On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, the crew discussed the potential for inclement weather as well as adjustments to grip of the track surface create some unknowns heading into this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
NASCAR’s history is sprinkled with upsets, from unlikely winners riding the Talladega draft to short tracks that yielded unexpected wins when favored leaders crashed on the final lap.
Survey the list of surprise winners over the decades, and Jody Ridley’s name likely will stand out.
On May 17, 1981, two days shy of his 39th birthday, Ridley won a 500-mile race at Dover Motor Speedway in Delaware. It was the only victory of Ridley’s Cup career and the only win scored by Virginia team owner Junie Donlavey, who participated in the Cup Series for 45 years, with 863 starts.
Donlavey’s team was perpetually underfunded, and his drivers often raced with tired, overused engines and tires that had too many laps. He survived with a mostly volunteer crew and enough sponsorship to carry him from race to race. Rival drivers and team owners considered Donlavey one of the most popular residents of NASCAR garage areas across those many years, but he rarely had the chance to reach for victory lane.
On that spring day at Dover, one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks, everything fell the right way. Many of the tour’s leading drivers parked with engine or overheating problems, and the day’s best car – the Wood Brothers entry driven by Neil Bonnett — was sidelined with an engine issue late in the race after leading 404 laps.
Ridley, running a steady race, benefited from an unusual day at Dover. The race had only two cautions, and the final 471 laps of 500 were run under green-flag conditions. A general lack of cautions prevented top teams from changing tires frequently, putting Ridley, who was used to running tires longer than normal, on better footing.
When Cale Yarborough left the race with engine trouble 20 laps from the finish, Ridley inherited the lead — he had been two laps down to Yarborough — and led the rest of the way. He won by 22 seconds over Bobby Allison, who was the only other driver on the lead lap. Dale Earnhardt finished third, a lap down. Illustrating the problems experienced by many in the field — not an unusual result in those days — was the fact that the fourth-place driver, D.K. Ulrich, was nine laps off the lead pace.
Ridley drove into Victory Lane for the first time, much to the delight of Donlavey’s crew.
“Junie took it all in stride,” Ridley, now 80, told NBC Sports. “He wasn’t as excited as the team guys were. Junie was the type of guy who didn’t want to cash in on other people’s bad luck. He kind of felt sorry for the guys who blew up. That’s just the way he was.
“For me, it was the highlight of my career. Once I got into Cup racing, I knew we probably wouldn’t do much winning because we didn’t have the equipment. It was icing on the cake to win that one.”
Jody’s son Anthony, then 22 years old, was listening to the race via radio in Chatsworth, Georgia, where the family lived.
“I was upstairs at my girlfriend’s house, and I think I bounced all over the upstairs and then floated down to the first floor,” Anthony said. “It was all pretty cool. Dad called home. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t get real excited about anything, but he was happy.”
The win paid $22,560. Ridley’s cut from the check (40 percent, generally standard in those days) was $9,024, a nice payday but not Ridley’s biggest in Cup. He would win more for finishing in the top 10 in the Daytona 500.
“We were having a good day,” Ridley said, “but I never thought about winning it. We just didn’t have the cars. But we stayed in the hunt, and the other teams couldn’t get too many new tires, and Junie had put a different gear in the car. Normally he would put in a taller gear and drop the RPMs down (to protect the engine), and you couldn’t keep up. For some reason that day, he didn’t. And it paid off.”
Before joining the Cup tour full time in 1980 at age 37, Ridley had established himself as one of the top short-track drivers in the country. Across the South, at top Eastern Seaboard tracks and into the Midwest, a visit by Ridley usually meant a tough night for the locals.
Ridley’s older brother, Biddle, and Anthony kept the Ridley short-track cars running.
“We did all that together for 36 years,” said Anthony, who started changing tires during pit stops at the age of 14. “It was how we made a living, but trying to feed three families out of a race car is tough.”
Ridley still lives in Chatsworth, where his 1981 victory was a sports highlight for years.
“He can’t hear well, but he’s still tough as a pine knot,” Anthony said.
The start of the 2023 racing season moves closer with each passing day.
Here are the Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules (playoff races in bold), along with the ARCA, ARCA East and ARCA West schedules for the upcoming season:
2023 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule
|Date||Race / Track||Network||Start Time (ET)||Radio|
|Sunday, February 5||Clash (L.A. Memorial Coliseum)||FOX||8:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Thursday, February 16||Duel at Daytona||FS1||7:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, February 19||DAYTONA 500||FOX||2:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, February 26||Auto Club||FOX||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, March 5||Las Vegas||FOX||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, March 12||Phoenix||FOX||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, March 19||Atlanta||FOX||3:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, March 26||COTA||FOX||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, April 2||Richmond||FS1||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, April 9||Bristol Dirt||FOX||7:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, April 16||Martinsville||FS1||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, April 23||Talladega||FOX||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, April 30||Dover||FS1||2:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, May 7||Kansas||FS1||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, May 14||Darlington||FS1||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, May 21||NASCAR All-Star Race (North Wilkesboro)||FS1||8:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, May 28||Charlotte||FOX||6:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, June 4||World Wide Technology Raceway||FS1||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, June 11||Sonoma||FOX||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, June 25||Nashville Superspeedway||NBC||7:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, July 2||Chicago Street Race||NBC||5:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, July 9||Atlanta||USA||7:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, July 16||New Hampshire||USA||2:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, July 23||Pocono||USA||2:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, July 30||Richmond||USA||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, August 6||Michigan||USA||2:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, August 13||Indianapolis Road Course||NBC||2:30 p.m.||IMS/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, August 20||Watkins Glen||USA||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, August 26||Daytona||NBC||7:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, September 3||Darlington||USA||6:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, September 10||Kansas||USA||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, September 16||Bristol||USA||7:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, September 24||Texas||USA||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, October 1||Talladega||NBC||2:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, October 8||Charlotte Roval||NBC||2:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, October 15||Las Vegas||NBC||2:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, October 22||Homestead-Miami||NBC||2:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, October 29||Martinsville||NBC||2:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, November 5||Phoenix||NBC||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Schedule
|Saturday, February 18||Daytona||FS1||5:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, February 25||Auto Club||FS1||5:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, March 4||Las Vegas||FS1||4:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, March 11||Phoenix||FS1||4:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, March 18||Atlanta||FS1||5:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, March 25||COTA||FS1||5:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, April 1||Richmond||FS1||1:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, April 15||Martinsville||FS1||7:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, April 22||Talladega||FS1||4:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, April 29||Dover||FS1||1:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, May 13||Darlington||FOX||1:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, May 27||Charlotte||FS1||1:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, June 3||Portland||FS1||4:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, June 10||Sonoma||FS1||8:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, June 24||Nashville Superspeedway||USA||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 1||Chicago Street Race||USA||5:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 8||Atlanta||USA||8:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 15||New Hampshire||USA||3:00 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 22||Pocono||USA||5:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 29||Road America||NBC||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, August 5||Michigan||NBC||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, August 12||Indianapolis Road Course||USA||5:30 p.m.||IMS/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, August 19||Watkins Glen||USA||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, August 25||Daytona||USA||7:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, September 2||Darlington||USA||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, September 9||Kansas||NBC||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, September 15||Bristol||USA||7:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, September 23||Texas||USA||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, October 7||Charlotte Roval||USA||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, October 14||Las Vegas||USA||3:30 p.m.||PRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, October 21||Homestead-Miami||NBC||3:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, October 28||Martinsville||USA||3:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, November 4||Phoenix||USA||7:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
2023 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Schedule
|Friday, February 17||Daytona||FS1||7:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, March 3||Las Vegas||FS1||9:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, March 18||Atlanta||FS1||2:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, March 25||COTA||FS1||1:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, April 1||Texas||FS1||4:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, April 8||Bristol Dirt||FS1||8:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, April 14||Martinsville||FS1||7:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, May 6||Kansas||FS1||8:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, May 12||Darlington||FS1||7:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, May 20||North Wilkesboro||FOX||1:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, May 26||Charlotte||FS1||8:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, June 3||World Wide Technology Raceway||FS1||1:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, June 23||Nashville Superspeedway||FS1||8:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 8||Mid-Ohio||FS1||1:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 22||Pocono||FS1||12:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, July 29||Richmond||FS1||7:30 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, August 11||Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis||FS1||9:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Sunday, August 27||Milwaukee||FS1||4:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, September 8||Kansas||FS1||9:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Thursday, September 14||Bristol||FS1||9:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, September 30||Talladega||FS1||1:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Saturday, October 21||Homestead-Miami||FS1||12:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
|Friday, November 3||Phoenix||FS1||10:00 p.m.||MRN/SiriusXM|
2023 ARCA Menards Series Schedule
- Broadcast schedule, including event start times, will be released at a later date.
|Feb. 18||Daytona International Speedway||Daytona Beach, FL|
|March 10||Phoenix Raceway||Avondale, AZ|
|April 22||Talladega Superspeedway||Talladega, AL|
|May 6||Kansas Speedway||Kansas City, KS|
|May 26||Charlotte Motor Speedway||Concord, NC|
|June 17||Berlin Raceway||Marne, MI|
|June 24||Elko Speedway||Elko, MN|
|July 7||Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course||Lexington, OH|
|July 15||Iowa Speedway||Newton, IA|
|July 21||Pocono Raceway||Long Pond, PA|
|Aug. 4||Michigan International Speedway||Brooklyn, MI|
|Aug. 11||Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park||Brownsburg, IN|
|Aug. 18||Watkins Glen International||Watkins Glen, NY|
|Aug. 20||Illinois State Fairgrounds||Springfield, IL|
|Aug. 27||The Milwaukee Mile||West Allis, WI|
|Sept. 3||DuQuoin State Fairgrounds||DuQuoin, IL|
|Sept. 8||Kansas Speedway||Kansas City, KS|
|Sept. 14||Bristol Motor Speedway||Bristol, TN|
|Sept. 30||Salem Speedway||Salem, IN|
|Oct. 7||Toledo Speedway||Toledo, OH|
2023 ARCA Menards Series East Schedule
March 25 Five Flags Speedway Pensacola, Fla.
April 28 Dover Motor Speedway Dover, Del.
May 13 Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Tenn.
May 20 Flat Rock Speedway Flat Rock, Mich.
July 15 Iowa Speedway Newton, Iowa
Aug. 11 Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park Brownsburg, Ind.
Aug. 27 The Milwaukee Mile West Allis, Wisc.
Sept. 14 Bristol Motor Speedway Bristol, Tenn.
2023 ARCA Menards Series West Schedule
March 10 Phoenix Raceway Avondale, Ariz.
April 1 Irwindale Speedway Irwindale, Calif.
April 22 Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.
June 2 Portland International Raceway Portland, Ore.
June 9 Sonoma Raceway Sonoma, Calif.
July 1 Irwindale Speedway Irwindale, Calif.
July 29 Shasta Speedway Anderson, Calif.
Aug. 19 Evergreen Speedway Evergreen, Wash.
Sept. 30 All-American Speedway Roseville, Calif.
Oct. 13 The Bullring at LVMS Las Vegas, Nev.
Oct. 21 Madera Speedway Madera, Calif.
Nov. 3 Phoenix Raceway Avondale, Ariz.
Each ARCA Menards Series East and West stand-alone race will be streamed live on FloRacing and televised on a delayed basis on USA Network. Race start times, as well as broadcast details for combination races with the ARCA Menards Series will be announced at a later date.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season brought something new (a race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!) and something old (a win by the No. 43!) and a lot in-between.
In many ways, it was one of NASCAR’s best seasons. There were new winners, the Next Gen car kicked up competition a bit and there was a race finish (see the Ross Chastain file) like none other in the history of the sport.
There were downsides, too: The safety of the new car came under fire (figuratively and literally, as wheel-well flames ended more than a few rides), drivers’ seasons were interrupted or ended because of hard wrecks and some races were less than stellar.
Looking back over the February-to-November marathon, some races stand out:
Rocking the City of Angels – Despite the naysayers, the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a roaring success. A platter of questions, including whether the purpose-built track inside the stadium would hold up under heavy stock cars and generate good racing, awaited as teams rolled into LA. The racing wasn’t sensational, but it was good, and there were no problems with the track. A huge crowd showed up, and NASCAR left town with many ideas, having proven that it could run a race on a temporary track inside a large stadium. It has escaped no one’s notice that there are many other large stadiums in the country – and, by the way, outside it.
Wiggling at Watkins Glen – The venerable New York road course produced another hot finish as teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the win. Larson forced Elliott out of the main groove and took the lead for good with five laps remaining. “I’m not proud of it, but I knew it’s what I had to do to get the win,” Larson said. Elliott didn’t publicly criticize Larson, but it was clear he wasn’t pleased with Larson’s move.
Six hundred miles, and then some – The long history of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 600-mile race has produced some great competition – and some races that prompted long naps. This year’s was one of the craziest and, by the way, the longest. The race went to two overtimes, finally ending after 413 laps and 619.5 miles, making it the longest race in NASCAR’s 75 years. The winner – perhaps most accurately described as the survivor – was Denny Hamlin, who outran teammate Kyle Busch over the final two laps.
The King is back…but where is he? – The Cup playoffs opened at Darlington Raceway with the storied Southern 500, but the playoffs took a back seat to other storylines. Erik Jones scored an upset win in Richard Petty’s No. 43, marking the iconic car’s first victory since 2014. Petty, however, missed the Victory Lane festivities. He and Dale Inman, the No. 43’s former crew chief, left the race early for the drive home to North Carolina. The long night held several incidents, including one involving Kevin Harvick, who criticized NASCAR after his car caught fire, uttering his now-infamous diatribe about what he called “crappy-ass parts.”
No watermelon, but a lotta juice – The finish of the Oct. 29 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway generated international interest. Christopher Bell won in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs, but the post-race spotlight was on Ross Chastain, who rode the outside wall through the final two turns at speeds rarely seen on the short track and finished fourth, good enough to stay in the championship hunt. Chastain’s remarkable move drew comment from observers outside NASCAR, including Formula 1 drivers.
The end of the season provides a chance to look back and each year I go through the photos on my phone and find those that show the highs and lows of a sport that goes from February to November.
Here are some of the photos that stood out for me:
1. Daytona 500
Although the time spent in Daytona Beach, Florida, has shrunk in recent years with a more compact track schedule, the intensity remains. As do the emotions.
Cup rookie Austin Cindric accomplished “a racer’s dream” in winning the Daytona 500, accomplishing something in his second attempt that took Darrell Waltrip 17 times and Dale Earnhardt 20 times to accomplish.
It was the second time Bubba Wallace had finished runner-up in this race. Unlike 2018, when Wallace was excited with finishing second, Wallace felt no such emotion this time.
“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in the Daytona 500. “2022 was not awesome.
“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”
The photos that stand out to me are of the picture of Cindric’s car covered in red, white and blue confetti before going through post-race inspection and the disappointment Wallace wore on pit road after the race.
2. Road America
The Cup Series is not returning to the Wisconsin road course after two years there. Instead, this race will be replaced by the Chicago street course event in 2023.
This past season’s race was memorable. Tyler Reddick scored his first career Cup win on July 3. Nine days later came the announcement that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024 (That timetable moved up to 2023 after RCR signed Kyle Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8.).
Among the special moments from the Road America race was Austin Cindric walking the length of pit road to victory lane to congratulate Reddick.
Walking with Cindric, I asked him why he was making the trip to see Reddick.
“I think of anyone in the field, he probably deserves that win more than anybody else,” Cindric told me. “I think he’s put himself in position. He’s a really likable guy, and I feel like you can see how hard he works.
“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and a person and as a friend and a father. It’s cool to see somebody you’re close to go through that.”
When Cindric arrived in victory lane, he walked up to Reddick and gave his friend a bearhug, lifting Reddick well off the ground.
In all the excitement, Reddick’s son, Beau, was not impressed. He was sound asleep in victory lane.
3. Special moments
One never knows what you’ll come across in a season that stretches so long through the calendar.
These are a few such moments that proved special for one reason or the other.
As storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway in February, the sun was settling, creating a sky both ominous and spectacular. The photo captures that scene as Cole Custer walks through the garage. After this season, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it was replacing Custer with Ryan Preece in the No. 41 Cup car and that Custer would run in the Xfinity Series for the team.
Another photo that stands out to me comes from the Clash at the Coliseum. There were so many questions about the exhibition race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, such as if the specially built track would withstand the rigors of cars, what would the debut of the Next Gen car be like and would fans really be interested in such an event.
The track held up. So did most of the cars and the fans came. While not a sellout, more than 50,000 people attended the event and NASCAR noted that many had not purchased tickets to a NASCAR event before. The event was a success.
What stood out to me was the lines of people waiting to buy souvenirs the day of the race. In some places, lines stretched well away from the merchandise trailers.
Sometimes you never know what you’ll see at at event. At an event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Inman and Ray Evernham all stood together. That is 18 Cup championships (eight by Inman, seven by Petty and three by Evernham).
4. New winners
This season saw five first-time Cup winners: Austin Cindric (Daytona 500 in February), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix in March), Ross Chastain (Circuit of the Americas in April), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma in June) and Tyler Reddick (Road America in July).
I caught this scene of Suarez alone in his thoughts in the garage at Nashville Superspeedway in his first race since that Sonoma victory.
Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the playoff race was stunning. Needing two positions to advance to the championship race, Chastain put his car into fifth gear, planted his car against the wall in Turn 3, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his Chevrolet around the final two turns while he floored the throttle.
Amazingly, it worked. He passed five cars and earned a spot in the championship. Although he didn’t win the Cup title, Chastain provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.
As I was leaving the infield late that Sunday night. I stopped to take a picture of the wall and the marks Chastain’s car had left on its remarkable charge.