Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29, 1981: Petty 3 of 4 at Phoenix

Having completed the Winston Cup season's final race at Riverside International Raceway's road course, most teams returned south. Bobby Allison celebrated his race victory, and Darrell Waltrip's Junior Johnson team likely had serious morning headaches for a few days after the Mountain Dew team won the 1981 championship.

A few teams, however, made a side trip on the way home. Richard and Kyle Petty and representatives from the Alabama Gang - Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnett - stayed over a few days out west to participate in the Warner Hodgdon 250 Winston West race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Bonnett won the pole for the race - his second in seven Winston West races at the track from 1977 through 1982. Not surprisingly, Bonnett along with Richard Petty and Allison had the most success in the string of annual races during that period. Petty had three wins in the six Phoenix races he ran. Bonnett and Allison each had a win in the seven races they ran, and both finished in the top 5 all seven times.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
When the green dropped, Neil took advantage of his top starting spot by leading the first 33 laps. He surrendered the lead for a handful of laps - presumably during a cycle of pit stops. But soon after, Bonnett's #21 Ford - coincidentally also sponsored by Warner Hodgdon - went back to the point for another 34-lap segment.

After Kyle Petty led for 2 laps - again likely because of a Bonnett pit stop - Neil took the lead for a third time to lead for 17 laps. On lap 94, however, King Richard who had been running with Bonnett all day took the lead and never gave it back. The 43 STP Buick led the final 63 laps to take the win in the 156-lap, 250-kilometer race.

The victory was the King's third in four races at Phoenix having won previously the 1978 Arizona NAPA 250 and 1980 Arizona Winston 250. He led the most laps but finished third to Bonnett in the 1979 race - otherwise, he could have possibly "four-peated".

Although Richard won the race and Cup regulars claimed the top four spots - Richard, Neil, Kyle and Bobby - there was still the "race within the race". Canadian Roy Smith finished sixth in the race and secured the 1981 Winston West series title.

The win capped a pretty nice year for Petty as victories for him became more scarce as he chased #200. He started the year by capturing his seventh Daytona 500, won his final career short-track race at North Wilkesboro, pocketed another win at Michigan, and picked up some walking-around money by free-lancing at Phoenix.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive

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