Mike Skinner

Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Flashback: 1997 Pepsi 400 at Daytona when John Andretti won for Cale Yarborough

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Twenty years ago, Jeff Gordon won his first Daytona 500.

You knew that already. Or you’ve been reminded recently thanks to regular airings of the abridged broadcast on Fox Sports 1 or the network’s (really good) documentary about the race.

John Andretti, driving Cale Yarborough’s No. 98 Ford,  was Yarborough’s first and only NASCAR Cup Series victory as a car owner. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

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.

During a commercial break with 95 laps to go, pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch radioed to the booth the following as Andretti led Ward Burton and Ken Schrader:

“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?”


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.

Andretti returned to the spotlight earlier this year at the age of 54 with the news that had been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

On May 28, every car in both the Indy 500 and Coke 600 displayed decals supporting Andretti and advocating for people to get colonoscopies.

This is the third in an occasional series looking back at classic NASCAR races (at least those that are on YouTube).


Dale Earnhardt’s final Martinsville win in 1995

Bill Elliott’s 1985 Talladega win

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PHOTOS: The 18 new cars on Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame

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When visitors walk into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the first time in 2017, there will be a noticeable difference greeting them.

Glory Road, situated in the Great Hall, has undergone a makeover. The exhibit serves two purposes in highlighting memorable cars from NASCAR’s history as well as the different degrees of banking they raced.

The unveiling of a new Glory Road marks its third generation since the Hall of Fame opened in 2010. Featuring 18 cars under the theme of ICONS, they were chosen based on the consideration of being an iconic car, an iconic driver, or an iconic race. It starts with Marshall Teague and ends with 2015 Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.

Here’s a tour of Glory Road: ICONS

1952 Hudson Hornet driven by Marshall Teague


An owner/driver, Teague won three consecutive manufacturers championships for Hudson Motor Company after they began supplying him with cars in addition to developing performance parts for him.

“I feel the Hudson is the best car for my purpose, and, if any other car was better, I would drive that car,” Teague said. “It’s as simple as that!”

1957 Ford Fairlane driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts


Roberts drove this car to eight premier series victories, including three in a row at North Wilkesboro, Langhorne Speedway and Southern States Fairgrounds.

“Fireball wouldn’t mess with you at all,” Marvin Panch, a Ford teammate, said. “You could trust him on the racetrack. You always knew right where he’d go. It was a pleasure to race him.”

1964 Plymouth Belvedere driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty


Considered his breakout year, Petty earned his first of seven wins in the 1964 Daytona 500 and first of seven championships in a HEMI-powered Plymouth tuned by brother Maurice Petty. The Daytona 500 was the first of nine victories for Petty that season.

“In all my career, I had never had a car that was faster than anybody else … until then,” Petty said.

1966 Ford Galaxie driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott


The 1966 season was the best of Scott’s career as he earned 17 top-10 finishes and finished sixth in points.

“I never set out to blaze any trails or be a pioneer,” Scott said. “I’ve always said the only race I care about is the race on the track.”

1966 Dodge Charger driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson


Paired with mechanic Cotton Owens, Pearson went to victory lane 15 times in 1966 including four straight at Hickory, Columbia, Greenville-Pickens, and Bowman Gray Stadium. Pearson also won the championship with the car, which ushered in a new era of race cars because of the aerodynamic advantage it had with a sloped-back roofline.

“The aerodynamics were the key to that body design … the air went over the car,” Donnie Owens, crew member and son of Cotton Owens, said. “And with that sloped roof and short rear deck lid, you couldn’t draft behind it. NASCAR put the first spoiler ever on it to keep the back end on the ground.”

1939 Chevrolet Coupe driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans


It was with this car, which he ran on short tracks throughout the Northeast in the early 1970s, that Evans’ career took off. While he changed cars throughout the years, Evans kept his iconic orange paint scheme and No. 61 while winning a record-setting nine (including eight straight from 1978-1985) NASCAR championships.

“Richie was a racer’s racer,” said Ray Evernham. “He could build his own cars and really understood them. He was certainly way ahead of his time on a lot of things, especially tires. He’d mount dozens of tires for the big races, and then he’d settle on exactly what he wanted.”

1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip


Nicknamed “Bertha,” this car became synonymous with Waltrip from 1976-1980. During that time, Waltrip won 25 times and earned two Coca-Cola 600 wins (1978, 1979).

“That thing had a wheelbase of 116 inches and was 64 inches wide,” crew chief Buddy Parrott said. “It really shouldn’t have worked. But we busted our butt working on the weight distribution, and you couldn’t knock it off the track on the short tracks. It worked good on the big tracks, too. It handled really good.”

1978 Ford Thunderbird driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison


The 1978 season saw Allison paired with owner Bud Moore, and they won their second race together, the Daytona 500. This particular chassis was used in four races at Richmond, where Allison earned two wins and two runner-up finishes.

“The car handled really good … the crew responded well to my requests on what I thought would make the car better,” Allison said. “Bud (Moore) was really good to work with, and he respected my requests. His engines were reliable, and we won 14 races in three seasons.”

1982 Oldsmobile Omega driven by Sam Ard


In what is now the Xfinity Series, Ard was one of its most successful drivers. He won 22 races between 1982 and 1983 was crowned champion in ’83 and ’84.

“Sam Ard was one of the greatest competitors I ever raced against,” Jack Ingram said. “When I saw that white No. 00 come into the track, I knew I was in for a tough race. And everybody else knew it, too.”

1987 Ford Thunderbird driven by Davey Allison


In his first full season at Harry Rainier Racing, Allison earned five poles and two wins on his way to winning rookie of the year. When Robert Yates took over the team in 1989, Allison remained the driver and went on to win the 1992 Daytona 500.

“From the time I was a little boy, it wasn’t, ‘I’m Bobby Allison’s son, and I’m going to be a race car driver,’ it was, ‘I’m Davey Allison, and I’m going to be a race car driver,'” Allison said.

1989 Ford Thunderbird driven by Neil Bonnett


After driving for Wood Brothers Racing early in his career, Bonnett reunited with the team for the 1989 and 1990 seasons. He earned nine wins and five poles driving for Hall of Famers Leonard and Glen Wood.

“Glen Wood calling (in 1979) with two of the biggest shocks in one sentence that I’ve experienced,” Bonnett recalled. “He said, ‘David Pearson has quit the team, and will you drive for the Wood Brothers?'”

1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Harry Gant


The green No. 33 went to victory lane a total of 18 times with Gant behind the wheel. That includes five times during the 1991 season. That same season, Gant earned the nickname “Mr. September” when he won four consecutive races at Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville.

“(Martinsville) was the hardest one of the four to win,” Gant said. “I had to pass more cars today than I have in the others.”

1992 Ford Thunderbird driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott


The 1992 season was memorable for many reasons, including its season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Elliott won the race, his fifth of the season but came up 10 points short of Alan Kulwicki in the championship fight.

“I did all I could do,” Elliott said. “I went out there and won the race (Atlanta).”

1995 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Mike Skinner


The 1995 season was the inaugural season for the Camping World Truck Series and saw Skinner win eight times on his way to claiming the championship. Skinner also won the inaugural race at Phoenix and put on his most dominating performance at Portland International Raceway when he won the pole and the race after leading every lap.

“I was a driver who wasn’t getting any younger when the opportunity to drive this truck for Richard Childress Racing came along,” Skinner said. “I became more focused than at any other time in my life … When we started looking outside the box, we were unstoppable.”

1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt


After becoming the first owner to roll out a limited-edition paint scheme in 1995, Richard Childress and his team brought out this car, featuring a throwback Wrangler scheme, for The Winston in ’99.

“It was awesome to be able to represent Wrangler again,” crew member Chocolate Myers said. “When Earnhardt came on board in 1984, he brought Wrangler and that ‘One Tough Customer’ thing with him. Everybody was excited to be running that paint scheme.”

2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Jeff Gordon


It was February 2005 when Gordon won his third Daytona 500 in what turned out to be his final win at Daytona International Speedway. He went on to win a total of four races in 2005.

“It felt very rewarding on many levels because of it being a spectacular finish, having to really maneuver around … going from first to third or fourth, back up to first,” Gordon said. “Definitely getting beside that No. 8 car (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and pulling ahead of him was amazing.”

2013 Chevrolet SS driven by Jimmie Johnson


Johnson started the 2013 season by winning his second Daytona 500, the first of six wins that season. He also earned three poles and scored 24 top-10 finishes on his way to winning his sixth Cup Series championship.

“The Daytona 500 is a career-winning race,” Johnson said. “It defines careers for drivers, crew members, crew chiefs and race teams. It has that power.”

2015 Toyota Camry driven by Kyle Busch


After missing the first 11 races of the season following a broken right leg and fractured left foot in a crash during the Xfinity Series race at Daytona, Busch rebounded to win his first championship. Overall, Busch earned five wins on the season.

“This is just a dream come true and my family, my wife, my son – to have him this year and to have everything we’ve gone through this year, to be in this moment (in victory lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway) – I don’t know know what else to say, but this is so special,” Busch said.

Mike and Angie Skinner selected as fourth quarter Spirit Award winners

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
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The National Motorsports Press Association has announced Mike Skinner and his wife, Angie, as the winners of the fourth quarter Pocono Spirit Award.

The Spirit Award “recognizes character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.”

The former Camping World Truck Series champion was chosen for his annual benefit, the Skinner Roundup.

The event raises funds to support Hope For The Warriors, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring a sense of self, family and hope for service members, veterans and military families. This years’ event raised $220,000.

Also on the ballot for the fourth quarter were NASCAR drivers Joey Gase, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson and former drivers Darrell and Michael Waltrip.

The previous quarter winners of the award this year were NASCAR spotter Chris Osborne, artist Jeanne Barnes and journalist Al Pearce.

The overall Spirit Award for 2016 will be announced in January.

Tony Stewart making final start at Richmond, site of first Sprint Cup win

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There once was a time when Tony Stewart was just Tony Stewart.

Back before “Smoke” came along.

Years before the three Sprint Cup championships, the 49 wins, the notorious Bristol helmet toss and garage area driver confrontations, Stewart was a NASCAR rookie.

Though your memories of it may be fuzzy, that time was 17 years ago.

And 17 years ago this week in 1999, Stewart earned his first Sprint Cup win at Richmond International Raceway, or “The Action Track.”

The race was the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400, the 25th points event of the season, held on Sept. 11, 1999.

That week, the No. 1 movie at the box office was the supernatural horror film Stigmata starring Patricia Arquette, which ended a six-week reign by The Sixth Sense.

The song at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 was “Bailamos” by Enrique Iglesias.

In Richmond, Stewart entered the race fifth in points, behind Jeff Gordon and ahead of Jeff Burton, who had won the 50th Southern 500 the week before.

Up until that point, Stewart had been begging for a win, especially at a short track. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had started from the pole at Bristol two races earlier and led 225 laps before finishing fifth. He’d led 118 laps at Loudon and finished 10th and early in the season at Dover led 127 laps and finished fourth.

At the first Richmond race that season, Stewart started 30th and finished 15th.

On Sept. 11, Stewart started on the outside pole, his fifth front-row start of the season. On the pole was Mike Skinner, who earned six poles in his Sprint Cup career.

Also in the field was Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his fourth of five Cup starts that season.

Stewart and Skinner swapped the lead twice in the first four laps before Stewart took it over for the next 25.

Stewart’s JGR teammate, Bobby Labonte, would lead for three laps until Stewart took it back on Lap 33  and led for 138 laps.

The No. 20 would lead twice more. The last stretch began on Lap 257 when Stewart assumed the lead from Jeff Gordon, then just a one-time winner at RIR.

Gordon would drop out on Lap 311 with a transmission issue. Stewart would lead the final 144 laps.

With Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett on the call for ESPN, Stewart, at 28, claimed his first Sprint Cup win.

Stewart was the first first-time winner in Sprint Cup since Jeremy Mayfield at Pocono Raceway in June 1998. More importantly, he was the first rookie to win since Davey Allison at Dover International Speedway in 1987.

Finishing out the top five was Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin and Kenny Irwin Jr.

After emerging from his car, Stewart embraced crew chief Greg Zipadelli and Stewart’s fiance at the time, Krista Dwyer.

“I wish I knew what to say, I mean you plan all your life for something like this,” Stewart said. “This is the first time I’ve been speechless, everybody knows I like to talk. This is for Davey Allison, this is the mark I had to shoot for all year. Donnie Allison and his family have been great to me this year. I’m out of breath, that’s a lot of stuff to talk about after winning a race.”

The native of Columbus, Indiana, would win two more times in 1999, consecutive races at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stewart would also win twice more at RIR, the last victory coming in 2002.

On Saturday, in the Federated Auto Parts 400 on NBCSN, Stewart will make his 35th and final start at the .750-mile track.

“I’ve always felt like Richmond was the ultimate drivers’ track,” Stewart said in a press release. “When we didn’t have all the downforce like we do now, you used to literally move around the racetrack. You didn’t get stuck in one groove. You could be fast there running two or three different ways, using three different lines. You could do what you needed to do to complement your car or not hurt it. That’s what I have always liked about it. It’s always going to be my favorite track.”

Get to know Iowa Speedway


Much attention will be on Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend where the Sprint Cup and Champing World Truck Series will race, but let’s not forget about what else is going on in the NASCAR world, as the Xfinity Series heads to Iowa Speedway for Sunday’s 3M 250.

It will be the 11th time the series has raced at the  track in Newton, Iowa, a town with a population of 15,136 located 30 miles from Des Moines and home to internationally famous Maytag Blue Cheese.

Iowa Speedway is off the beaten path from the Sprint Cup series, as it only hosts Xfinity and CWTS events.

Here’s a guide to getting know Iowa Speedway.

Rusty Wallace – The 1989 Sprint Cup champion was the lead designer of the track and was a co-owner before NASCAR bought the facility in November 2013. The track is located at 3333 Rusty Wallace Drive.

$50 million – The cost to build the speedway.

0.875-mile – The length of the oval track, which is paved with asphalt.

30,000 – The number of the speedway’s permanent grandstand seats.

2006 – The year the track opened, holding its first event on Sept. 15, as Woody Howard won the Hooters Pro Cup Series’ Soy Biodiesel 250.

2 – The number of Xfinity races at Iowa in the 2015 season.

Brad Keselowski – The 2012 Sprint Cup champion was the first winner of a NASCAR national series race at Iowa, winning the U.S. Cellular 250 on Aug. 1, 2009. Keselowski was a year away from his first full Sprint Cup season and was driving the No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3 – How many times Brad Keselowski has won at Iowa Speedway.

.066 seconds: The closest finish at Iowa in an Xfinity race came in the 2011 U.S. Cellular 250. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. blew a tire coming to the finish and was rammed from behind by Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards as he took the checkered flag.

Mike Skinner – The winner of the first CWTS race at Iowa Speedway, the Lucas Oil 200 on Sept. 9, 2009. It was the next to last of Skinner’s 28 career CWTS wins.

6 – Number of winners at the track in both Xfinity and CWTS (through eight races).

Brett Moffitt – The driver of Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34 Sprint Cup car was the first Iowa native to win at the track. Raised in Grimes, Moffitt won a K&N Pro Series East race in 2011.

Track records: Xfinity: Qualifying, Austin Dillon, 136.737 mph (23.037 sec.) on June 8, 2013.
Race: Elliott Sadler, 115.622 mph (1:53:31) on Aug. 4, 2012.

CWTS: Qualifying, German Quiroga, Jr., 138.620 mph (22.724 sec.) on
July 13, 2013
Race: Erik Jones, 110.429 mph (1:35:05) on July 11, 2014