For birthday boy Richard Petty, 200th Cup win ‘was meant to be’

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Say a king-sized happy 79th birthday to the king of NASCAR, Richard Petty.

One of the five inaugural inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, Petty was born July 2, 1937.

NASCAR’s winningest driver with 200 victories has called Level Cross home ever since.

Back in May, NBC Sports sat down with the legendary Petty to talk about one of the greatest days of his career.

Not only was it two days after his 47th birthday, more importantly it marked his 200th and final Cup win on, fittingly, July 4, 1984, in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Petty wrapped up the momentous day by meeting President Ronald Reagan after the race.

Here’s some excerpts from Petty’s interview with NBC Sports:

Q) Your 200th career Cup win came by just a few feet ahead of Cale Yarborough. What was that weekend like and what do you remember?

Richard Petty: Well, you know, going into the ’84 season at Daytona in July we won 199 races. And we had run three or four since I had won a race at Dover, I think, so the anticipation was there – just, you know, let’s get to the racetrack and get this over with and see what’s going on. It just happened to be Daytona in July on the 4th. The president of the United States was coming to the race.

“It was really built up to be a big fair no matter who won the race, just because the president was going to be there and it was July the 4th. Being fortunate enough to be able to come back and win the race and that being your 200th and winning by a couple of feet and winning on the last green flag lap deal, it was unreal. It was the pinnacle of my career, I guess, because it was the last race I won.”

Q) Did you think you could win that race going in or was it a little bit unexpected?

Petty: “No, we felt pretty good. We were having a decent season. Some of the races hadn’t been that good to us. The car was running good, (crew chief Buddy Parrott) was doing a good job with the crew and everything was sort of there, because like I said, before that, we won the race at Dover so that gave us that much more confidence. I mean we’d been building up, I thought, to win races. Then Daytona has been really a special race for the Petty family or for me and so we always look forward to going to Daytona. You know if there’s any race in the world that we have a chance to win, Daytona’s gonna be it.”

Q) President Reagan gave the command to start engines. Did you know ahead of time that if you won you would get the chance to meet and speak with him?

Petty: “Yeah, I think they had told us in the drivers meeting that whoever wins the race to stop on the racetrack, don’t go to the winners circle. Stop on the racetrack and go up in the announcers booth because that’s where the President is gonna be. So everybody knew that but then it was just forgotten and nobody worried about it, the president, seeing him, or even when he said, ‘Start your engines.’ Everybody was ready to go racing.

“And none of the presidential deal, being there or any of that, it never hit until the race was over. And then not only me because I won, but everybody around, other racers, drivers, crews and stuff, then they felt the presence because they had told everybody when the race was over that they were going to block off the garage area and everybody was welcome to come eat a little lunch with the president of the United States. So it ended up being a big deal but during the race, nobody was worried about that part of it.”

Q) You walked up through the grandstands to meet the president?

Petty: “Yeah, I got out of the car and people met us and then we hoppy-scotched up through the crowd and go up some steps and stuff and go up to meet him in the press box.”

Q) What was it like going through the crowd after you had just won the race?

Petty: “Well, it was one of them deals where I went from Point A to Point B, I think I was just floating. I mean people are hollering at you and snapping at you and you’re just grinning all over yourself. And you always had two or three people trying to help me. But we made it.”

Q) What moment stands out most to you about that weekend: the victory, meeting President Reagan, or beating Cale back to the line?

Petty: “Yeah, you know, it was great for the president to be there and to get to talk to him and stuff, but this is the 200th win, man. I mean, just to win is great, but when you won the 200th and beating someone like Cale, who had been very competitive against me, him and (David) Pearson and (Bobby) Allison, you know we all sort of came up together. Cale had a really, really good (car) at Daytona also.

“You know, he won five or six great races down there himself. So we wound up being pitted against each other. And we just got the break to win the race and it was just great from our standpoint but not too good on Cale.”

Q) To this day, do you think Cale’s still a little bit jealous about how that ended

Petty:“I think Cale had a strategy, okay, of how he was gonna try to win and draft by me on the last lap. Quick as we came through the dogleg, and they throw the caution … well, they’re getting ready … well they hadn’t throwed the caution. Somebody turned over in the first corner and Cale seen it.

“All of our strategy went out the window then everybody just opened it wide open and said, ‘We hope we get back first.’ … If you talk to (Yarborough), he thought he had the best car and should have been leading being the circumstances were that. The decision he made and the decision I made me win the race. So it was just meant to be.”

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Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”

Dr. Diandra: Is 2023 the season for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. redemption?


Coming into 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had two career Cup Series wins in 364 starts. But both wins — and his career-high 13th-place season finish — happened back in 2017.

Stenhouse was unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing in 2020 and landed with JTG Daugherty Racing. He made the news every now and then at a superspeedway but could be counted upon to head up season-ending lists of drivers involved in the most accidents. In the years Stenhouse hasn’t been at the top of the list, he’s been near the top.

DNFs and accidents have plagued Stenhouse throughout his NASCAR career. Jack Roush went so far as to park the Mississippi native in his early days in the Xfinity Series because he tore up so much equipment.

Stenhouse redeemed himself, going on to win two Xfinity championships.

From the way his 2023 season has started, it looks as though Stenhouse might be on a similar mission of redemption this year in the Cup Series.

Finishing races

Stenhouse started the 2023 season in the best possible way – winning the Daytona 500. But drivers from less-funded teams who win early superspeedway races usually settle to the bottom of the rankings by now.

Stenhouse hasn’t. He ranks 13th heading into Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Standings aren’t as good a ruler this year as they usually are because of drivers missing races and teams incurring penalties. But Stenhouse’s statistics back up his ranking.

Stenhouse has finished every race this year on track, as opposed to in the garage or on the hook. Only Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie have achieved the same distinction.

In 11 of those 14 races, Stenhouse finished on the lead lap. That’s the same number of lead-lap finishes as William Byron. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for most races finished on the lead lap with 13 each.

This time last year, Stenhouse had already racked up seven of the series-leading 18 caution-causing incidents he would be involved in for the season. Runner-up Chase Elliott had 15 incidents.

Going into Gateway this year, Stenhouse has been involved in only two accidents (Talladega and Charlotte) and had a tire go out at Darlington.

Approaching his career best

I compare three years in Stenhouse’s career in the table below: the 2017 season — his best to date — along with last year and the 14 races run so far this year.

A table comparing loop data stats for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. showing his path to redemption

Stenhouse’s current average finishing position of 13.5 ties with Christopher Bell for sixth best in the Cup Series. That’s 9.3 positions better than Stenhouse’s 2022 average. He’s even beating his 2017 average by 3.6 positions.

Qualifying results are down a bit from 2017 — but remember that those numbers are from the days when NASCAR allowed multiple practice sessions. Stenhouse is only two positions worse relative to 2017, but 7.6 positions better than last year when it comes to establishing his spot on the starting grid.

Stenhouse’s average running position is comparable to 2017 and 2.8 positions better than 2022. He ranks 20th among full-time Cup Series drivers in average running position. Although it’s an improvement, it’s still more than double William Byron’s series-leading 9.1 average running position this year.

More interesting is the difference between Stenhouse’s average running position his average finishing position. Some drivers run better than they finish. Stenhouse is doing the opposite.

In 2017, Stenhouse finished about 1.4 positions better than he ran. This year, he’s gaining an average of about five positions from where he runs.

One might argue this gain results from the plethora of late-race incidents this year that have removed drivers in the front of the field from contention. But Stenhouse deserves credit for putting himself in a position to benefit from those events.

Stenhouse’s green-flag speed rank is 11th among full-time Cup Series drivers. His 15.3 average, however, is 1.7 positions worse than 10th-place Kyle Busch. Still, it’s impressive that JTG Daugherty is right there in the mix with much better-funded teams. William Byron again has the best average green-flag speed rank at 7.9.

Consistently strong finishes

It’s not uncommon for a mid-pack driver to win a superspeedway race. But Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win appears to be something more. The table below summarizes his wins and finishes for the same three years.

A table comparing finishes for 2017, 2022 and 2023 showing Ricky Stenhouse Jr's redemption attemptsThe difference between last year and this year is striking.

In 2022, Stenhouse finished in the top 20 in 12 of 36 races. He’s already matched that mark this year. He earns top-20 finishes 85.7% of the time in 2023 compared to 33.3% last year. Top-20 finishes aren’t the same as contending for a championship. But they’re a first step.

Stenhouse finished 2017 with nine top-10 races. With about 60% of the season remaining, he’s already earned five top-10 finishes this year.

What’s changed? The Next Gen car is one factor, but it didn’t make much difference for Stenhouse last year. I would point instead to Stenhouse’s reunion with Mike Kelley as his crew chief.

Kelley co-piloted both of Stenhouse’s Xfinity championships in 2011 and ’12. Although Kelley worked with Stenhouse and previous crew chief Brian Pattie since 2020, this is the first year Kelley is back up on the pit box.

Together, they’re basically halfway to matching Stenhouse’s best year.

And another step closer to redemption.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points


Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).