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Cinderella isn’t just for basketball; A look at memorable upset wins in NASCAR

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Cinderella can be found in any sport, but the notion becomes more prevalent this time of year with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. With that in mind, who are among the biggest Cinderella winners in NASCAR’s history?

When I posted the question Friday on social media, the responses varied, ranging from Chris Buescher‘s win last year at Pocono to races that dated back to the 1960s.

Well, you’re not going to get everyone to agree but here are five that stand out to me.

 

The 1981 spring Dover race saw a driver, once seven laps behind the leaders, go on to win. Truly a Cinderella moment, but there’s more. It would be Jody Ridley’s only Cup win in 140 career starts. Also, it was car owner Junie Donlavey’s only victory in a NASCAR career that featured 863 starts over 45 years.

So how did it happen? Neil Bonnett dominated in the Wood Brothers’ car until his engine blew while he had a two-lap lead on the field with less than 50 laps left. Cale Yarborough inherited the lead and had a five-lap lead on Ridley but had an engine failure with less than 25 laps left. Ridley assumed the lead and went on to score the victory.

It was about to finally happen. After years of trying, Dale Earnhardt was set to win his first Daytona 500 in 1990. He took the lead after a restart with five laps to go and led going into Turn 3 on the final lap. That’s when everything changed. Earnhardt ran over debris and cut a tire. Derrike Cope, running second, took the lead and went on to win. Not only was it shocking how Cope won but that he was in that position to win. He had never scored a top-five finish in 71 previous Cup starts.

Cope went on to win at Dover later that season. That and the Daytona 500 are the only Cup wins he’s scored in 411 career series starts.

 

Tiny Lund arrived at Daytona in 1963 without a ride. Not a surprise for a driver who had not scored a top-five finish in the 28 Cup races he ran from 1960-62. That changed when Marvin Panch crashed his Maserati on the Daytona road course. The car flipped and burst into flames. Tiny Lund was among those who went to the crash scene and helped pull Panch out of the car. With Panch unable to run in the Daytona 500, the Wood Brothers selected Lund to drive the car. With one less pit stop than others – and running on the same set of tires for 500 miles – Lund scored his first career win in that Daytona 500, shocking the field.

 

Yes, Trevor Bayne led on the final restart of the 2011 Daytona 500 but he had Tony Stewart beside him, Bobby Labonte behind him in the second row and Mark Martin on the outside of the second row. With all that Cup experience surrounding Bayne, who really thought a kid who had turned 20 years old the day before could hold off those drivers and win the Daytona 500? Also, Bayne was making just his second career Cup start and was with the Wood Brothers, who were a part-time team and had last won a Cup race in 2001. All that didn’t matter. He won.

 

Furniture Row Racing was a single-car team. Unlike the majority of Cup teams, it wasn’t based around Charlotte, North Carolina, but in Colorado. Regan Smith was winless in 104 Cup starts before that night, yet he found himself out front after not pitting on Lap 360 of the 367-lap race. Smith held off Carl Edwards to win. It would be four more years until Furniture Row scored its next win.

So, those are five I picked. There were many others to choose from. Some suggested Pete Hamilton’s 1970 win in the Daytona 500. Others noted Lake Speed’s 1988 win at Darlington. There were votes for Brad Keselowki’s win at Talladega in 2009, his first career series win, and for Ron Bouchard (1981), Bobby Hillin Jr. (1986), Phil Parsons (1988) at Talladega. A few people also suggested Casey Mears‘ Coca-Cola win in 2007.

Go ahead and make your case for the biggest Cinderella win in NASCAR’s history.

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NASCAR America: Short tracks are Clint Bowyer’s favorites

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It was a question that needed to be asked, although the answer was not a surprise to anyone. What is Clint Bowyer’s favorite type of track?

“Short tracks are obviously my favorite,” Bowyer answered. “I think they’re probably everybody’s favorite. That’s what we grew up doing. That’s probably where we feel most comfortable.”

“I love back-to-back short track races because the drivers don’t have time to forget about who they’re mad at,” Steve Letarte interjected.

But Bowyer’s love of short tracks is not limited to Martinsville, where he snapped his long winless streak earlier this year. He is even more excited about coming to Richmond Raceway this week.

“I feel like Richmond is the perfect-sized race track.”

Bowyer went one step further, suggesting there is a way to add more tracks like Richmond to the schedule.

“I feel like, some of these mile-and-a-half tracks, we need to just use as parking lots and build Richmond in the infield,” Bowyer said.

For more of what Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say about short track racing, watch the video above.

NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer’s parties are legendary

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Clint Bowyer parties are not only legendary, they have the same effect as a black hole on unsuspecting passersby, as Steve Letarte found out in Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

“The cab driver comes up, goes inside, decides he is going to clock out – stays at the party,” Bowyer explained. “(The fare) is in the car waiting on him. He’s still inside partying. So somebody (else) got in the cab and made several laps on the go-kart track that night.”

It was eventually returned – muddied and with ungrateful patrons.

The cab driver is not the only person to get sucked into the vortex of a Bowyer party. Pizza delivery men, famous singers, and countless others have made this mistake of wandering too close.

“I’ve known Clint a long time, so none of this is shocking to me,” Letarte said as he correctly answered every bizarre question aimed at him.

For more of what has happened at one of Bowyer’s parties, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5:30 p.m. ET: Clint Bowyer joins Dale Jr. at the Big Oak Table

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5:30-6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is joined at the Big Oak table by Clint Bowyer and Steve Letarte. Krista Voda hosts.

On today’s edition of Wednesdays with Dale Jr.

• Clint Bowyer, a few weeks removed from his victory at Martinsville, joins Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte at the Big Oak Table to discuss the season, short track racing, the move to Stewart-Haas Racing last year and snapping his 190-race winless streak.
• Have a question for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Clint Bowyer? Hit us up on Twitter using #WednesDale to get your question answered on air.
• Bowyer’s Martinsville victory celebration included some Moonshine & Fire. We’ll put his personal party knowledge to the test with this week’s game “Did This Really Happen at a Clint Bowyer Party?”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Bump & Run: Who will be next to challenge Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick?

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Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined to win five of the first eight races of the season. Who is most likely to break up their dominance?

Nate Ryan: Any of the Penske drivers. That team seems to be next in class behind Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. Has shown a good bit of speed lately and seems to be close to scoring a win or two in the near future.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is poised to wreak havoc on the field if he can put together complete races without any miscues, like his spin in Bristol. He’s the defending Richmond winner, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry his momentum there.

Dan Beaver: If it’s possible to overlook the defending champion, that is what seems to be happening with Martin Truex Jr. With five wins and 14 top fives in his last 18 races, he needs to forget about his bad luck in the last two races and concentrate on all the things the team has been doing right.

Parker KligermanWhen I look at the current landscape, I feel the drivers that can break their stranglehold will either be driving a JGR Toyota or Team Penske Ford. 

Ryan Blaney (30-race winless drought), Jimmie Johnson (31), Joey Logano (35), Ryan Newman (40 races) and Kurt Busch (43) are in droughts. Who is the first among this group to return to Victory Lane?

Nate Ryan: Logano, possibly as early as Saturday. Blaney would be 1A as it’s only a matter of time for Team Penske.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He’s been strong lately, finishing eighth at Auto Club, third at Martinsville and fifth at Texas before crashing out of the Bristol race while in the lead. His time is coming. 

Daniel McFadin: I think it comes down to either Logano or Blaney with Logano likely to win at Richmond or Talladega. He’s finished in the top two in the last two Richmond races and he’s one of the best plate racers of this generation

Dan Beaver: As consistently strong as he has run, it is difficult to believe Logano has not already won. Along with Kyle Busch, he is the only driver with seven top-10s in the first eight races. Five of these were sixth-place finishes or better. Returning to the site of his last win, Logano could break through this week – and this time it will not be encumbered.

Parker Kligerman: I believe Ryan Blaney will win first. He is showing some serious speed and seems to be in great form. I feel that crew chief Jeremy Bullins and Ryan will want to start to assert themselves inside Team Penske as the title contender I feel they will be this year. 

After the perceived success of PJ1 before the resumption of Monday’s race, should NASCAR consider doing mid-race treatments with a traction compound to tracks?

Nate Ryan: Yes. While it’s worth pondering whether it might be unfairly tampering with the competition to reapply traction compound during a race, the circumstances of a postponement should allow it, and the ends certainly justified the means in Bristol’s case.

Dustin Long: NASCAR should do what is necessary to provide the best type of racing for the fans. 

Daniel McFadin: It’s a toss-up for me, but I think I’d rather they didn’t. It’s more interesting to have teams have to account for the loss of a racing element over time, just like they do with tires. That happened in Bristol and the race was great from beginning to end. Also, applying it mid-race just makes for longer races.

Dan Beaver: If NASCAR can find a way to substantially improve the action, they should do whatever is necessary. Many dirt tracks around the country take time to water the surface before the A-Mains to develop a second groove. NASCAR still has some lessons that can be learned from the grass roots.

Parker Kligerman: Why not? I feel until we find a way to stop hearing the words “loss of downforce” from following other cars, NASCAR should continue to look at all available tools to add in variables that can cause uncertainty for the teams and drivers and create changes in track state like we saw at Bristol to cause the most dynamic races possible.