The 1998 Pocono 500 was a big day for Owensboro, Kentucky with not one, but two of their native sons in the field at the Tricky Triangle an in contention for the win. When the checkered flag flew, Jeremy Mayfield would come out on top, while his boyhood idol and fellow Owensboro native, Darrell Waltrip, continued a career resurgence by coming away with the final top-10 finish of his career after battling for the win with Mayfield.
The 200 lap race would get off to an inauspicious start as Rusty Wallace jumped the start over polesitter Jeff Gordon and was black flagged for it as a result.
Gordon would lead the first five laps of the race before being overtaken by Mayfield at lap six. Mayfield would lead the next 23 laps before Dale Jarrett got by him and led until one of Pocono’s notorious rain storms made its way over the track and brought a stop to the action.
Once the track was dried, Gordon and Mayfield would cycle back to the race lead over Jarrett.
As the race progressed, one thing became clear, Mayfield was a contender as he led 101 laps on four different occasions through the first 170 laps of the event.
Under caution on lap 170, Waltrip took over the lead courtesy of a fuel-only stop, putting himself in position for his first win since 1992 behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chevrolet that he was driving in substitution for the injured Steve Park.
Though Waltrip held his ground in the lead once the race went back green with 30 laps to go, Mayfield, who had started fourth on the restart quickly made his way up to second place behind Waltrip and with fresher tires than Waltrip, it was only a matter of time before he would find himself back in the lead.
Another restart on lap 179 would give Mayfield the opportunity he was looking for. Waltrip got a fantastic restart to put a little bit of a gap between himself and Mayfield, but by the time they got back to Turn 3, Mayfield was simply too strong as he was able to pull alongside Waltrip down the frontstretch and clear him into Turn 1.
From that point on it was all Mayfield, as he led the final 20 laps to score his first career win in NASCAR’s top division. He would be followed to the finish by Gordon, Jarrett, Jeff Burton, and Mark Martin to round out the top-five.
“This Mobil1 team did an awesome job,” said Mayfield. “I’m trying to wake up. I think I’m still dreaming. This has been a lifetime dream right here to win a Winston Cup race and it came true today.”
“It’s tough. It wasn’t easy, you know, and that’s the best way for me to get my first win. This whole team, we earned this thing today. It wasn’t a gimme, it wasn’t a rainout or nothing, we all earned it right here.”
Meanwhile, Waltrip came home in sixth place, which would be the final top-10 of his illustrious career, and capped off a career resurgence that the three-time Cup Series champion badly needed.
Waltrip had been struggling with running his own team for a handful of years prior to 1998, forcing him to eventually sell the team early in the year. While all that was going on, Dale Earnhardt needed a substitute driver for his No. 1 team at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. after primary driver Steve Park suffered a broken leg in a crash at Atlanta.
Earnhardt would tap Waltrip for the seat, which was huge, given the animosity between the two in the 1980’s.
Climbing behind the wheel for DEI, Waltrip turned back the clock and he was in top form once again. Waltrip had already scored a top-five for the team earlier in the season at Fontana and though he hadn’t finished higher than 12th in the four races after, things turned for the better at Pocono.
After his sixth place finish, Waltrip could be seen with tears in his eyes and expressed just how much the finish meant to him, especially after all that he had been through in the years prior.
“We had a great day,” said Waltrip. “The Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo, she was right. Darn it, pretty exciting. Praise the Lord for a good day. I’m so close to winning. It’s big. This is big. They didn’t put quite enough dirt on me. Kicked it off and crawled back out. I’ve been in holes before and I’m crawling out of a pretty deep one right now, but damn, this is good.”
“I’m just so pleased. I just can’t tell you. It brings tears to my eyes to be able to get back out there and compete like this. I never thought I’d see it. I thought I was done, but I’m doing pretty good right now.”