With another knife delivered through the heart of Atlanta sports fans last Saturday night, I thought it time to examine the ten most heartbreaking sports moments endured by Atlanta sports fans. So, here we are with number ten.
1992 Hooters 500– Local favorite Bill Elliott entered the final race of the 1992 season at his home track of Atlanta International Raceway a mere 40 points out of the points lead, trailing Davey Allison. Just ten points ahead of Elliott was underdog supreme Alan Kulwicki, who despite his positioning seemed over matched in this championship battle with two stars like Elliott and Allison.
Elliott, the 1988 champion, was one of NASCAR’s biggest stars during the 80s and the early 90s. At a time when he professional sports scene in Atlanta was more of a joke than a Jerry Seinfeld one liner, Elliott was the only thing going for Georgia sports. And it was a torch he carried well.
The local folks were hoping to see a repeat of 1988 when Elliott came to his home track and left his sports champion. To do so, Elliott had some ground to make up, but for a driver that already had four victories on his home track, and had finished no worse than 3rd in his previous three starts, it seemed doable.
Elliott though should never have been in a situation where he found himself trailing. He had a 154 point lead with six races to go in the season before proceeding to fish 26th or worse in four of the next five races, including a 31st at Phoenix just a week before the season finale at Atlanta.
A seemingly safe, and insurmountable lead had dissipated and what seemed to be a second championship for one of Georgia’s favorite sons had become a long shot.
On Sunday, points leader Davey Allison was swept up in an accident with about 75 laps remaining in the race. At the time, Allison was in a position to wrap up the championship. But a bout with Ernie Irvan and the retaining walls on Atlanta International Raceway’s put a halt to Allison’s title dreams.
This turned things into a two man show, between Elliott and Kulwicki. The two had established themselves as not only the two remaining title contenders, but also as easily the two best cars on the racetrack.
The two battled lap after lap, embarking on a furious struggle to lead the most laps and capture the bonus points that would come with it. Late in the race, crew chief Paul Andrews kept Kulwicki out one extra lap, to lead just enough to ensure he would lead the most laps.
Elliott would go on to win the race, and in doing so, gain 5 points on Kulwicki, meaning if he only could have wrapped up the most laps led, Elliott would gain 5 more, and would tie Kulwicki in the standings. On the merits of Elliott’s five victories to Kulwicki’s two, the championship would’ve been his.
But alas, this was not the case. The laps led totals? Kulwicki 103. Elliott 102.
One lap, at times across the line the two were wheel to wheel, so in retrospect, one foot, was the difference in Elliott winning his second title and coming up the bridesmaid for the third time in his career.
Unfortunately for all three championship combatants, neither would ever again contend for a title. Elliott, while he would win more races in his career, never again found a consistent enough of season to compete again for a championship. Kulwicki and Allison were of course tragically killed the next year in separate aviation accidents.
For Elliott though, it was the championship that got away, twice.