Waltrip vs Allison: The 1981 Championship Battle

Seth and Sutton Sharp

October 4, 2019

When the Winston Cup Series left Michigan International Speedway in June of 1981, it seemed like Bobby Allison had a commanding lead in the Winston Cup standings. He sat 256 points up on Darrell Waltrip for the championship lead through 16 of 31 races.

Waltrip had just moved past Ricky Rudd into second place, after a seventh place finish at Michigan. Allison led 10 laps during the following Saturday’s Firecracker 400, but valve issues left him with a 28th place finish. Waltrip finished 10th, cutting the points lead to 206 with only 14 races remaining.

In retrospect, looking at Allison’s final 14 races, one would think he easily sealed up his first career Winston Cup title with his consistancy. That turned out not to be the case.

Following the race at Daytona, Allison had eight top-10s over his next nine races, which included five top-five finishes. Waltrip did everything he could to gain points back on Allison over that same span, winning four times, finishing second four times and a third.

The two¬†drivers left Martinsville in tight battle for the championship, with Waltrip holding the advantage by 43 points. Allison again turned it up a notch, finishing second at North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham. The only problem for Allison’s hot streak was that Waltrip was even hotter. He won all three of those races, giving him four in a row.

Despite those three straight runner-up finishes, Allison lost ground in the standings and entered the second last race of the season 68 points behind Waltrip.

Neil Bonnett won the Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta, while Waltrip finished second, gaining even more ground on Allison, who finished fourth.

Allison led the most laps and won the season finale at Riverside, but it was not enough as Waltrip held on to win his first career Winston Cup championship by 53 points.

Updated: October 4, 2019 — 12:23 pm

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