Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – HAMPTON, GA – You might think a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway would have been a successful home game for a number of Georgia-based drivers.
You’d be wrong.
Drivers from all over the map have triumphed at the 1.54-mile speedway, on which NASCAR currently uses the superspeedway competition package—from Florida to Wisconsin to California.
Surprisingly, however, in 118 NASCAR Cup Series events contested at the track—from 1960 to the current 75th anniversary season—only two Georgia natives have ever claimed victory at Atlanta, and they’re both from the same family.
Bill Elliott, a.k.a. Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, won five times at his “home” track. His last two victories came in 1992 when he beat Harry Gant to the checkered flag by a whopping 18.25 seconds in the spring race and took the measure of Alan Kulwicki in the season finale by an 8.06-second margin.
In what is widely considered one of the most important watershed races in NASCAR history, however, Kulwicki won the big prize—the Cup championship—by collecting the bonus for leading the most laps, 103 to Elliott’s 102.
Kulwicki won the title by 10 points—under the Latford scoring system where each race carried a maximum available point total of 185.
The 1992 race also marked the departure of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty from the Cup Series and the Cup debut of fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.
Neither Petty’s exit nor Gordon’s advent was auspicious. Petty was a lap down on Lap 95 when he was collected in a six-car wreck. With flames licking at the undercarriage of the famed No. 43 STP Pontiac and erupting through the hood, Petty drove toward the firetrucks parked in the infield.
“Those firemen all came running over for autographs,” Petty said, according to contemporaneous accounts. “Not one of them brought a fire extinguisher.”
The incident also gave rise to one of the sport’s most-quoted Petty-isms.
“I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory,” said Petty, who finished 35th. “Well, I went out in a blaze, but I forgot the glory part.”
Gordon suffered the first DNF (did not finish) of his career, dropping out after 164 laps following a crash. But that was the first of 797 consecutive Cup starts for the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, embarking on a career that would produce 93 victories and four championships.
Fast forward 30 years to the 19th race of 2022, won by the other member of the Elliott family—Chase.
Elliott dominated the action, leading 96 of 260 laps, and won under caution over Ross Chastain after taking the white flag. The victory was Elliott’s most recent in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Elliott didn’t race at Atlanta on Mar. 19 of this year. The event fell during a six-race stretch during which he was sidelined with a broken leg suffered in a snowboarding accident. But the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet is looking forward to the chance to claim another victory in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 (7 p.m. ET on USA, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Still outside the cut line for the Playoffs, Elliott just hopes he can duplicate his dominant performance from last year.
“Yeah, that was a really nice weekend, obviously,” he said. “I guess it’s a little different than having like a dominant performance at not a speedway. It is a speedway race, but we were… we were really solid. And it’s not like you’re getting out to a four or five second lead. We just had a car that had the ability to be on offense all day.
“And when you’re on offense and you can be that guy to make lanes move forward and make a difference and pushing somebody to the front—it just puts you in a different league. It really puts you in a really, really nice position to have a good day.
“Certainly been on both sides of that fence. We’ve been on the other side of the fence since then with our speedway program. Obviously, I missed Atlanta the first time this year, but hopefully we can go back and have a good run again like we did last year.”