After failing to win the Daytona 500 in cars far superior to the one he had just driven to victory, Darrell Waltrip was asked if he thought it was a fluke.
"The first car across the finish line wins the race," he said Sunday after breaking a 16-year drought in stock car's racing's premier event. "It doesn't matter how you get there."The how of it was in the right foot of the 42-year-old driver. He kept it off the floor over the final 35 laps on Daytona International Speedway's 2.5-mile oval, turning the $1.7 million NASCAR stock car race into a fuel conservation clinic.
"There's no doubt that Ken Schrader had the strongest car in the race," eighth-place finisher Rick Wilson said. "But he got snookered."
Pole-sitter Schrader, who led 114 of the 200 laps, didn't dispute that.
"When I saw Darrell legging it, I knew we were in trouble," said Schrader, forced to surrender the lead when he stopped for fuel just 11 laps from the end. "We had to stop. There was no way we were going to make it."
Nor was there any way for Dale Earnhardt, who ran second to Schrader in the latter stages of the race. Earnhardt followed Schrader to pit road at the end of lap 189.
When they returned to the track, they trailed Waltrip and race leader Alan Kulwicki by about 10 seconds. Seven laps later, with four remaining in the opening race of the Winston Cup season, Kulwicki cut a tire and had to pit.
That left Waltrip to "draft . . . draft . . . draft" to victory."
Waltrip and crew chief Jeff Hammond had decided their only chance to win was to bypass a final pit stop.
"Today, Lady Luck smiled on us. Last year, she deserted us."
Waltrip, who won $184,400 Sunday after collecting $34,457 for winning a Grand National race in a thrilling finish 24 hours earlier, beat Schrader by 7.64 seconds.