By: Toby Christie
This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars will roll on to Infineon Raceway for the 23rd time in the history of the track. Over the years there have been some fantastic races, because for the most part in the 1990s the NASCAR drivers really didn’t know too terribly much about road racing. Most of the drivers basically just tried to survive at Infineon and Watkins Glen back then.
However today that isn’t the case. Some of these drivers focus more on the two road races every year than any other event. However the most memorable finish at this track in my mind came back in the 1991 Banquet Frozen Foods 300.
Ricky Rudd started the day off on the pole in Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 Tide Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt tried running Rudd down from the second position, but to no avail. However Rusty Wallace would get by Earnhardt for second place, and on lap 12 he would take the lead from Rudd.
Rusty Wallace would lead the most laps on the day at 45 of the 74 laps that were contested, but by the end of the race it was shaping up to be a duel between Tommy Kendall and Mark Martin.
Kendall took the lead on lap 60, and the road racing ace was searching for his first Sprint Cup Series victory driving Felix Sabates’ No. 42 Mellow Yellow car. A few laps later the race was marred by a hard crash by Richard Petty. Petty slammed into the tire barrier, but a few minutes later the race got back underway.
Mark Martin, a pretty good road racer himself began to stalk Kendall for the remainder of the laps and attempted to pressure him into a mistake.
However with four laps remaining Martin got a run on Kendall and it was time to make his move. He attempted to make a pass for the lead when the two made contact. Martin appeared to still be heading to the lead, however Kendall got loose and tapped the rear of Martin’s Folgers Ford which sent him spinning out of contention.
The contact actually also cut Kendall’s tire and he too was out of contention for the victory. This handed the lead to Davey Allison with three laps to go and it set up an epic finish between he and Ricky Rudd.
Allison held a decent sized lead, but Ricky Rudd began to cut into it as he was arguably NASCAR’s best road racer at the time. Going through the hairpin turn 11 heading to the white flag Rudd made contact with Allison which sent him spinning. Rudd would take the lead, and the white flag.
Davey Allison would get his car back going, and would maintain second place, but he wouldn’t be able to catch Rudd.
Ricky Rudd came around to take the checkered flag, and appeared to be the winner of the race… However NASCAR threw the black flag at the last second for Rudd, and penalized him a time penalty for taking the leader of the race out.
Benny Parsons who called the race alongside Bob Jenkins said, “They did not give the win to Ricky Rudd Bob?” To which Jenkins responded, “No they gave the black flag to Ricky Rudd as he came past the start finish line, and they waved the checkered flag at Davey Allison. He is apparently going to win this race.”
Allison’s crew was in such shock that they didn’t even think to jump up and down or celebrate.
This marked Allison’s first and only ever win on a road course, and it was the 10th of his 19 career Sprint Cup victories. Also his 13th starting spot, was the furthest any winner at Infineon had ever started from until Juan Montoya won at here from 32nd in 2007.
Rudd’s crew chief Waddell Wilson was very emotional after being basically stripped of the victory.
“You know I don’t understand this. I’ve been racing since ’63 and this is about the dirtiest calls I’ve seen made in a long time.” Wilson said. “You know they told us in the driver’s meeting the last lap you’re on your own, but Ricky was not driving dirty. He touched him sure, but it was a hairpin turn I could of pushed the 28 car around with my hand.”
Allison’s crew chief Larry McReynolds explained the confusion quite simply.
“I don’t see how it could be no confusion.” McReynolds said. “You know I worked with Ricky Rudd for two years, and that ain’t Ricky Rudd’s style. If they let him get away with that then I ain’t got a whole lot to say about NASCAR’s procedure. The 28 Texaco Havoline car won the race, and that’s the way it is.”
Davey Allison thanked his crew for the win, and basically said that justice was served.
“You know I can’t say enough about Larry McReynolds and all these guys on this crew.” Allison said. “We just went out there and drove our guts out today and hell it’s a shame what happened there on the next to last lap down in turn 11, but the justification came out in the end.”
Mark Martin and Tommy Kendall’s misfortunes paved the way for one of the most controversial finishes in NASCAR history. Martin would finish the day a disappointing ninth, while Kendall who looked destined to win his first race came home 18th.
Kendall was still able to muster a smile after his dream day fell apart, and he explained what happened on the track.
“Well Steve Hmiel (Martin’s crew chief) came over right afterward and said, ‘Hey you know that’s racing don’t feel bad about it,’ but you know we got together going into the corner,” Kendall said, “Mark got into me a little and I got a little loose coming off, just picked up the throttle, got loose and tagged his rear and he got around.”
Rusty Wallace finished third followed by Ernie Irvan and Ken Schrader.
On the day there were 10 lead changes between seven drivers, and the official margin of victory to this day is listed as one second… Even though the No. 5 car actually crossed the stripe first that day.