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Postponement brings about some changes in Winston 500

May 9, 1997

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) _ One wedding was rescheduled. One operation was postponed. One driver lost a shot at $23,000 while another gained a new perspective on what had been a disappointing 1997.

The circumstances surrounding Saturday’s rescheduled Winston 500 have changed since the racers left April 28, after sitting through two straight days of rain.

They returned Friday and were greeted by _ what else _ rain. A good-sized thunderstorm came through in the morning, followed by cloudy skies early in the afternoon. But the skies cleared and the track was dry for the 3 p.m. practice, which began on time.

Saturday’s forecast calls for highs in the 70s, unseasonably cool for this time of year, but no rain. If the weather holds, the racers would be able to travel home for Mother’s Day, a traditional day off on the Winston Cup circuit.

Regardless of the date, the race is considered among the circuit’s most important, and the track among the most dangerous. The majority of races at Talladega Superspeedway over the last five years has been marred by at least one bad accident.

In the 1993 Winston 500, Rusty Wallace’s car was bumped from behind by Dale Earnhardt’s car during a scramble for the finish. Wallace’s car flipped 10 times and was airborne when it crossed the finish line in sixth place.

Wallace has come no closer to winning since at Talladega and says the track makes him and just about everybody else nervous.

``Everybody comes here thinking, `Man, we’re going to keep it straight. We’re not going to have any problems,‴ Wallace said. ``But when you take 42 cars and put them within three and four inches of each other and they stay stuck that way, that’s something. That’s when you start having problems.″

Wallace will start in the fourth spot _ his best qualifying position ever at Talladega _ as starting positions from the original qualifying date will remain the same.

That means John Andretti still has the pole, even though a win wouldn’t be worth as much to him.

He would have received a $30,600 bonus in addition to the $93,000 winner’s purse had he won the race when it was originally scheduled. But since Mark Martin won last week’s Sears Point race from the pole, the bonus, which increases by $7,600 each time the polesitter fails to win, resets to $7,600.

Martin’s victory snapped a 42-race drought dating to October 1995 and improved his outlook on this race.

``For a while I was afraid the we might not ever win a race,″ Martin said. ``But five races ago, I felt like our race team put our number back on the dice. For a while, you could roll all you wanted and our number wasn’t there.″

Martin, who will start 18th, is going for an odd sweep at Talladega. He won the Busch Grand National race here on April 26, before the rain came.

The postponement provided some other interesting twists:

_Anticipating two weeks off, Alabama native Steve Grissom scheduled surgery for his broken right foot for last Monday. He postponed it so he would be ready to go Saturday.

Doctors said this week that the foot, broken in a crash April 13 at Bristol, Tenn., is healing so well that it may not require surgery.

As he planned to in April, Grissom will race with an air cast on the foot. He said the cast hasn’t hampered his ability to drive.

_Joe Nemechek, who failed to qualify, will take Robby Gordon’s place in the starting lineup. Gordon skipped out on the race so he could participate in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

Gordon qualified 32nd, but Nemechek will have to start at the back of the field because of the driver change. Nemechek will start 42nd because Jeff Burton, who qualified 39th, was moved to the rear after NASCAR officials discovered illegal roof flaps on his car.

_Finally, Talladega native Wendy Mullinax was set to be married at a church right across from the raceway Friday, a day before the wedding was originally scheduled.

When the Mullinax family heard the race had been rescheduled to her wedding day, they saw no way their wedding party could compete with race traffic.

Track president Grant Lynch said he couldn’t change the race date, but the track helped print new invitations and paid to reschedule the photographer a day early. The wedding was set for 7:30 p.m., some 3 1/2 hours after the practice session ended across the street.

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