Chad Little overpowered the field Saturday on the way to his second straight Busch Grand National victory, this one coming in the Goodwrench 200 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.
Little, who earned his first career victory a week earlier at Daytona Beach, Fla., started on the outside of the front row. He easily took the lead from pole-winner and defending series champion David Green at the start and lost the lead only on pit stops in the 197-lap race.
It wasn’t even close, with the Ford Thunderbird co-owned by NFL quarterback Mark Rypien beating the Ford of runner-up Mark Martin to the finish line by 9.39 seconds - about a third of the 1.017-mile oval.
“I never had to hustle the car all day,” said Little, a Spokane native. “You don’t get cars like this very often. It was fun to drive a race car like this.”
“We were no match for Chad,” Martin said. “He whipped it on us real bad.”
Little is the first driver to win two straight Grand National races since Martin won Darlington and Richmond in September 1993.
“We wanted to start out the season with the same momentum we finished out last year with, when we had a few top-five finishes,” Little said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d start out with two wins in a row. Now we can go for three in a row next week at Richmond.”
Terry Labonte, who won this race a year ago, finished third, followed by Johnny Benson and Morgan Shepherd. Green, who was running fourth at the time, went out just past the halfway point with engine failure.
Little’s average speed of 120.753 mph breaks the NCMS Grand National race record of 118.433, set in October 1992 by Martin.
There were five caution flags for a total of 27 laps, but no serious accidents and no injuries reported.
Fords, which never have won more than nine Grand National races in a single season, now are 2-0 in 1995.
Steve Grissom led second-day qualifying for today’s Goodwrench 500 on the Rockingham oval.
Grissom, runner-up for last year’s Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR’s top stock car series, came back from a crash during Friday’s opening round of time trials to take the 21st starting spot in the 42-car field with a lap of 155.452 mph.
That was good enough to beat Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin, who improved from Friday’s disappointing 153.741 to 154.821. Jeff Gordon won the pole in the opening round with a track qualifying record 157.620. Grissom’s speed would have put him seventh on Friday.
“We didn’t have to bring out the wrecker today,” said Grissom, who finished a gratifying seventh last week at Daytona and is working well with new team manager Buddy Parrott.
“Yesterday, the car was fast right off the trailer. It was good in qualifying, too, but I just got a little bit too much too quick,” Grissom added. “The guys worked hard on the car and it was great today.”
.. I think we’ll be around at the end and, hopefully, get a good finish. Buddy’s had a lot of success at this track.”Marlin, whose speed would have put him 12th had it
come on Friday, said, “I think the track slowed down a little today. I thought we would run faster yesterday and we just didn’t. We kept working on the car, working on a few odds and ends, and it paid off.
“At least it got us a front-stretch pit, and that’s what we were after. I’ve been in that mess on the backstretch, and that’s no fun.”
He was referring to the fact only the top 26 cars pit on the front straightaway here, while the rest pit on the backstretch - a disadvantage on yellow-flag pit stops.
Grissom agreed, saying, “The cars you’ve got to beat are always on the front straightaway, so at least we’ve got a pit to see what they’re doing now.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review's sports newsletter
Get the day's top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.