After eight months and 28 races, the championship watch begins today. Dale Earnhardt comes into today's AC Delco 500 at Rockingham within reach of the NASCAR Winston Cup title.
With a victory and a modest showing by his nearest challenger, Rusty Wallace, Earnhardt could clinch his seventh career series crown, which would tie him with leader Richard Petty.
Earnhardt comes to Rockingham with a 321-point lead over Wallace with two races remaining after today. If Earnhardt wins and Wallace finishes 12th or lower, it would put the seal on Earnhardt's second straight series title and fourth in the past five years.
Of course, even if Earnhardt doesn't put the title out of reach today, he is almost assured of doing it soon. He needs only to finish 29th or better in the final three races to wrap it up. In fact, if he finishes third today and leads at least one lap, he would need only to start next Sunday's race at Phoenix to clinch.
"It's a real good position to be in," Earnhardt said. "But you still have to get ready to race the same way. We don't want to back into nothing. We want to win that championship just like we have the others. We'll be ready to race every Sunday."
Trivia question: Which NASCAR Winston Cup driver is second in victories, with three, and tied for the series lead in poles, with five? Hint: He is not in the top 10 in the series point standings.
Thought for the week: If IndyCar driver Paul Tracy had posted a great season and won the Brown Nosing Championship, do you think team owner Roger Penske would have kept him on his team next season? Jeez, when guys start getting canned after winning three races, a series-high four poles and finishing third in the standings, as Tracy did this past season, can any driver feel secure?
Wild ride: NHRA Funny Car driver Al Hofmann took a ride recently in a stock car driven by NASCAR Winston Cup veteran Darrell Waltrip. They got up to 168 mph at a racing school in Charlotte, but Hofmann of Umatilla walked away somewhat unimpressed.
"It was a lot of fun for a couple of laps, but I don't think I could do it for 500," Hofmann said.
Go west, young man: Word is that Bruton Smith, who owns Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, is planning to build a speedway out West.
Smith reportedly has confided to close associates that he has secured about $75-million in financing for a new speedway. Possible sites include the Dallas-Fort Worth area, St. Louis and Las Vegas. The project probably won't become final until perhaps late next year.
Marcis searching for children: As if Dave Marcis doesn't have enough to do, being an under-funded independent and all, the veteran driver also is helping look for missing children on race Sundays.
Two races ago at North Wilkesboro, Marcis began putting pictures of missing children along with a toll-free phone number on the rear deck lid of his Chevy Lumina. At North Wilkesboro, it was a 5-year-old boy. At Charlotte, it was a 10-year-old girl.
Although neither child has been found, Marcis has decided to continue putting pictures of missing children on his car.
"Who knows, someone may see these pictures on our car and help people find their lost kids," said Marcis, who has two grown children.
Racing, racing and more racing: NASCAR fans need not fret about the Winston Cup season coming to a close in three weeks. There'll be plenty of racing to watch after the season-ending Hooters 500 in Atlanta.
A week after Atlanta, TNN will begin airing racing live at 5 p.m. each Sunday for eight weeks. The action will include the new SuperTruck Series, the Featherlight Southwest Tour, the Winston West Series and the Winston Racing Series Late Models.
If that doesn't satisfy your racing appetite, tickets are on sale for the 1995 season-opening Speedweeks action at Daytona International Speedway in February. Call (904) 253-7223 to order tickets.
Trivia answer: Geoff Bodine.
Around the tracks: The 1995 IMSA Exxon World Sports Car Championship is adding races at Sonoma, Calif.; Brainerd, Minn.; and New Orleans, La. The 12-race season kicks off with the 24 Hours at Daytona on Feb. 4-5. Chevy looks to have the NASCAR Winston Cup manufacturers championship in the bag, which would give it its eighth crown in 11 years. Waltrip has finished 40 straight Winston Cup races, thought to be a series record. Sprint car legend Steve Kinser will drive Kenny Bernstein's No. 26 Winston Cup car next season, replacing Brett Bodine.
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.
Name: AC Delco 500.
Track: 1.017-mile North Carolina Motor Speedway, Rockingham, N.C.
Green flag: 12:30 p.m.
Distance: 492 laps (500 miles).
Pole-sitter: Ricky Rudd.
Defending champion: Rusty Wallace.
Radio: WFNS-AM 910.
Fry's pick: Rusty Wallace.
1. Dale Earnhardt 4,291
2. Rusty Wallace 3,970
3. Mark Martin 3,744
4. Ken Schrader 3,740
5. Ricky Rudd 3,613
6. Morgan Shepherd 3,582
7. Jeff Gordon 3,412
8. Terry Labonte 3,389
9. Darrell Waltrip 3,360
10. Bill Elliott 3,350