Harry Gant and Rick Mast made the Winston 500 look like a team sport. Some people thought they got a little too cozy.
Gant and his crew gambled by deciding to go the final 56 laps - almost 149 miles - without a pit stop while the rest of the leaders went in to refuel.The 51-year-old grandfather apparently ran out of gas on the final turn, but his Oldsmobile had enough power to coast across the finish line - with Mast right on his bumper - for his first victory in the NASCAR event.
"I didn't run hard the last 50 laps, and when there were five laps to go I backed off so much that I wasn't hardly giving it any throttle," said Gant, already the oldest man ever to win a Winston Cup event before Monday's victory at Talladega Superspeedway. It was the 12th win of his career.
After he moved into the lead with 10 laps to go when Ken Schrader pitted, Gant stayed in the draft of Mast's car, which was not on the lead lap. The two switched places with less than two laps to go, and Mast bumped Gant at least once the final time around the 2.66-mile oval.
That made other teams suspicious, especially since both drivers have the same cars and sponsors, and owners - Leo Jackson (Gant) and Richard Jackson (Mast) - who happen to be brothers.
"If I did (help Gant), so be it. Keep it in the family," Mast said.
NASCAR officials reviewed the television replay of the final lap and determined that the contact did not have an effect on the outcome. They also said Gant still had a quart of fuel in his tank, although Leo Jackson said "we were slap out of gas."
"That's bull," said Richard Childress, owner of Dale Earnhardt's Chevrolet, which led the most laps in the race but finished third. "That rule book is not worth the paper it's written on."
Darrell Waltrip also noticed the contact, but didn't think it made any difference.
"It's unfortunate that 33 (Gant) and 1 (Mast) did what they did, because I think (Gant) would have won the race anyway," said Waltrip, whose Chevy finished 14 seconds behind Gant in second place. "It looked like he had enough steam."
Mast said he slammed Gant "pretty hard" in the third and fourth turns, but it wasn't intentional.
"I didn't get any orders from the pits," he said, struggling to keep a straight face.
The race was marred by a huge crash on the 71st lap which had some drivers grumbling once again about using restrictor plates to hold down speeds at Talladega and Daytona, NASCAR's two fastest tracks.
Polesitter Ernie Irvan's Chevy became sandwiched between Kyle Petty's Pontiac and Mark Martin's Ford as the drivers jostled for position, setting off a chain reaction involving 20 cars - almost half of the 41-car field.
Petty suffered the only serious injury, a broken left leg. He underwent surgery Monday night at a Birmingham hospital to repair the compound fracture and was listed in stable condition.
Officials halted the race for 33 minutes to clean the track while the drivers tried to sort out what happened.