Awesome Bill Elliot Makes His 800th NASCAR Start

Clayton CaldwellCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

11 Nov 2001:  Driver Bill Elliott #9 holds the winning trophy after the Pennzoil Freedom 400, part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida.  Elliott won the pole and held on to win the race.  Mandatory Credit:  Jon Ferrey/Allsport

Back in 2000, if you had told anyone in NASCAR that Bill Elliott would have 800 career starts, they would have laughed in your face.

"Bill Elliott, he is finished!!!" they would have said.

However, little did they know, Bill still had something left. 800 starts is another unbelievable feat from a man who has so many in his career.

Bill Elliott's career started back in 1976 when his family was his race team. He ran a limited schedule from 1976 to 1982. Bill finished second numerous times, and was finally starting to make some noise. However, no one thought this small operation from Dawsonville, Georgia would make it in NASCAR's premier level.

The team got their first big break in the winter of 1982, when Benny Parsons suggested to friend and sponsor Harry Melling to look at this No. 9 team and give them a shot. Parsons wanted to scale back his career a little bit.

Harry Melling gave the team a look, and liked what he saw. So much so, in fact, he not only became their sponsor, but bought the operation and provided the financial support they needed.

With that backing, the team went full time in 1983, and didn't disappoint. Elliott finished third in the point standings and compiled 22 out of 30 top 10 starts. He also won his first career race in the season finale at Riverside International Raceway. It was a monumental victory for the team who had come so close so many times.

The Harry Melling team came into the 1984 season with momentum and more money. Coors Brewing Company jumped on board, and the team won three races in '84 and piled up 24 top 10 starts and four poles.

However, no one in the world saw what was coming in 1985.

When the 1985 season struck, Bill Elliott was a favorite to win the championship, but no one thought he would put together one of the most awesome seasons ever in NASCAR history.

During the 1984 championship banquet in New York, the sports sponsor, Winston, announced they would give an additional $1 million to any team who won three of the four big races during a season. Those races included the season opening Daytona 500, the Winston 500, The World (Coca-Cola) 600, and the Southern 500.

It was an amazing feat, but it was then that engine builder, crew chief, and brother of Bill Elliott, Ernie Elliott, looked over at Bill and mouthed, "That's ours."

Bill, which was stated in his book, believed they could do that.

When they dominated the Daytona 500, the fans started to believe it too. However, nothing was more remarkable than the Winston 500, when Bill and his No. 9 team found themselves down two laps due to a mechanical failure.

Everyone thought the team to beat was done for. However, Bill would make up one lap under green flag. People in the stands at Talladega were witnessing history when Bill Elliott made up his second lap under green.

Still, no one thought that what Bill was trying to do could be done.

But when he passed leader Cale Yarborough on lap 145, from then on, people figured out just how great this team was. Elliott won the Winston 500 by 1.72 seconds over Kyle Petty.

Now, everyone thought this was the team to get the $1 million.

However, Elliott finished 18th in the Coca-Cola World 600, meaning Darlington's Southern 500 would be Bill's last shot at the million. It was by far the toughest race in NASCAR to win.

But Elliott did it.

He won the Southern 500 and took the Winston crown. Bill Elliott won $1 million, giving him the nickname "Million Dollar Bill."

All in all, Bill and the Harry Melling team won 11 races in 1985. That outstanding season gave Bill the nickname "Awesome Bill From Dawsonville."

In 1986, Bill added two more wins and finished fourth in points.

In 1987, Bill Elliott won his second and final Daytona 500. However, it was at Talladega that he'd make history.

At 212.809 MPH, it was by far the fastest anyone ever went in a stock car. It also led to what we now know as restrictor plates.

In 1988, Elliott would win 6 races and dominate the scene. He wouldn't finish lower than 19th during the season and win his only championship. It was a great feat for such a small operation!

Elliott's dominance would continue to 1989, where he won three more times. He finished sixth in points. In 1990, he finished fourth in points, but only won once.

In 1991, Elliott's team struggled. They finished in the top 10 just 12 times and ended up 11th in points. People suggested that Bill Elliott was leaving the family team and moving on. It was a sad day for die hard Elliott fans to see Bill leave the famous No. 9, but Bill's move was to a very famous and successful owner.

Junior Johnson was moving on from Geoff Bodine and hired Bill Elliott to drive his famous No. 11 Budweiser car.

Elliott's season started off excellent. He finished 27th in the Daytona 500, but won four in a row at Rockingham, Richmond, Atlanta, and Darlington. He struggled the rest of the way, but still had a chance at the championship coming into the last race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

When point leader Davey Allison wrecked, it was down to Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott. Elliott won, but he didn't win the championship, losing to Kulwicki by 10 points, one of the closest margins in NASCAR history.

In 1993, Bill Elliott went his first season since 1982 without winning a race. He finished eighth in points. In 1994, Bill Elliott's lone victory was at the Darlington Raceway for his third win in the Southern 500.

Bill was 38 years old and Junior Johnson announced he would not renew his contract.

Bill found himself out of a ride.

However, a sponsor contacted Bill in the middle of 1994. McDonald's, which sponsored teammate Jimmy Spencer, told Bill that they would sponsor him in a multi-year deal doing his own deal.

Bill was excited. His brother Ernie would build the engines again and he looked forward to the 1995 season.

Elliott didn't win in 1995, finishing eighth in points and having 11 top 10 finishes.

In 1996, a bad crash at Talladega limited Elliott to only 24 starts. He didn't win a race in that year either.

In 1997, Bill's season got off to a wonderful start. He lead the Daytona 500 with five laps to go, only to finish fourth when the Hendrick trio (Gordon, Labonte, Craven) passed him right as a caution came out. He finished eighth in the points that year.

From 1998-2000, Bill had years to forget. He finished 18th, 21st, and 21st in the point standings, winning only a duel race in 2000. People thought Bill Elliott was finished. How can you blame them?

However, former championship crew chief Ray Evernham was starting up a new team and wanted to hire a veteran driver. When Ray asked Bill to drive his Dodge, Bill gladly accepted, and after six win-less and miserable seasons, Bill Elliott was driving for Ray Evernham.

Fans, media, and everyone around NASCAR—maybe even Bill himself—thought Ray was nuts: Here's a guy who hasn't won since 1994 and you're gonna put him in your upstart team? 

Many people thought Ray had made a huge mistake.

However, to kick the 2001 season off, Bill sat on the pole in the Daytona 500. Many people picked Bill to run well that day, and he did not disappoint. He finished fifth. But the upstart team and Bill got off to a sluggish start, making the wonders continue.

Bill was 16th in the point standings, when the Cup Series heading into Homestead Miami Speedway for the running of the Pennzoil Freedom 400. Elliott sat on the pole and his teammate started second. With just four laps to go, Bill passed his teammate and won for the first time in six years, shocking the world.

Finally, it looked like Ray's risk paid off.

In 2002, Bill Elliott would shine again. He won two races back-to-back, at Pocono, and one of Bill's favorite wins, a dominating one at Indianapolis. It appeared Bill Elliott was back.

In 2003, Bill Elliott hinted retirement. However, that did not slow him down. He won the second to last race at Rockingham. At the following race at Homestead in Winston, the last race as the sponsor of the Cup Series, their first million dollar man dominated.

He led 189 of the 267 laps and took the white flag. It was an awesome race for Awesome Bill. I remember him coming off of turn two and seeing that red No. 9  bobble. That could mean only one of two things: Either a blown tire, or Bill ran out of gas.

Knowing that it was not gas, I watched Bill's tire fall apart in his last race in a full-time ride.

My heart was broken. Bill ended up eighth, and I knew right then and there I would never see Bill run for a win ever again. He had 44 wins and I knew he would stay there.

Since 2003, Bill has run a limited schedule. Many people thought he was riding around for money, and until the 2007 season, it felt like they were right.

However, in 2007, Bill Elliott ran for the legendary Wood Brothers team.

Talk about happy, I nearly jumped off my couch when I found out.

Since then, Bill has helped out a great organization out of the goodness of his heart.

Now, he is starting his 800th race in his career. Who would have thought that after six win-less seasons, he would ever get there!

Congratulations, Bill! 800 and counting! I hope you run forever!


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