Dover International Speedway has always been a treacherous track since its inception in 1969, but the “Monster Mile” really earned its nickname when the asphalt surface was converted over to concrete in 1995, making Dover the first concrete track on the circuit and really giving “Miles the Monster” some teeth.
Our Dover edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” will focus on that first race on the concrete surface – the 1995 Miller Genuine Draft 500.
The new concrete surface brought worries about the tires being able to last as well as how the cars would react to the new surface. Needless to say, the entire weekend was a treacherous one. The day before the Cup Series took to the track, the Busch Series event was a wreckfest, leading many to believe that the Cup Series race would be more of the same, and they would be right.
Before the drivers were even able to complete the first two laps, John Andretti, who was running in the top five, got loose in Turn 4 and spun sideways in front of the oncoming field, causing a crash reminiscent of the “Big One” that always happens at restrictor plate tracks.
In the original spin, only a few cars were caught up in it, but as Mark Martin slowed to try and avoid the accident, he was tagged in the rear by Rusty Wallace, spinning Martin and collecting several other cars. By the time the spinning and wrecking was done, a total of 19 cars were involved. Most were able to continue after repairs, but the cars of Andretti, Dale Jarrett, Elton Sawyer, and Bobby Hillin, Jr. were done for the day.
For Martin, it was his second crash of that nature in as many days. He had been caught up in a similar accident the day before in the Busch Series race, leaving him incensed with the ability of some drivers to avoid the cars that were slowing to try and avoid the crash.
“Some dummy just ran into the back of us and wrecked us again. I could see the 37 car spinning up in front of me and you knew you couldn’t go and somebody from behind just peeled us in the back end. It would have been all right but that started the track getting blocked,” Martin said. “And then everybody wrecked. I just don’t understand why people can’t just ride around for a while here, you know? There’s no safe place on a race track because somebody from behind will run over you running wide open.”
Following the first accident and few other minor crashes, the race settled down as drivers began to get a handle on the new surface. As the race went along, a surprising driver found his way to the front of the field.
Kyle Petty, who had started deep in the field in 37th and was able to avoid the multi-car wreck early in the race, marched his way through the field and took the lead for the first time on lap 132, surpassing Jeff Gordon, who had started on pole and led 87 laps at that point in the race.
From that point on, it was Petty’s race to lose as his No. 42 Pontiac handled like a dream and he was able to stay in the lead or close to it for the remainder of the race. With 42 laps remaining, Petty took the lead for the final time, but the race was far from being over with as Petty had to battle with Bobby Labonte and Ted Musgrave over the final laps to score the win.
As the laps wound down, Labonte was the first to challenge Petty for the lead, but Petty was able to hold him off. The battle between Petty’s Pontiac and Labonte’s Chevrolet allowed Musgrave’s Ford to close the gap and enter the fray. Despite moves by both Labonte and Musgrave, Petty was able to keep his No. 42 in front by .22 seconds as he would bring home his eighth and final Cup Series victory on that early June afternoon.
Petty, who was battling pneumonia, was noticeably winded as he sat in his car in victory lane and had to be administered oxygen and ice packs before he was able to climb from the car to celebrate his win.
“The last lap…How about that? We were really, really good for 300 laps, 350 laps. But the last couple-hundred laps, we were getting other people’s tires and we were getting stuff and we just couldn’t do nothing with it,” Petty said. “It was a little bit pushy, a little bit loose, and I tell you what, the 18 car and the 16 car wore my butt out.”