A nine-car pileup just over two laps from the finish took out four Winston Cup regulars, allowing provisional starter Chad Little to win the Goody’s 300 Busch Grand National race Saturday.
Little, a Grand National regular driving for a team owned by former Super Bowl MVP quarterback and fellow Spokane native Mark Rypien, started in the 42nd position. He came from further back to win than anyone in the history of the Busch series.
“It’s very sweet,” said Little, a former Winston Cup regular who has raced five times in the Daytona 500, finishing as high as 14th. “I’m having a hard time holding back the tears.”
Little, driving a Ford Thunderbird, made his move for the lead in turn four, diving inside to pass Steve Grissom. Grissom’s car wobbled, and as he slowed to regain control, Mark Martin rammed him from behind to set off a chain-reaction crash that also took out Winston Cup regulars Mike Wallace and Derrike Cope.
“I got into (turn) three there and the car just got a little loose on me and I had to lift (off the accelerator) a little,” Grissom said. “It’s hard to check up in a situation like that. It’s a shame, but that’s racing.”
Another Winston Cupper, Michael Waltrip, avoided the melee, following Little to the low side of the track. But Little was able to beat him to the start-finish line. Little coasted the final two laps under the yellow flag for his first victory in 42 Grand National starts, weaving through the wrecked cars scattered near the entrance to pit road. No one was injured.
“It was just hard racing,” Little said. “Grissom was loose. He was just sliding around. Everybody was sliding around out there and I wound up taking the air off his spoiler and that was it.”
Rypien, in his second year as a car owner, was ecstatic as he made his first trip to Victory Lane. “It’s tremendous. You can’t win a bigger race that we’re going to enter this year,” he said.
Little, 31, earned $71,411 in the richest Grand National race in history, averaging 150.733 mph, and continued his knack of coming from way back in the field in the Goody’s 300. Last year, Little started 38th and finished third.
Sixteen cars were still on the lead lap after a four-lap caution period following Larry Pearson’s spin. That set off the wild finish, with Grissom passing Martin for the lead and Wallace appearing to have the strongest car of all.
“It would have been a phenomenal finish,” Wallace said. “It’s a shame it didn’t get to happen.”
Mike’s brother, Kenny, who avoided the wreck, finished fourth. He said it was only a matter of time before the leaders crashed, with 16 cars running within a few feet of one another.
“You knew there was going to be an accident,” said Kenny Wallace, another Winston Cup regular who will be in today’s Daytona 500.
Waltrip, the pole-sitter, agreed. “The wreck that happened in turn four started about five laps before that. Then they finally piled up.”
The crowd estimated at 110,000 on a warm, overcast day, saw 19 lead changes among 12 drivers. Martin led three times for 35 laps, Wallace was at the front for 31 laps, Grissom 15 and Waltrip 14.
Little, a former regular on the Winston Cup circuit, finally worked his way into the top five with 10 laps to go and didn’t go to the lead until lap 118. It was a remarkable showing considering he had failed to make the top 40 in qualifying and got into the 45-car race only because of a provisional slot based on his 1994 finish in the Grand National points standings.
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