For three or four laps Petty tested Baker's tires. He found he could not run with his opponent in the straightaways but could beat him handily through the corners. With just a dozen laps remaining, King Richard assumed his Fourth of July throne with a mad dash through Turn One. Using traffic to good advantage, he quickly opened up a 10-car-length lead.
The crowd was on its feet, hands clenched, throats straining—Richard, Richard, Richard! It was almost too much to believe—a strategic race of such brilliance, such cool, all of it climaxed by such a savage instinct for the checkered flag.
"I usually run a bit faster than the crowd," Petty said later, "but this time the crowd was runnin' faster'n me. I had to think good, and luckily the car was running real good through the corners. I could run flat out in there and Buddy couldn't. It was slick. I'd put on left-side rubber to grab in the grease during the last yellow, and it paid off. Once I got into the corner in front of Buddy, I was O.K.—he only got sideways. Still, if Pearson had been in there it would've been tough, maybe impossible. A three-car draft, I wouldn't have had all those options."
The victory gave Petty an almost insuperable lead in his pursuit of a sixth Grand National Championship—no other driver has won more than three. With eight victories in the first 16 races of the 30-race series he can now afford to sit out the next few races and still have a surefire chance of victory. But of course he won't sit out a single lap if he can help it. Having broken his jinxes at Atlanta, Charlotte and now, finally, the Firecracker, Petty will probably snake on ahead to that next championship. Oh, perhaps some rare slowdown might strike him between now and then, but it seems unlikely. That golden throttle, that silver steering wheel, that legendary childhood—it keeps him movin', sure enough.