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Bodine ends dry spell, helps Ford secure title

Geoff Bodine started it, so it only makes sense that he would finish it.

It was Bodine who started Ford's 13-race win streak that stretched from late last season into this season, the streak that had everybody thinking Ford was going to snap Chevrolet's stranglehold on the Winston Cup manufacturer's title.

As it turned out, Ford hit a dry spell, and Chevy made a late run at the championship. But then along came Bodine. After having not won a race since that streak-starting victory at the Mello Yello 500 last year, Bodine returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for today's Mello Yello 500 as the closer in Ford's bullpen.

It was Bodine's back-to-back wins the past two weeks at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro that have Ford officials breathing easier today with the manufacturer's championship a done deal.

Those Ford folks are as giddy about Bodine's surprising late-season success as the Bud Moore team for which he drives.

"Bud Moore has made great strides over the last few months to put a winning effort together for Geoff, and I'm very, very happy their hard work has been rewarded," said Michael Kranefuss, Ford's special-vehicle operations director.

Ford's reward has been Bodine's as well. He qualifies for next year's all-star race of sorts, The Winston, and has a chance to finish this season in the top 15 in the series standings. Currently 15th as he prepares to defend his title at CMS, Bodine, who'll start 12th, sits just one spot behind two-time defending series champion Dale Earnhardt and two spots behind his brother, Brett, in the standings with three races left after today.

Dale in the dumps: Ordinarily, Earnhardt would at least be chasing the series championship if he didn't already have it wrapped up this late in the season. But the five-time champion, currently 14th, has had a rough ride this year, forcing him to look ahead.

"Basically, what we're going for out here is to put together some solid runs and build on some things for next year," he said.

Al on the bubble: Al Unser Jr. may not race in Formula One after all. The veteran driver reportedly was ready to make the jump to the F1 series, but apparently he hasn't been able to land a ride. Talk is that he may have to return to his old IndyCar ride under owner Rick Galles next season.

Long live The King: The Nashville Network plans to air a one-hour special on the life and times of NASCAR legend Richard Petty. The special is expected to air on Nov. 1, the week before Petty's last race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Also, on Nov. 14, the country music group Alabama will stage a three-hour concert at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Today, Charlotte Motor Speedway will give its final salute to Petty, and, in keeping with its tradition of doing the unusual, speedway officials are planning to have two motorcycles riding on high wires, five of the largest elephants in the country, and a human cannonball act.

Petty said of all the activities planned in his honor: "I started off at the beginning of the year thinking that it was strictly a one-sided deal, that I was saying thank you to the fans. I found out it was just as much the other way."

Mario is Mr. Century: Mario Andretti recently was named the Driver of the Quarter-Century (1967-1991). The 52-year-old was picked from 10 finalists, including Petty, A.J. Foyt and "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.

Next NASCAR lap: AC Delco 500, North Carolina Motor Speedway (Rockingham), Oct. 25.

Today's race

Race: Mello Yello 500.

Track: 1.5-mile Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speeday.

Green flag: 1:10 p.m.

Distance: 334 laps (500 miles).

Pole sitter: Alan Kulwicki.

Defending champion: Geoff Bodine.

TV: Live on WTBS.

Radio: WFNS-910.

Notes: Bodine goes for his third straight win after taking two rain-delayed events at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro. Davey Allison is in reach of Bill Elliott's top spot in the series points standings, trailing by just 67 points. Richard Petty holds the track record for average speed of 145.327 mph set in 1975.

Fry's pick: Morgan Shepherd.

Winston Cup points

1. Bill Elliott 3,575

2. Davey Allison 3,508

3. Alan Kulwicki 3,431

4. Harry Gant 3,408

5. Mark Martin 3,382

6. Kyle Petty 3,364

7. Ricky Rudd 3,254

8. Darrell Waltrip 3,242

9. Rusty Wallace 3,165

10. Terry Labonte 3,134

11. Morgan Shepherd 3,122

12. Ernie Irvan 3,108

13. Brett Bodine 3,091

14. Dale Earnhardt 3,087

15. Geoff Bodine 3,069

_ Today's lineup, 10C