By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are in Michigan for the Helluva Good 400. Michigan International Speedway is a racetrack that is rich in history, and due to the fact that it is in the backyard of the “big three” car manufacturers winning this race is even more special. This race usually comes down to fuel mileage, however one particular race here in 1991 was known as an instant classic.
I’m of course referring to the Champion Spark Plug 400, which was ran on August 18, 1991.
Alan Kulwicki started the day from the pole, however it was Davey Allison who would lead the majority of the laps on the day. In all Allison would lead 61 of the 200 laps, but he found himself in second place to an up and coming driver named Dale Jarrett late in the race.
Jarrett inherited the lead with 11 laps to go when he opted for fuel only on a pitstop, while others including Allison took tires. It appeared to be just a matter of time before Allison would power his way by Jarrett’s No. 21 Citgo Ford, however surprisingly the 35-year-old “youngster” continued to hold off the challenge from the lingering No. 28 Texaco Ford.
Lap after lap Allison inched closer, but he just couldn’t get enough of a run to get alongside Jarrett, that is until he was able to get his car to stick on the outside in turn four with two laps to go.
Allison would come to the white flag as the leader of the race, but not by very much at all. The two would run side-by-side for the entire last lap which brought the fans in attendance to their feet. Allison and Jarrett rubbed several times coming down the front stretch and at the checkered flag it was a photo finish.
Bob Jenkins who called the race said, “At the line, who wins it? I believe it is… Dale Jarrett.”
Jarrett indeed had won by a mere 10 inches over Davey Allison. This win marked the first of 32 in Dale Jarrett’s career and it actually helped launch him into stardom. Rusty Wallace finished third followed by Mark Martin and Bill Elliott.
Eddie Wood was very emotional after the race. Of course the last time the famed Wood Brothers team reached victory lane before that day was the 1987 World 600.
“It’s been a long time coming. We had a decent car here today, had a good body. Everything just went good.” Wood said
Dale Jarrett climbed out of his car to an overwhelming reaction from the fans. The fans knew they had seen something special that day and the responded with one of the biggest round of applauds ever.
Jarrett gave credit to his team, and actually said the reason he captured his first victory was due to the gutsy call on pit road to take fuel only.
“These Wood Brothers are something else aren’t they? We did a great job, what a call there at the end. The car was the fastest the car had been, and the best it had drove, they said let’s leave those tires on let’s just give it a splash of gas. That’s what won it.” Jarrett said.
After his performance in the 1991 season Jarrett was given an opportunity at a new team formed by NFL Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. Jarrett would win the 1993 Daytona 500 and after some success at Joe Gibbs Racing, he would eventually land at Robert Yates Racing. Jarrett would go on to win the 1999 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
In all there were 24 lead changes between 13 drivers, and it was actually a very competitive race all the way through. In fact seven drivers led more than 10 laps on the day, however due to attrition 12 cars failed to make it to the finish, and only nine drivers finished on the lead lap.