HOMESTEAD, Florida — With crowded grandstands as the backdrop, Bob Jenkins welcomed viewers to ESPN’s broadcast of the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup finale, proclaiming it “perhaps the biggest race in NASCAR history, at least in the modern era.’’
Richard Petty would run his final Cup race. Six drivers — some from racing’s royalty — entered with at least a mathematical chance to win the championship. A future superstar was set to make his first series start.
For the first time since that memorable fall day in Atlanta, a season finale has the power to match the significance of that 1992 race. Today’s Cup finale from Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC) features a four-man battle for the title and the departure of fan favorites, including the sport’s most popular driver.
“This is a lot of parallel to what ’92 was,’’ said Bill Elliott, who won the race that day in Atlanta but lost the championship by 10 points to Alan Kulwicki. “I still look back (to that race) as a big deal.’’
Petty said today’s race is “like a changing of the guard. You got so many different facets here.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 14-time and assuredly soon-to-be the 15-time most popular driver, will run his final Cup race.
“I’m having a hard time trying to put my emotions and thoughts into words,’’ Earnhardt said Friday. “Usually I’m pretty decent at it.’’
Danica Patrick, a pioneering driver who introduced many young girls to the sport, announced Friday in an emotional press conference that this will be her final full-time season as a driver. She plans to run only the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 next year.
“I feel like this is where my life should be headed,’’ she said.
Former champion Matt Kenseth, is set to depart the sport after this season. Whether he’ll return is uncertain. He’s left that possibility open but has no ride for next year and concedes he might not race in Cup again.
Busch, Harvick and Keselowski each seek a second title and would join seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson as the only active multi-time champions. Truex, whose team has endured heartbreak and tragedy throughout the season, seeks his first series title.
“I know it’s a big mark,’’ Keselowski said of becoming a two-time series champ. “There’s only 15 drivers in the sport that have won multiple championships, and we’re 60‑some years into the sport now.
“So if you think about it, there’s only been 15 multiple champions, and two of them are ‑ or at least one of them’s active now, and (Gordon and Tony Stewart haven’t) had a chance to get in the Hall of Fame, but it’s pretty much a certainty that those drivers will be in the Hall of Fame. Multiple championship drivers always will be. And it’s a chance to really make myself a Hall of Fame driver. That’s not something that anyone takes for granted.’’
That 1992 Atlanta race featured eight Hall of Famers: Petty, Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin and that list will grow in the coming years with Gordon and likely Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.
“I think the sport has evolved very well,’’ Elliott said.
One can only imagine what they might say of Sunday’s race 25 years from now.
Joe Gibbs Racing (six), Furniture Row (five) and Chip Ganassi Racing (two) won 13 of the last 15 races.
The pole winner has won six times in 2017: Kyle Larson ACS, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Talladega-1, Kyle Larson MIS-1, Kyle Busch POC-2, Kyle Busch NH-2, Martin Truex Jr. KS-2.
The final lead change came in the last 10 laps in 17 of 32 races in 2017, the final three laps in 12 races and on the last lap in three races.
Either Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Busch have won a stage in 23 of 32 races in 2017.
Martin Truex Jr. has won at least one stage in 14 of 32 races in 2017 but has not won a stage in the last four races which is tied for his longest stretch of races without a stage win.
Martin Truex Jr. is the only driver to win both stage 1&2 and go on to win the race (Las Vegas, Kentucky).
Five drivers have won a race but have not won a stage in 2017.
Four drivers have won a stage but have not won a race in 2017.
Atlanta, Pocono-1, Michigan-2 and Chicagoland are the only races without a caution before the end of stage 1.
Atlanta, Michigan-2 and Chicagoland are the only races to not have a caution other than stage breaks in the first two stages of the race.
Three cautions at Watkins Glen are the fewest in a race in 2017.
15 cautions at Kansas-1 and Dover-1 are the most in a race in 2017.
The last three races all had 10 or more cautions, there were less than 10 cautions per race in the prior nine races of 2017.
Three times a driver has won after going to the rear: Jimmie Johnson Texas-1 (unapproved tire change), Joey Logano Richmond-1 (transmission change), Jimmie Johnson Dover-1 (rear gear change).
Denny Hamlin won in New Hampshire-1 after going to a backup car prior to qualifying.
Three times in 2017 a driver has gone on to win after a speeding penalty: Kurt Busch Daytona-1, Brad Keselowski Martinsville-1 and Martin Truex Jr. Chicagoland.
Martin Truex Jr. won at Kansas after a restart violation on lap 36, it was the fourth time in 2017 a driver has recovered from a in race infraction to win and the second time by Martin Truex Jr.
Three drivers got their first career win in 2017: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Talladega-1, Austin Dillon Charlotte-1, Ryan Blaney Pocono-1, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the first first-time winner to get his second win in 2017.
There has been one track record set in 2017: Kyle Busch (Kentucky).
Three races were won with a last lap pass: Daytona-1 Kurt Busch passed Kyle Larson, Talladega-1 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Kyle Busch, Talladega-2 Brad Keselowski passed Ryan Newman.
Three drivers ended the longest winless streaks of their career in 2017: Ryan Newman 127 races, Kasey Kahne 102 races, Kyle Busch 36 races.
Martinsville recent race history:
October 2016 ended a six race Martinsville winless streak for Johnson, tied for his longest drought at the track.
The last seven Martinsville races were won by seven different drivers, the previous 19 races were won by six different drivers.
In April Brad Keselowski became just the sixth first time Martinsville winner in the last 25 Martinsville races.
The race winner has started seventh or better in the last four Martinsville races.
Joe Gibbs Racing drivers were passed for the win in four of the last five Martinsville races, Kyle Busch was passed by Brad Keselowski with 43 laps to go in April.
The winner of five of the last eight Martinsville races got his only win of the season.
Only once in the last eight Martinsville races has the driver who led the most laps gone on to win (Kyle Busch in April 2016).
The Martinsville race winner led less than 100 laps in six of the last eight Martinsville races.
Since caution data has been available there has never been a Martinsville race that went caution free for the first 130 laps (length of stage 1.
Last October at Martinsville the final 114 laps went green, the longest green flag stretch to end a race at Martinsville in the last 54 races.
There were 14 cautions at Martinsville in April, more than both races at Martinsville in 2016 combined.
Although there were 14 cautions in April there was still a green flag stretch of 120 laps.
There have been five overtime finishes at Martinsville, the most recent was April 2012.
There was one last lap pass for the win at Martinsville, Darrell Waltrip passed Dale Earnhardt on lap 500 in September 1987 after Earnhardt and Terry Labonte made contact in turn three and Waltrip took the lead from third.
12 Drivers got their first Cup win at Martinsville but only one has done so in the last 33 years, Ricky Craven in 2001.
11 of the last 14 Martinsville races were won from a top-10 starting position.
Brad Keselowski won at Martinsville in April, Ford’s only Martinsville win in the last 29 races at the track before April they had not won at Martinsville since October 2002.
Chevrolet drivers won 10 of the last 13 Martinsville races, Chevrolet has not gone more than one Martinsville race without a win since 2010.
28 of the last 29 Martinsville races were won by four organizations: Hendrick Motorsports (16 wins), Joe Gibbs Racing (7 wins), Stewart-Haas Racing (3 wins), Team Penske (2 wins) (RCR won the other race).
Hendrick Motorsports has 24 Martinsville wins, including the organization’s first win by Geoff Bodine in 1984, the most wins at a single track by an organization in Cup Series history.
Five different drivers won a race at Martinsville driving for Hendrick Motorsports, tied with Junior Johnson for the greatest number of different winners by an organization at Martinsville.
Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville last October, it was his ninth win at the track again tying Jeff Gordon for third in Martinsville wins.
The all time Martinsville wins leader is Richard Petty with 15, Darrell Waltrip is second with 11, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are third with nine.
Martinsville Playoff Highlights:
Martinsville has been a playoff race in all 14 years of the playoffs.
11 of the 13 playoff races held at Martinsville have been won by a playoff eligible driver.
Chevrolet has won 11 of the 13 playoff races held at Martinsville including the last six straight.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers won the last five playoff races at Martinsville.
Ford has never won a playoff race at Martinsville.
Jimmie Johnson has won six of the playoff races held at Martinsville, the most of all drivers.
Johnsons six Martinsville playoff race wins are the most by a driver at a track.
Only five drivers won the 13 Playoff Races at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (6 wins), Jeff Gordon (3 wins), Denny Hamlin (2 wins), Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win each).
Three organizations have won the 13 playoff races at Martinsville: Hendrick Motorsports (10 wins), Joe Gibbs Racing (2 wins), Stewart-Haas Racing (1 win).
In the three years of the elimination format (since 2014), Jimmie Johnson in 2016 is the only driver to win at Martinsville and go on to win the championship.
Five cautions in the 2016 Martinsville playoff race, the fewest in the 13 playoff races at the track and the only race with less than 11 cautions.
There was a caution in the first 50 laps in all 13 playoff races at Martinsville Short Track Highlights.
Short Track Highlights:
Jimmie Johnson’s 14 short track wins are the most of all active drivers, Kyle Busch ranks second with 11.
Five different drivers won the five short track races in 2017, the last time six different drivers won the six short track races in a year was 2013.
Three drivers finished in the top-10 in four of five short track races in 2017: Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.
Six drivers led 84% (1,937 of 2,304) of the laps raced on short tracks in 2017: Kyle Busch (469), Martin Truex Jr. (356), Kyle Larson (353), Matt Kenseth (264), Erik Jones (260) and Brad Keselowski (235).
Joey Logano has an average finish of 5.0 on short tracks in 2017 the best of all drivers and is the only driver to finish in the top-five in four of the five races on short tracks this season.
Six drivers finished on the lead lap in all five short track races in 2017: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Six different drivers won a stage on a short track in 2017, Martin Truex Jr.’s three stage wins on short tracks are the most.
Kyle Larson’s 61 stage points on short tracks are the most of all drivers.
Martinsville Track History and Fast Facts:
Henry Clay Earles was the owner of The Spot service station and several houses in Martinsville. After attending a few races in 1947 with his friend Sam Rice, the budding entrepreneur thought that racing would be a profitable business. With partner’s Sam Rice and Henry Lawrence, a site for a racetrack was located at an overgrown 30 acre cornfield just outside Martinsville. The track was soon underway and ended up costing $60,000. The first race was for modified stock cars on September 7, 1947 (pre-NASCAR). William H. G. France had persuaded Earles that stock cars were the future of racing and he helped to promote the event for a percentage. The total purse was $2,000. Only 750 of the planned 5,000 seats were ready and parking capacity was 1,400 cars. The crowd was overwhelming. Earles said that nearly 10,000 fans attended, 3,000 unpaid. Red Byron won the race and $500.
The first NASCAR sanctioned race was for Modified stock cars won by Fonty Flock on July 4, 1948. The eighth place finisher was Bill France.
The first NASCAR Cup (Grand National) race on September 25th, 1949, won by Red Byron over Lee Petty. Byron drove the No. 22 Raymond Parks owned Oldsmobile led by crew chief Red Vogt, the race consisted of a 15 car field.
The track surface was dirt for the first 12 Cup races.
In 1964 Earles decided it was time for a different type of trophy for race winners. His choice was a grandfather clock produced by nearby Ridgeway Clock Company. On September 27, 1964, Earles awarded the first Clock trophy to Fred Lorenzen, the winner of the Old Dominion 500 that afternoon.
Richard Petty has the most clocks with 12 (he won three times at Martinsville prior to the introduction of the clock. Darrell Waltrip won 11 Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each have 9 clocks.
In 1976 the corners were resurfaced in concrete. The track was completely resurfaced following the spring 2004 race when Jeff Gordon ran over a chunk of concrete that had come loose in turn 3.
International Speedway Corporation (ISC) purchased privately owned Martinsville Speedway in 2004 for $192 million.
Starting in March of 2015 the Iconic Martinsville Hot Dog has been provided by Valleydale Hot Dogs, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. Valleydale provides a dog that closely resembles the Jesse Jones Southern Style hot dog in taste and color and will continue to cost $2. The change ended a relationship with Jesse Jones that dated back to 1947. South Boston Speedway and Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C. continue to sell Jesse Jones dogs.
On October 12, 2016 Martinsville track president Clay Campbell announced that the track would have an LED lighting system in place for the 2017 season, which would coincide with Martinsville’s 70th anniversary. The project cost an estimated $5 million and is described as more of an “insurance policy” against late after noon finishes like the one in October 2015. No night races are scheduled for 2017 at Martinsville.
Martinsville has become the 15th of 23 tracks on the Cup circuit with permanent lights in place. The only tracks that now remain without lights: Dover, Indy, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pocono, Sonoma, Talladega and Watkins Glen.
October 29th will be the 138th race at Martinsville, every season since 1949 and multiple races a year every year since 1950.
Martinsville is the only track to host a race in every season of NASCAR’s existence, and is the only remaining active “Charter Track” on the schedule.
At 0.526 miles in length Martinsville is the shortest track on the Cup schedule.
With grandfather on mind, Jeremy Clements experiencing fruits, exhaustion of first Xfinity win
For Jeremy Clements, one of the best things about his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is the Peach Blossom Diner.
When he was younger, Clements would make trips to the restaurant, located on Hospitality Drive, to hang out with some of his NASCAR predecessors who also called the city home.
Nine-time Cup winner Cotton Owens and 1973 Talladega 500 winner Dick Brooks were among the patrons.
There was also the “Silver Fox.”
Clements is no stranger to three-time Cup champion David Pearson and his family. His son Ricky Pearson served as Clements’ crew chief in the Xfinity Series in 2007 and from 2010-14.
A winner of 105 Cup races, Pearson wasn’t above trying to give Clements advice on how to manhandle a stock car.
“He’d always tell me how to drive and tell me what to do,” Clements tells NBC Sports, giving an example of an exchange.
“You need to just use one foot. One foot brake, one foot gas,” Pearson would say.
“David, there’s no way you can do that anymore, buddy.”
“I’ll get in that dang car and show you.”
But when the No. 51 Chevrolet of Jeremy Clements Racing arrives at Darlington Raceway on Friday, it will pay tribute not to the career of Pearson. It will be an ode to Clements’ grandfather, Crawford Clements.
The car will look like the one driven by A.J. Foyt when he won the 1964 Firecracker 400 at Daytona with Crawford Clements serving as his crew chief.
“I was really close to him,” Jeremy Clements says. “It was devastating when he passed. He’s the one that got me started. He would take my brother Jason and I to the go-kart track Buck Creek Speedway (in Chesnee, South Carolina) and race with us and do all the work and everything for years. I’ll never forget that. … I always have his name on the cars we race every week because he meant so much to me. He did a lot for a lot of people.
“He was a very smart man and I wish he was here today to see all this.”
NO REST FOR FIRST-TIME WINNERS
Clements is very tired.
Three days earlier, in his 256th start, the 32-year-old driver became the first Xfinity competitor with no Cup experience on a team with no Cup connections to win a race since 2006.
That causes the phone to ring. A lot.
“I’ve been going after it non-stop,” Clements says. “Haven’t slept the most. Everybody wants to talk to you. It kind of wears you out, but in a good way. I’m not complaining about it.”
He was not prepared for the attention one brings by winning in NASCAR.
“Heck no, man,” Clements says. “Not at all. It’s been crazy. I went into Road America thinking that we could run really well there because we had, and I like that place and the road courses were somewhere we could always run good. But I didn’t anticipate to win the race, honestly. It’s just been insane.”
Clements has tried to keep up with all the well wishes on social media, with congratulatory messages from Brad Keselowski, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.
“All those meant a ton,” Clements says. “I think I missed a few.”
The “coolest” acknowledgment he received was one he couldn’t miss. On Tuesday, a goody basket full of cheese, crackers and sausages arrived.
“It wasn’t a low-end basket,” Clements says. “It was a nice one.”
The basket was courtesy of Rick Hendrick.
“First of all, I’ve never even met Mr. Hendrick,” Clements says. “Second of all, for him to even think about me was amazing. To get our address and send something to us was pretty cool. He’s one of the best team owners in the garage.”
Even as the week of celebration unfolds around Clements, the work preparing for the rest of the season does as well.
The car Clements won with, built in 2008 and the oldest of the team’s seven-car fleet by a month, was up on a lift in the shop having its engine removed.
“When I was doing my victory stuff on the front stretch, I wanted to burn that thing down,” Clements says. “But the sad truth of that is that I couldn’t. I was like, ‘heck, we’ve probably got to use this motor next week.’ I had to be easy with it and take care of it. Truth be told, that engine had two races on it before that race.”
Clements and his team don’t yet know how much their winner’s gross will be. They’ll find out Friday and instantly start spending it at Darlington.
“You need probably 15, 16 grand worth of tires there,” Clements says. “It’s going to be a good payday for sure but it’s not going to be something we can just go out and start buying cars and stuff because everything’s so expensive.
“It’s crazy how much, that’s just life in general I guess. It’s like an axle for our cars are $225 a piece and you need them every week, but that’s just one little thing, you know? It takes a lot of individual parts and all of them cost a lot.”
The team, owned by his father Tony Clements, has already made purchases they hope will benefit them in their unexpected position of having qualified for the Xfinity playoffs, which begin Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway.
Even before Road America they had acquired two newer composite body cars from Richard Childress Racing. They’ll first run one next weekend at Richmond.
No matter how things go for Jeremy Clements once the playoffs start, he’s “playing with house money” after Road America.
“I’m not going to get too worked up about it,” Clements says. “We’re going to go give her hell and do the absolute freakin’ best we can. But I don’t want to get too boiled up about it if we don’t do the best and we don’t make it to the next round. I’m not saying we’re not gonna, I’m just saying we’re playing with house money. In my opinion it’s just icing on the cake.”
‘LOOK AT ME. LET’S GO’
When Clements took the white flag at Road America, he started getting chills, goosebumps and knots in his stomach.
First, he had no idea how after spinning with Tifft and briefly stalling out he still had the lead. Also, as he made his final lap around the 4-mile road course, his mind began racing.
“Just honestly started thinking about what do I even do if we win?” Clements says. “What do I say and who do I need to thank?”
When he finally got to victory lane, he had the presence of mind to give a shout out to any big team owners that were paying attention.
“I want to drive for a big team, but it hasn’t been the way it’s gone,” Clements told NBC. “I try to keep doing this, to keep my name out here getting as much experience as I can in case I do get the call. To any big team guys. Look at me. Let’s go.”
For Clements, NASCAR has always been his goal since his days of watching Days of Thunder on a TV in the back of a van on the way to go-kart tracks to get “amped up.”
In the few days since his win, when not talking with the press, Clements has reached out to owners.
“They say ‘we’ve paid attention to you before,’ but at the end of the day, they need money,” Clements says. “There’s hardly anybody getting opportunities these days that didn’t bring some kind of money to get them in there. That’s the bad part about it. It’s been like that for years.”
But Clements isn’t inclined to give up on his dream, especially after the biggest win of his racing career. If his career had come to an end after Sunday, he still wouldn’t be satisfied.
“I don’t think I would be pleased until I got that break and that’s what I’m still working on,” Clements says.
But before he can continue to do that at Darlington in his tribute to his grandfather, he’s going to enjoy the perks of being a first-time winner as long as he can.
“I don’t think I’ve bought a meal yet this week so far,” Clements says. “Hopin’ to continue that streak.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will honor NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip with a special throwback scheme in the Sept. 3 Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Stenhouse will drive the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank-sponsored Roush Fenway Racing Ford Fusion in the race.
The car will carry a paint scheme from Waltrip’s 1997 NASCAR Cup season, one of Stenhouse’s favorite paint schemes along with the all-chrome variety Waltrip also ran that same season.
“We’re sticking with an iconic No. 17 paint scheme again this year for the Darlington throwback weekend,” Stenhouse said in a media release. “This scheme from 1997 has the chrome numbers on it that everyone associates with Waltrip.
“I hope it brings us the kind of success that he achieved at ‘The Lady in Black’.”
Waltrip earned 5 wins, 18 top-5 and 23 top-10 finishes in 55 starts at Darlington.
For as much as Kyle Busch’s sweep of the Truck, Xfinity and Cup races at Bristol Motor Speedway turned some fans off, it was what NASCAR needed.
Even better, Busch understood.
After he won Saturday night’s Cup race, Busch goaded booing fans by putting his fingers to his ears, prompting more catcalls.
He walked to the back of his car and raised three fingers — for his three wins last week — as the boos (and cheers) grew louder.
And he smiled, a winner’s grin but also one of somebody who proved the doubters wrong. Again.
Part superstar, part showman.
The good guy to his fans, Busch also can be cast as the villain to the rest of the fanbase. He’s accepted that role, embraced it and learned how to egg on the haters in the stands and the trolls on social media.
Sports is about us against them. While fans have their favorite drivers and teams, there remains the need to root against someone or some team. Without that distinction, sports would be as anticlimactic as a youth game — pick the sport: baseball, football, basketball, etc. — where no score is kept. That’s called recess.
Without Kyle Busch, who would make sane people insane and cause alcohol-fueled fans to do things they tell their children never to do? The new drivers haven’t been around long enough to anger the fan base. Maybe Kurt Busch could fill the role because anyone with the name Busch is more inclined to be booed. There are other drivers who have their detractors but not as much as Kyle Busch based on the visceral reaction he gets at many tracks.
“The best of the best that have won here have been booed … for a long, long time,’’ Busch said after his second Cup win of the season. “So I’m fine with that.’’
Busch follows a history of drivers that fans loathed (and some loved). Before Busch, it was Tony Stewart. He inherited the mantle after Dale Earnhardt, who took it from Darrell Waltrip and so on.
Earnhardt made the image of a villain into a cottage industry. For every boo and middle finger he received, he just smirked and kept on winning, infuriating his haters and thrilling his fans.
When Earnhardt was introduced before races, many fans didn’t sit. They stood to cheer or show how much they despised the seven-time champion.
Rarely was the anger as intense as the 1999 Bristol night race when Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte out of the lead on the final lap. Earnhardt said he “meant to rattle his cage.’’ Didn’t matter. Boos cascaded down the packed stands. Several minutes later, the track replayed the radio broadcast of the final laps on the P.A. system and when it came to the moment Earnhardt turned Labonte, a heavy chorus of boos reverberated throughout the stands from fans not yet ready to leave.
At 32 years old, Busch can grow more into such a role for years to come. And win more than his one championship.
Having not yet reached his prime, Busch is likely to keep winning — Saturday was his 40th Cup victory to tie Mark Martin for 17th on the all-time wins list. At his current rate, Busch will climb into the top 10 wins list before he retires. Busch can further irritate fans by also winning Truck and Xfinity races.
Us against them.
Yes, Busch will make fans cheer and boo for years to come.
“I’m sure they’re still booing, whining and crying all the way home tonight,’’ Busch said well after his win Saturday night. “They’re driving home mad, so people be careful.
“But, you know, my people get to go home safe and secure and slow and steady and patient because they get to celebrate.’’