but it's real, real hard. But you know it coming in, so it's not 
like a big surprise. It's every man for himself. It's that way everywhere, 
but especially here. Even the guy who helps you all through the race, he goes 
and tries to win the race. And that's the way it ought to be."

Jimmy Spencer doesn't even bother to start out with plan. "There are no 
partners and no plans," he said. "Anybody who says they go into this race 
with a plan, they are just putting the media to wasting pens and paper. There 
are no plans out there. Everybody is going to do what they can to win the 
race. You definitely need drafting help. Nobody is going to win this race 
without a drafting partner. But it's like, who do you want to draft with to 
help you the most? But you also have to say, 'Now that I've helped them, I 
hope they don't screw me.'"

Rusty Wallace, who pilots the No. 2 Miller Lite Thunderbird, agrees with 
Spencer wholeheartedly. "You've always got to go with the fastest guy. There 
are no drafting partners. Everybody hates everybody. That's all there is to 
it. You talk to people and it just doesn't happen. There are guys out there 
that will help you, but not many. It's like I said a long time ago, these 
son-of-a-guns never invite me to dinner, and I don't invite them, either."