Thursday, July 21, 2016

8/6/94: Jimmy Spencer first to crash out of inaugural Brickyard 400

SOURCE: ABC / ESPN
On August 6, 1994, Jimmy Spencer picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when his #27 McDonald’s Ford was involved in a single-car crash after 9 of 160 laps.

The finish, which came in Spencer’s 133rd series start, was his first of the season and first in Cup since October 7, 1990, when his #57 Heinz Pontiac crashed after 97 laps of the Mello Yello 500 at Charlotte.

“Mr. Excitement,” the two-time NASCAR Modified champion from Pennsylvania, moved to the NASCAR Busch Series full-time in 1988, bringing with him car owner Frank Cicci.  Spencer’s aggressive driving paid big dividends on the series’ many short tracks.  During the ‘88 season, his best finishes were a pair of 3rds at Nashville and Orange County Speedways, and the next year he took the checkers at Hickory, Myrtle Beach, and again at Orange County.  Winston Cup came calling in 1989 when Buddy Baker and Danny Schiff released Greg Sacks from their #88 Crisco Pontiac, and again Spencer’s best finish came on a bullring - an 8th in the night race at Bristol.  Though he ran only a partial season, Spencer ranked fourth in the Rookie of the Year battle, trailing Dick Trickle, Hut Stricklin, and Larry Pearson.

Spencer’s ride for 1990 was with Rod Osterlund, the same man who fielded Dale Earnhardt’s first championship-winning ride in 1980.  The cherry-red #57 Heinz Pontiac began the year strong with four-straight finishes inside the Top 15, but the rest of the year was a struggle.  After the fall race at Charlotte, where an early crash left Spencer with his first last-place finish, Spencer was out of the ride, replaced for the final three rounds by longtime Winston West competitor Jim Bown.

For 1991, Spencer landed with Travis Carter as driver of the #98 Banquet Frozen Foods Chevrolet.  Again, he finished well at Bristol, coming home 8th in the spring and 15th in the fall, and nearly scored his first victory in the spring race at North Wilkesboro.  In a race slowed by 17 cautions, Spencer led 70 laps that day with the nose of his red car caved-in before surrendering the lead to race winner Darrell Waltrip with 52 to go.  However, once again the team began to struggle with Spencer failing to qualify for four of the first 14 races in 1992.  So once again, Spencer was released after Charlotte, this time the Coca-Cola 600.

Late in the 1992 season, Spencer found his way to Bobby Allison Motorsports, which was looking to kick-start its program after the release of Spencer’s rookie competitor Hut Stricklin.  In a four-race stint from October to November of ‘92, Spencer finished 4th, 11th, 5th, and 4th.  Impressed, Allison signed Spencer for the 1993 season with sponsor Meineke Mufflers.  That year, Spencer enjoyed his best Cup season to that point, racking up five Top Fives, ten Top Tens, and a 12th-place showing in points.  But once again, Spencer wasn’t re-signed for 1994, and would once again replace Hut Stricklin - this time for another veteran car owner, Junior Johnson.

Spencer came into the inaugural Brickyard 400 as the hottest driver on the circuit.  After a turbulent spring in which he was penalized for aggressive driving at North Wilkesboro following a run-in with Ken Schrader, Spencer revealed his restrictor-plate prowess in ‘94, racking up his first two victories in July.  The first came in a side-by-side photo-finish with Ernie Irvan during the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.  The other came three weeks later at Talladega, where this time he held off both Irvan and teammate Bill Elliott.  Though just 22nd in points heading to Indy, Spencer was one of the favorites to take the historic victory.

Spencer’s ride was among a record-setting 87 entries for the Brickyard.  The 1994 season had already seen a sizeable influx of new fully-funded teams and drivers - so many that by August, Petty Enterprises’ #43 had already been sent home six times.  A.J. Foyt came out of retirement, joined by open-wheel “ringers” Danny Sullivan, Gary Bettenhausen, Stan Fox, Davy Jones, and Geoff Brabham.  Veteran owner-drivers H.B. Bailey and James Hylton were there along with 56-year-old “Chargin’” Charlie Glotzbach and Norm Benning in the only Oldsmobile.  Jerry Hill, father of current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Timmy Hill, was there in his #56 Bell Motor Company Chevrolet.  So were ARCA veterans Bobby Gerhart, Bob Schacht, and Bob Brevak.  Ironically, NASCAR had been concerned that not enough drivers would come to qualify, so the Brickyard was also made a “companion event” with the Winston West Series.  Fifteen West Coast drivers - including Ron Hornaday, Jr. and David Gilliland’s father Butch - showed up to battle for the one guaranteed spot for the fastest of their group - Mike Chase secured that 43rd and final spot in his #58 Tyson Foods Chevrolet.  Spencer, meanwhile, only managed 34th.

Chase remained in the 43rd spot at the start and was still running there on Lap 4 when the first caution came for debris in Turn 1.  Heading into that corner, 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan, who started 33rd in his #99 Corporate Car Chevrolet, lost the passenger side window, which was then struck by Harry Gant and Mike Chase.  Sullivan fell to last as the crew tried to duct tape a replacement window onto the side of the car, losing a lap to race leader Jeff Gordon as the race restarted on Lap 6.  Four circuits later, the caution flew once more.

As Spencer tried to claw his way through the pack, Spencer appeared to lose the right-front tire entering Turn 3.  He locked the brakes as the car went straight, but couldn’t slow down fast enough.  The right-front of the car took the brunt of the hit.  Spencer got out of the car, but injured his ribs in the accident.  Spencer became the first retiree of the event, joining Arthur Greiner, the first driver to trail the Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

The rest of the Bottom Five was also filled with accidents.  Mike Chase’s day ended on Lap 95 when he tangled with Dave Marcis in Turn 2, leaving them 42nd and 41st, respectively.  40th and 39th went to the most controversial wreck of the day.  Geoffrey Bodine, who won his first race of the season at Pocono weeks earlier, had one of the best cars in the early going, his #7 Exide Batteries Ford leading the field for 24 laps.  But on Lap 101, when brother Brett Bodine caught him into Turn 4 after a restart, the two made contact, sending Geoffrey into a spin.  Though Geoffrey spun in front of the entire field, somehow everyone avoided contact except Dale Jarrett, whose #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet was also done for the day.

Spencer never won another Cup race, but Indianapolis remained one of his best tracks.  He won the pole in 2001, having reunited with car owner Travis Carter, and came from 32nd to finish 8th in 2003.  2003 also marked Spencer’s most recent victory in NASCAR’s top three divisions - a win from the pole in a Truck Series race at Loudon.  His 478th and most recent Cup Series start came at his home track in Pocono on July 23, 2006.  He finished 36th that day in one of the first NASCAR starts for Furniture Row Racing.  This start was Spencer’s most recent, but not “last.”  Although Spencer remains a prolific NASCAR broadcaster, he has yet to officially retire.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This was the first last-place finish for the #27 in a Cup Series race since September 2, 1990, when Rusty Wallace’s Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac lost the engine after 14 laps of the Heinz Southern 500 at Darlington.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #27-Jimmy Spencer / 9 laps / crash
42) #58-Mike Chase / 91 laps / crash
41) #71-Dave Marcis / 92 laps / crash
40) #18-Dale Jarrett / 99 laps / crash
39) #7-Geoffrey Bodine / 99 laps / crash / led 24 laps

No comments: