Dale Earnhardt took the lead when Bill Elliott had to make a pit stop for fuel with 15 laps to go today and he went on to win his first Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Winston Cup stock car race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"I've always wanted to win the 600 in my hometown," said Earnhardt, 34, who grew up 20 minutes from the track in Kannapolis, N.C. "We kept adjusting the car. The race track finally came to us. I finally found my groove and I went to work."
Earnhardt started third in the $716,225 event and was in the top five most of the race, but he didn't seriously challenge until late.
Elliott took the lead with 59 laps to go in the 400-lap race. Earnhardt trailed him around the 1.5-mile quad-oval until Elliott stopped for gas. Elliott regained the front when Earnhardt pitted on lap 335. But Earnhardt's crew told him Elliott would need more fuel and Earnhardt just waited. Elliott's final gas stop took only 4.15 seconds, but he couldn't catch up and finished sixth.
In second, 1.59 seconds behind, was Tim Richmond, edging Cale Yarborough at the finish line. Harry Gant was fourth and Darrell Waltrip fifth.
Earnhardt averaged 140.406 mph in the race slowed by six caution flags for 32 laps. There were 39 lead changes among 15 drivers, breaking the record of 12 set in 1980 and '82. The race drew an estimated 158,000, the largest crowd ever to attend an auto race other than the Indianapolis 500.
Richard Petty, who started 37th in a car he rented after wrecking his in practice Friday, went out after 123 laps because of a dropped valve.
"By running this little bit, it helped me work out the aches and pains," said Petty, who spent Saturday night in the hospital with a concussion. "I'll be all right tomorrow because of this today."
He earned $5,465 to become the second NASCAR driver to top $6 million in career winnings at $6,004,665. Waltrip has $6.6 million.
Rounding out the top 10 finishers -- one lap back -- were Sterling Marlin, Ricky Rudd, Morgan Shepherd and Rusty Wallace.
Earnhardt, who was already No. 1 in the Winston Cup point standings, increased his total to 1,767. Waltrip remains second with 1,623 points.