The first race under the 400-laps model - the 1976 Richmond 400 - was scheduled for February 22nd as the third race of the season and the first to follow what became the legendary finish of the Daytona 500.
Bobby Allison won the pole in his Roger Penske-owned #2 CAM2 Mercury. Dave Marcis qualified alongside Allison in his #71 K&K Insurance Dodge. Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough rounded out the top five starters.
When race day arrived, however, so did a persistent rain. Richmond now runs its spring race actually in the spring. Back in the day, however, Richmond's first "spring" race was frequently hit with with cold temps, rain, snow, and sometimes postponements. Sure enough, the 1976 edition was postponed two weeks to March 7 - the week after the Carolina 500 at Rockingham. The only hiccup was if Rockingham's race was postponed as well because March 7 was also earmarked as its make-up date.
|Source: Free Lance Star via Google News Archive|
With about 80 laps to go, Virginia's own Lennie Pond found himself in the lead in a strong effort at the wheel of Ronnie Elder's Pepsi-sponsored #54 Chevrolet. The 1973 Rookie of the Year led a few laps earlier, but now it was time to hammer down and take home a trophy. After a 33-lap stint at the front and only one other car on the lead lap with him, however, Pond's fortunes inexplicably turned bad. Really bad. He tangled with Ed Negre with about 50 to go, and his day was rurnt. Instead of competing for a win, Pond went home with a dismal 23rd place finish in the 30-car field.
With Pond's departure, The King did what The King generally did at Richmond: lead. He set the pace for the next 40-odd laps and seemed to be in great position to win at Richmond for the 14th time of his career. But a couple of challenges arose to face the 43. One, his Maurice Petty-engine lost not just one but two cylinders. His Dodge Charger somehow continued, but he clearly didn't have runaway speed. Two, a couple of cautions with about 20 laps to go allowed Dave Marcis to get back on the lead lap.
The second caution with 11 laps to go was quite bizarre. While running third, Yarborough popped the inside guard rail, continued on with speed through an opening into the infield, and ran smack-dab into a parked fire truck. Cale's #11 Chevy got the worst end of the encounter, yet he still managed to a fourth place result despite the DNF.
|Courtesy of Donald Evans of RacersReunion.com|
At the strip, Marcis narrowly won his second of what ultimately became five career Cup victories. Accounts of the margin of victory vary depending on what one reads or cares to believe. I've seen it as close as few feet to a couple of car lengths. Either way ... Marcis was the victor, and Petty missed out on what would have been his 201st victory overall.
|Courtesy of Brian Yezierski of RacersReunion.com|
|Source: The Progress-Index of Petersburg, Virginia|