Andretti, who had won the Daytona 500 back in February, brushed the wall early in practice and never did get his car straightened out. "When the car feels right," he moaned, "it won't go fast. When it goes fast, it doesn't feel right. I don't think I like stock cars very much." He started the race back in 17th position.
And Cale Yarborough, the winner of two major races for Ford during the season, had a pair of wild rides. On Thursday he was tight behind Lee Roy's car when the extinguisher blew; the skittering engine just missed him. Earlier that morning Bobby Allison's Dodge Charger dropped a drive shaft and sent a hunk of metal clean through Cale's radiator.
With Baker and Donnie Allison, Cale was one of the young chargers on the scene who did not feel comfortable racing unless his gas pedal was all the way down to the floor. "I drive flat out," said Cale, "because that's the way I drive—and because a car nowadays can go flat out for 500 miles. A guy told me, 'Cale, if you drop back about two car lengths going into those turns you can save an awful lot in tire wear.' Well, maybe so. But if Buddy and Donnie don't drop back, you can bet I won't. You might as well stand in front of a speeding train and yell, 'Stop!' It's just not gonna work. You see Fred Lorenzen there? He's quit racing but he's come back as an adviser to the Ford drivers. He said he quit because he couldn't keep up."
On Sunday, Cale and a number of the other Ford locomotives looked for a while as if they were going to have good news for Henry. For much of the first 300 miles Fords were 1-2-3-4. Petty, the hare the Ford hounds wanted to corner so desperately, had only 41 good laps. Then, ironically, he and Paul Goldsmith, in a sister Plymouth, tangled in the first turn. Paul spun into the guardrail and Petty sideswiped him. Goldsmith was eliminated. Petty drove gamely on, but without the door on the right side of his car. He moved up as high as fifth, though, before a faulty distributor put him out of the race.
Andretti's frustration continued. He never could quite challenge for the lead, and suffered the indignity of two heavy accidents, both within 11 laps, near the 300-mile mark. The second smashup also took Pearson's Ford out. Donnie Allison at one point was a strong third but blew his engine with less than 50 laps to go. Foyt stayed near the top, too, but his engine failed at about the time Andretti was spinning toward retirement. Dick Hutcherson ultimately finished third.
And so Ford's challenge was in the hands of Yarborough. With just 60 miles to go, it appeared that he might make it. Baker had blown a tire after 375 miles. He stormed around the track and into the pits, scattering mechanics and NASCAR officials every which way, got it changed and stormed back out. Yarborough made what would have been his last pit stop for gas and a change of tires under a yellow light 35 laps later, and the fans tensed for a tight Ford-Dodge run for the flag. The run was over for Yarborough not long after his pit stop, however, when his engine overheated. Bobby Isaac's Dodge finished second to Baker's.
After an extravagant Victory Lane welcome from a blonde and bountiful winner kisser, Baker said, "I whooped and hollered so much when I saw that checkered flag that it's a wonder I didn't pop right out of the car."
Ford was by no means ready to give in and write off the rest of the season. The last major race is at Rockingham, N.C. on October 29, and Ford will be playing its very last ace. Jimmy Clark and Jochen Rindt of Grand Prix fame are expected to-share a Ford in that 500-miler—each driving half the distance—and if they can't catch Richard Petty or Buddy Baker or anyone else with a Chrysler brand on him they at least ought to have plenty of fun trying.