Bill Elliott was the man in 1985, no doubt about it. But canny Waltrip emerged as the champ, his third and last Winston Cup title.
Ford-mounted Elliott reigned supreme on the superspeedways that year, scoring an incredible 11 poles and 11 wins on the high-speed circuits. In the process, he picked up a cheque for a cool $1m for winning three of the big four races the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Charlotte and Darlington’s Southern 500.
The other ‘big one’, the World 600 at Charlotte, fell to Waltrip. It was his first win of the 28-round series. By which time Elliott already had five victories under his belt. And they just kept on coming: the Van Scoy Diamond 500 at Pocono, the Miller 400 at Michigan, the Summer 500, again at Pocono, the Champion Spark Plug 400, again at Michigan. He was relentless. The rest were dead and buried. It seemed.
But Waltrip’s hopes were still alive: “Bill was on fire. But at Junior Johnson’s team, we were good at taking in the big picture.The cars were so strong and reliable that we could race the others to death. And that’s exactly what we did. If we didn’t win then we finished second or third or fourth. I had so much faith in the equipment; I just knew we’d be there or thereabouts. We’d just put the pressure on until the guy in front blew up or he had a blow-out and hit the wall.”
Even so, Waltrip was 206 points in arrears with eight races to go. And then he won the Sanforest 400 at Richmond Fairgrounds, a result that kicked off a run that included two second places, a third, a fourth and another win, the Nationwise 500 at North Carolina. These were not the glamour races, but they were the guts of this treadmill of a series. And Waltrip had timed his run to perfection to finish 101 points ahead of Elliott.
“Some people reckon our title that year was diminished by what Bill Elliott achieved,” says Johnson, “but you can only know what it means to win a championship if you have won one. I’ve been lucky enough to win plenty and they all mean a whole lot.”