Hornish Slams Johnson: Shades of Barrett-Wallace in 1989

Lee FraserCorrespondent INovember 12, 2009

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 25:  Team owner Richard Childress looks on during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2009 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

As Sam Hornish Jr.'s car slid off of the wall and hit the No. 48 Chevrolet last week at Texas, it brought many Rusty Wallace fans back to 1989.

The 1989 crash at the Autoworks 500 struck fire for Rusty Wallace fans, and thinking about it today still makes them go absolutely crazy.

It was 1989 at the Phoenix International Raceway.  The race, the Autoworks 500.

Rusty was coming off a second-place finish at Rockingham and had a 109-point lead heading into the second-to-last race at Phoenix.

The race to the championship was down to three drivers, Rusty Wallace, 109 points over second place Dale Earnhardt, and 125 points over third place Mark Martin. It looked like Rusty was going to run away with it. It looked like the best team in the sport, the No. 3 team, was going to get beat once again.

That was until Phoenix.

Rusty Wallace was dominating the entire weekend at Phoenix.

Fans were wondering if this was the week Rusty was going to lock it up, and early on, it looked like the next week at Atlanta wasn't going to matter.  Smiles came across the faces of fans of the No. 27 Kodiak Pontiac as he crossed the start/finish line on lap 253.

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It looked like it was all over, until the lap car of No. 90 Stan Barrett came off of pit lane and almost changed the fate of the 1989 season forever.

Barrett came off of pit lane after going down by a 13th lap and ran into Rusty's No. 27 Pontiac, slamming Rusty into the outside wall, damaging his car, and ruining Rusty's shot at victory.

The entire Wallace team was infuriated. The Blue Max Racing team was running about, screaming conspiracy.

What they were talking about was an incident the transpired earlier in the weekend.

Car owner Richard Childress was reportedly seen with the owner of the Barrett's No. 90, Junie Donleavy, having a conversation. What was said, will never be known.

"It was one of those things that just happens in racing," stated reining champ and race winner, Bill Elliott, "I didn't see anything but two cars wrecked in the first turn."

But to Wallace fans and the Blue Max Racing team, it wasn't just one of those things.

Rusty was upset with the incident too, "I can't believe what happened. It was a lapped car, a guy I had lapped about ten times, and he wrecked me," stated Wallace after the race.

Donleavy and driver Stan Barrett were clearly upset that the incident happened, claiming that the incident happened due to a brake failure in the No. 90.

Still, Wallace fans were furious with a 16th place finish, as Mark Martin finished third and Dale Earnhardt finished sixth.  Martin was now 73 points behind Wallace in second place, with Earnhardt in third, 75 points back.

However, the case remained unsolved, and the teams raced into Atlanta.

Dale Earnhardt went on to win the Atlanta Journal 500. Rusty finished in 15th, three laps down, but still was able to win the championship, albeit by only 12 points.

But still here we are, twenty years later, not knowing. Was it an accident? Or did the the valedictorian of the class cheat on an exam? That's an answer we'll all have to figure out for ourselves.

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