So Baker tumbled again, this time on the 58th lap, when his car stopped out on the track with ignition problems and an oil leak. That left Waltrip in command of the lead. On a prerace practice spin, Waltrip, driving a green and white Olds-mobile, had exceeded 194 mph on a few laps. But when he returned to the garage area, NASCAR officials inspected his car and ruled that the front end was too low. They ordered crew chief Buddy Parrot to raise it.
In all, it took four trips through the inspection station before the Waltrip car was passed. "I guess we just ran too fast in practice," said Waltrip, who was livid. "By the time they got done with it, it looked like an airplane taking off, they had the nose raised so high."
"We got shucked," said Parrot. "We raised the car up 2� inches, and that disturbs the whole way it handles. But I don't think they're picking on us. If someone picked on me, I'd break his jaw."
Bonnett, who started on the front row next to Baker, led for 77 of the 160 laps, including the final 28. The Firecracker was Bonnett's fourth Grand National victory in his 5�-year career, and his second since joining the Woods brothers' race team on April 11. The season had started poorly for Bonnett. His original team, Jim Stacey and Harry Hyde, split on less than friendly terms, and Bonnett was caught in the middle. Meanwhile, Bonnett's strength was sapped because of impacted wisdom teeth and a sliver of steel that had embedded in his hand, resulting in an infection. Disillusioned, Bonnett had quit the Stacey-Hyde outfit after the Daytona 500.
At this time, the Woods brothers were seeking a driver because David Pearson, the winner of 103 races and $2 million in prize money, had left them. They took on Bonnett. Some questioned the decision to give Bonnett, a relative newcomer, such a prestigious ride, but in the Firecracker he had the answers.
Bonnett's maneuvers to avoid accidents were spectacular. Twenty laps into the race Jimmy Finger spun his car on a patch of oil, was hit by Sandy Satullo from behind and careened into the wall. Just then Waltrip, Bonnett and Baker came past.
"Darrell had to slow down real quick," said Bonnett. "When he did, I got off the gas, turned left and spun into the grass. I went flying backwards about the full length of the back straightaway. All of a sudden I started turning back around, and when I did, I dropped it in third gear and took off."
He grinned. "One of the damndest jobs of driving you ever saw. I had both eyes closed."
The second accident that threatened Bonnett came on the 92nd lap. Terry Labonte, trying to pass a car, was held up by slower cars and suddenly was hit from behind by Bown. The crash drove Labonte into the wall.
As Labonte slowly rolled back down the track toward the infield, he was hit broadside by Bobby Allison in his Thunderbird. Labonte's bumper ripped off and became airborne, landing on Bonnett's hood as he flew past. The bumper then bounded onto the windshield and over the car. Bonnett kept driving.