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Long: Never has there been a race like Atlanta 1992 … until today

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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.

And, there’s a four-driver race for the championship between Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski

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.

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Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer: Old school racing style binds them together

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One of the highlights of the opening day of Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend was the press conference featuring Clint Bowyer and NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin.

It’s clear the former Michael Waltrip Racing teammates admire each other. Bowyer admires the career Martin had, while Martin compares Bowyer to an old school driver like himself.

Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford is carrying a 1990 Martin paint scheme this weekend and that took up much of the conversation during the media session.

“Man, it is really, really cool,” Martin said when asked about the car carrying sponsorship from Carolina Ford Dealers, which Martin’s car also carried. “It was so amazing when they pulled the cover off of it at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“The first thing I thought of was the setup that I ran in that old car, and how it was pretty much unbeatable at Darlington. Clint’s a man to take it to Victory Lane,”

Bowyer quickly interjected, “By the way, we do have that setup in the car. I sure hope it was a good one.”

Even though there’s two decades between the pair, Martin, 58, considers Bowyer, 38, “one of the oldest school and coolest dudes in NASCAR today, so it’s pretty neat.”

Bowyer joined Stewart Haas Racing this season, replacing the retired Tony Stewart. He considers this year’s throwback weekend the best because he gets to honor Martin, who was one of his heroes as a youngster.

“That’s what’s so special about this weekend in Darlington is being able to pay tribute to all of our heroes that paved the way for all of us to have this opportunity,” Bowyer said. “Mark Martin, a teammate of mine back in 2012, was one of the neatest things that ever happened in my career.

“And then just his story from that Midwestern kid that grew up beating up and down the road, making a name for himself in those late models, the ASA Series, and then making the most of those opportunities and becoming a legend of this sport and a Hall of Famer. So to be able to pay tribute to him means a lot to me personally.”

Bowyer appreciates Martin’s racing style perhaps more than most drivers because he has a similar style.

“It’s kind of that old thing,” Bowyer said. “You see a guy race that aggressive, you think he’s gonna get out and be a grizzly bear and this little guy gets out and you’re like, ‘Man, he sure drives like a grizzly bear.’

“That’s the way he’s always been. He attacks any race track that you put him on. He gets everything there is to get out of a race car and always has. I think his work ethic and everything about him is what makes him so unique and special and stand out amongst the rest over the years.”

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Bump & Run: Favorite throwback paint schemes for Southern 500

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1. What is the Throwback paint scheme you’re looking forward the most to see this weekend at Darlington Raceway?

(Images here)

Nate Ryan: Danica Patrick’s Ford Credit No. 10. It’s a true throwback that pays homage to a champion who always carried himself well in and out of the car. Though most fans probably associate Dale Jarrett with UPS, this is the primary sponsor that evokes the fondest memories of DJ’s career for me.

Dustin Long: Matt DiBenedetto’s car resembles Bobby Allison’s 1988 Miller High Life car, which was one of my favorite cars. Dylan Lupton’s Xfinity car, which resembles Jeff Gordon’s “Rainbow Warrior” paint scheme also looks sharp.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer‘s Carolina Ford Dealers scheme, which is what Mark Martin drove from 1988-91 in the Xfinity Series. It hits that very specific sweet spot of looking both incredibly tacky in a way only a late 80s/early 90s scheme could while looking awesome at the same time.

Jerry Bonkowski: Nothing looks cooler or more intimidating than a black car. And when it channels the fabled “Midnight” car Rusty Wallace used to drive in the mid-1990s, it’s all the more badass. That’s why I’m picking Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford as the scheme I’m looking forward to the most at Darlington.

2. What’s another underdog win in NASCAR that compares to Jeremy Clements’ victory at Road America?

Nate Ryan: It ranks as the biggest upset since David Gilliland’s 2006 victory at Kentucky Speedway. That win catapulted Gilliland into a Cup ride with Robert Yates Racing. Clements has paid his dues to be deserving of a similar shot with a decent team.

Dustin Long: David Gilliland’s 2006 Xfinity win at Kentucky Speedway in an unsponsored car for a team that went away after that season. 

Daniel McFadin: Greg Sacks winning the 1985 Firecracker 400. He made 263 Cup starts from 1983-2005 with only one full season (1994). In an unsponsored research-and-development car for DiGard, Sacks led 33 laps and beat Bill Elliott by 23.5 seconds for his only Cup victory.

Jerry Bonkowski: A.J. Allmendinger‘s 2013 win at Road America stands out to me. After missing a good chunk of 2012 serving a suspension for violating NASCAR’s Substance Abuse policy, Allmendinger earned his first career Xfinity win driving for Team Penske, which gave him a second chance. Ironically, Allmendinger would make just two Xfinity starts in 2013 for Team Penske, and won both of them (the other coming at Mid-Ohio).

3. There have been 11 different winners* since 2006 in the Southern 500. What kind of odds do you put at there being a 12th different winner this weekend?

Nate Ryan: About 10-1. There are four drivers who are serious threats, and each already has a victory this season — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick. Matt Kenseth has the best chance of the winless candidates.

Dustin Long: 75-1 that there will be a different winner than there has been since 2006. Darlington isn’t a track everyone has an even chance at. The winner will be someone who has won at Darlington since 2006.

Daniel McFadin: Seeing as how five of those 11 drivers are no longer competing in Cup or are retired, I think there are good odds. But Kyle Busch (2008) and Martin Truex Jr. (2016) should be favorites. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think it goes 12-for-12 Sunday, with the most likely suspects to win being those who are most in dire need of a win to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs: Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Erik Jones. And don’t count out Kurt Busch, who has never won at the Track Too Tough To Tame.

* Previous winners at Darlington

2006 — Greg Biffle

2007 — Jeff Gordon

2008 — Kyle Busch

2009 — Mark Martin

2010 — Denny Hamlin

2011 — Regan Smith

2012 — Jimmie Johnson

2013 — Matt Kenseth

2014 — Kevin Harvick

2015 — Carl Edwards

2016 — Martin Truex Jr.

Throwback Southern 500 paint schemes revealed for Trevor Bayne, Jeffrey Earnhardt

Photo: Roush Fenway Racing
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Although Monster Energy Cup Series teams are not racing this weekend, they’re still busy preparing for the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Roush Fenway Racing and Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group have each announced throwback schemes, adding to the many that have been announced.

Trevor Bayne‘s No. 6 AdvoCare Ford will mirror the paint scheme run during Roush Fenway Racing’s first two seasons with NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin. The scheme, originally featuring Stroh Light, was on the car when Martin won the organization’s first victory in 1989 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.

“It is such an honor to run this paint scheme in Darlington,” said Bayne in a statement. “It’s really special to be driving a car that is honoring the beginning of Roush Fenway Racing. This organization has meant so much to me and my career as a driver and it means a lot to me to be the one who has the privilege of returning this scheme to the track in Darlington.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s No. 33 hulu Chevrolet will feature a throwback look to Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s Busch Series Lowes Food car in 1989.

 

Clint Bowyer’s Southern 500 paint scheme honors Mark Martin (video)

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Stewart-Haas Racing and Clint Bowyer will honor NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin with the paint scheme on Bowyer’s car for the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Bowyer’s throwback paint scheme harkens to when Martin drove a Carolina Ford Dealers Ford for Bill Davis Racing in 43 Xfinity races between 1988-91.

“If you want to associate yourself with a winner and all that’s good about our sport and its history, then you aren’t going to do any better than Mark Martin,” said Bowyer, who raced as a teammate with Martin in 2012 and 2013 while at Michael Waltrip Racing, in a statement.

“I’m proud to say I got to race with and against Mark in my career, and it’s an honor to have him join us at Darlington in September. When the folks at SHR and Carolina Ford Dealers came up with this idea, I was pretty pumped up for it. Then I saw the paint scheme, and I knew it was going to be one of the best in Darlington.”

Martin finished with 40 Cup wins, placed second in the points five times, won 49 Xfinity races and won five IROC Series titles.

“This is a really cool deal and brings back a lot of memories,” Martin said in a statement. “This was a good time and I hope the race fans enjoy it as much as I will seeing it out on the track. Darlington is one of my favorite places on earth and I’m not going to miss this one.”

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