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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
However, do you remember what happened 20 years ago this week?
An Andretti won at Daytona.
Thirty years after Mario Andretti won his only Daytona 500, his nephew John Andretti put his name in the history books by winning the 1997 Firecr … I mean, the Pepsi … wait, the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola.
You know what I mean.
On July 5, 1997, the 34-year-old Andretti won his first Cup race, what was then the Pepsi 400.
That weekend Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were exterminating space bugs in theaters in Men in Black. In music, the top song was “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy … I mean P. Diddy. No, it’s Sean Combs. Yeah, that’s it.
You know what I mean.
When ESPN began its broadcast of the race, Andretti was third on the grid. He was next to Gordon and behind the Richard Childress Racing front row of Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt. The latter was in the midst of his first winless season since 1981.
To get the audience up to speed, ESPN featured a series of four musical montages to recap the season to date.
The songs of choice are in included in the below Spotify playlist.
In none of the storylines set up by those montages was Andretti’s name mentioned.
He drove the No. 98 RCA Ford owned by Cale Yarborough, who himself won at Daytona nine times in his racing career. Andretti was in his fourth full year of Cup racing and was three years removed from being the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coke 600 in the same day.
As the field came to the green, Andretti was 27th in the points and had only one top-10 finish through 15 races, a fourth-place finish at Talladega.
By Lap 3, Andretti was in the lead after having led only 20 laps the whole season – 19 at Talladega and one at Pocono.
On Lap 12, announcer Bob Jenkins made first mention of Andretti seeking his first Cup win. The son of Mario Andretti’s twin brother, Aldo, John Andretti made his first NASCAR start in October 1993 at North Wilkesboro Speedway driving for Tex Powell.
By July 1997, the cousin to Michael Andretti had only earned four top fives in 109 starts.
Here’s an observation on restrictor-plate racing in the mid-1990s – it was better.
This isn’t intended to be a typical “the racing then was better” statement.
In the years since tandem drafting was banned, restrictor-plate racing has largely become a large pack of cars where moves must be cherry picked at the right time and nothing can change for laps on end.
But in 1997, 10 years into the plate era, the field wasn’t bunched together, almost held against its will. While still close in proximity, drivers had room to maneuver in a slightly strung out snake, with no clearly defined lines. A driver could make something happen more easily without the risk of starting the “Big One.”
Instead of keeping your eyes on the screen waiting for chaos to break out, you were left waiting to see who made a push toward the front.
And when something bad did happen, chances were half the field wasn’t taken out … probably.
This was the case on Lap 33, when Jimmy Spencer got turned on the backstretch and only Chad Little and Mike Skinner were caught in it.
It resulted in the first pit stops of the day and a near scare for Andretti as he left the pits and Gordon nearly took him out at the pit exit.
He restarted second behind Bill Elliott and had the lead back by the time the field got to Turn 4.
Andretti’s previous career best for laps led was 41 in the 1995 Southern 500. In this race, he led 80 of the first 89 laps.
All the videos in the post are from a YouTube video that is the raw satellite feed from the ESPN broadcast, which means you don’t see the commercials.
“Hey guys, I don’t know if you can get a shot of him, but Cale Yarborough is on top of the RCA truck in the garage and he’s so excited. He’s taking on the radio, he’s driving the race car. He’s cracking the guys up in the pit. He’s saying, ‘John, John, go help the 3, help that 4, help that 3, help that 4.’ They’re just dying. They said he’s jumping up and down on top of the truck.”
ESPN never got a shot of him.
Yarborough had reason to be excited. A 83-time Cup winner as a driver, Yarborough was a car owner from 1987 – when he drove for himself – to 1999. He fielded cars for Dale Jarrett, Dick Trickle, Derrike Cope and Jeremy Mayfield. Andretti replaced Mayfield with eight races left in the 1996 season.
In 371 races, Andretti’s win would be the only visit to victory lane for Yarborough as an owner.
“And I was just as happy walking in there as I was when I was driving in there,” Yarborough said.
With 43 laps to go, Andretti pulled off a maneuver that would be declared illegal in today’s NASCAR. Going down the backstretch, Andretti dove his No. 98 Ford down below the dotted white line to get by Rusty Wallace into fifth.
This was similar to the move Gordon made on Bill Elliott six months earlier on the frontstretch that eventually led to him winning the Daytona 500.
Speaking of Gordon.
The 1995 Cup champion was on his way to his second title that season. He would do it on the back of 10 wins, which matched his total from 1996. From 1995-97, the “Rainbow Warriors” won 27 times and they would add a modern record 13 in 1998.
By July 1997, many in the grandstands were sick of it.
So, when Gordon smacked the backstretch wall on Lap 125, they let their pleasure be known as the No. 24 limped to pits.
If you want to party like it’s 1997, you have my permission to crank this up while you sip a cold Pepsi or a Coca-Cola depending on your sponsor obligations.
When the race went green with 30 to go, Andretti was second. A lap later he had to take the lapped cars of Bill Elliott and Spencer three-wide to make a clear path to Mark Martin.
Now Andretti was experiencing déjà vu. Earlier in the year, Andretti finished fourth to Martin in the caution free Winston 500 at Talladega, a race he had the pole for and led 19 laps of early on. That day, no one could get out of line to take a shot at Martin in the closing laps.
“I got behind Mark and thought, ‘Not like Talladega again,’” Andretti said later, according to the Associated Press. “Luckily for me Bill Elliott pushed me through. I guess I owe Bill a check for this.”
The drafting help from Elliott came on Lap 137 after coordination between the two team’s spotters.
By the time there was 13 laps to go, The Intimidator was stalking his prey in the form of Andretti. Earnhardt was running in second, followed by Dale Jarrett and Martin.
The end of the race was heating up when the final caution of the race waved for a five-car crash in Turns 1 and 2 with four to go.
As the field raced back to the flag – which was still a thing at this point – ESPN cameras caught the No. 98 crew mildly celebrating, thinking the race was over.
They were wrong.
The wreck was cleaned in time for a final lap, with the green and white flag being displayed together.
When they waved, Andretti had a rear-view mirror full of a certain black car.
As Andretti celebrated his win, Ward Burton was put on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital to be tested for a concussion, but results were negative.
Also negative were driver reactions to how the race ended.
“That wasn’t a shootout,” Earnhardt said. “That was a slugfest, a wreckfest. They know better than to do that.”
Said Kyle Petty, “What they just had is a recipe for somebody getting hurt real bad. NASCAR got what they wanted, the fans didn’t get anything because they saw some of their favorites get taken out on the last lap. And the same guy that was leading the race before the restart still won. Why didn’t we just end it under caution?”
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO: John Andretti
When it came to NASCAR, Andretti wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
He won once more in 393 Cup starts. Two years later, while in his second stint in the No. 43 for Petty Enterprises, Andretti found victory lane at Martinsville Speedway after leading only the final four laps.
His last full-time season came in 2002.
From 2003-10 Andretti competed sporadically in Cup while competing in one full Xfinity campaign in 2006.
His final NASCAR start came in the 2010 Daytona 500, where he finished 38th for Front Row Motorsports after a crash.
From 2007-11, he made 10 starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The final four, which included three attempts at the Indianapolis 500, were in a No. 43 Honda co-owned by Andretti Autosport and Richard Petty Motorsports.