If the auto racing axiom, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" holds true, Chevrolet dealers ought to gird for a big time.
Chevy drivers Geoff Bodine and Dale Earnhardt dominated the Daytona 500 today, and after 196 laps seemed certain to charge into a bumper-to-bumper, one-two finish with the rest of the field in the distance.
But Earnhardt ran out of gasoline with three laps to go and Bodine coasted to a $192,715 first prize, 11.26 seconds ahead of runner-up Terry Labonte's Oldsmobile.
It was the biggest payday by far for the 35-year-old native of Chemung, N.Y., whose next-best finish in the Daytona 500 was seventh place last year, which earned him $42,025.
Greek-tragedy-of-the-week honors go to Earnhardt, who was climbing up Bodine's transom for the last 75 miles and clearly was preparing a slingshot attempt at the lead in the final few miles.
But on Lap 197, seven miles from the checkered flag, Earnhardt saw his fuel pressure gauge dip to four pounds, meaning he was about dry. He coasted into the pits, then somehow let the engine die as the pit crew jammed fresh fuel home. "I don't know whether I choked it or it just died on its own," he said.
Earnhardt's crew gave the engine a blast of ether to help restart it, and evidently the high-potency fuel was too much for the superheated engine.
"The engine blew up as we came out pit road, and I wound up having to get pushed in by a Ford," said Earnhardt.
Talk about indignities. It was a horrible turn of fortune for Earnhardt, who had won three races in the last week here and earned more than $120,000.
Earnhardt ended up 14th, but it still marked a major milestone for the Chevrolets, as both he and Bodine ran consistently ahead of last year's nemesis, Bill Elliott, all day. Elliott's Ford was the terror of the NASCAR circuit in 1985 as he won 11 races. General Motors drivers such as Bodine and Earnhardt blamed their troubles on poor aerodynamics. GM designed a new sloped, hatchback-style back window, and today was the test of the design in the first big superspeedway race of the 1986 season.
GM cars took the top 10 spots, and Elliott wound up in a distant back seat.
"Earnhardt and Geoff blew me away," said the defending Daytona champion, who finished 13th.
Elliott was in an accident in the 123rd lap that stove in his right front fender and cost him two laps to repair, but even before the crash, Elliott said he was struggling in the middle of the pack.
"The car didn't drive worth a flip after the accident," said Elliott, who wound up pushing Earnhardt in after the finish, "but it wasn't running very good before that, anyway."
Bodine led seven times for a total of 92 laps, but didn't take final charge until Lap 167, when he regained the lead after his final pit stop and never again relinquished it.
Bodine made his last pit stop in Lap 158, one lap before Earnhardt made his, and there was concern among Bodine's crew that he, too, might run out of fuel at the end.
"Our mileage figures said we would make it," said crew chief Gary Nelson, "but we were definitely down to fumes." In fact, Bodine had nine-tenths of a gallon left at the finish, his crew later reported.
By running out front, Bodine and Earnhardt steered clear of crashes and engine failures that forced the action to slow eight times for yellow caution flags and knocked 22 of the 42 starters out before the finish.
The worst crash was the one Elliott found himself in, which knocked five drivers out of the running -- Cale Yarborough, Bonnett, Harry Gant, Buddy Baker and Joe Ruttman.
Yarborough was angry with Elliott for that pileup, which started when Bonnett spun out in a turn. "I had the wreck missed, but Elliott ran into me," said Yarborough, who had been running well. "He never backed off. He should have backed off."
The only driver seriously injured today was Richard Petty, who dislocated a shoulder when he hit the wall.
Bodine said he knew Earnhardt was coming after him in the late running, and was planning strategy to hold him off.
"He didn't want to go by me. You notice I slowed down two to three seconds a lap, but he still wouldn't go by. I had to slow down to save my tires, and he had to slow down and stay behind so he could slingshot me at the end. I think he was going to try to pass me on the straightaway.
"He had his strategy and I had mine, and it would have been very interesting at the end. I'm happy it didn't happen."
As for Elliott, Bodine said, "I don't know what was wrong with him today, but Bill Elliott will be back next week, and the week after and the week after that."
Bodine had been complaining as late as Saturday that his car wasn't handling well, and he confessed after the race today that some of that was a smoke screen.
"What do they call it when an animal pretends it's injured to protect its young, a decoy? Well, you could say we were doing a little of that, pretending to be hurt so maybe people would think we were."