Since returning to Watkins Glen in 1986, the 2.45 mile, 11 turn road course in upstate New York, has provided some of the most exciting racing on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule and the 1988 Budweiser at The Glen was no exception.
As one of two road courses on the calendar at the time, Rusty Wallace entered the 90 lap race as the favorite as he had won the year before at Watkins Glen, as well as the two previous road course races at Riverside in late 1987 and earlier in the 1988 season.
Wallace would start the day in second place, with New York native Geoff Bodine joining him on the front row after capturing the pole. Bodine would lead the first 10 laps of the race before Wallace took over for a three lap stint of his own prior to the first caution flag of the day.
Over the course of the race, the lead would be swapped between Wallace, Terry Labonte, Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Harry Gant, Phil Parsons, and Ken Schrader before Darrell Waltrip found his way to the lead with 17 laps to go on a restart.
Waltrip seemed to have the race well in hand, keeping his competitors at bay over the next 13 laps, but when the final caution flag of the day flew on lap 84 due to a crash by Hershel McGriff, Waltrip would have his hands full to be able to hang on to the lead in the closing laps.
Even more damning to Waltrip’s chances was the fact that his engine began going sour a lap after the restart and shortly after Ricky Rudd got past him to take over the lead for the first time in the race. The smoke became even more pronounced as the field got the three to go signal and Waltrip would be done for the day.
With Rudd in the lead, Rusty Wallace snaked his way up to second place, setting his sights on Rudd’s Buick directly in front of him. Though Wallace was all over Rudd over the course of the final two laps, Rudd maintained the lead, keeping Wallace’s Pontiac in his rear-view mirror the entire time.
On the final corner of the final lap, Wallace swung way wide coming onto the frontstretch with the checkered flag in sight and got off into the grass, but the move was all for naught as Rudd streaked across the finish line by one and a half car lengths to score his first win of the season, leading just four laps on the day.
“This Quaker State team did a great job all day,” said Rudd. “These guys have been plugging along for a couple of years and we’ve been right there every year, but I’ll tell you, they’ve been ready to win for a long time. We’ve had some misfortunes during the year, but these guys are here to stay.”
“That last three laps, that was something, I’ll tell you. I saw Rusty coming. I was setting Darrell up and I was going to get him in Turn 1 with three laps to go. I was going to outbrake him and then he developed some kind of problem. I didn’t know what happened to him, but then here came Rusty and he was coming hard. I was mirror driving, just trying to block him. We were a little bit lazy coming onto the front straightaway. I knew where he was going to make his run because he had shown me a couple of laps before and I just blocked his line and he ran into my back bumper and turned me sideways. He got in the dirt and tried to pass me on the outside. It was really something.”