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NASCAR Cup car from 1989 ‘found’ in Ireland, still runs strong on original tires and motor

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We’ve all heard stories of old race cars that were discovered in someone’s barn or garage or similar places. Usually, they’re all rusty or falling apart or are in dire need of a makeover.

But here’s a story you likely haven’t heard before. It turns out the No. 31 1989 Chevrolet Lumina, which competed in four Winston Cup races in 1991 (as the No. 53) and 11 races in 1992 (as the No. 31), was recently “discovered” by guys from the drift racing web site DriftGames.Life (DGL).

But instead of finding it in a barn or well off the beaten path, the DGL team found the car tucked away in a museum at Ireland’s Mondello Park International Race Circuit, near Dublin.

“We were walking down pit lane at Mondello Park and came across probably the most insane thing you’re ever going to see in Ireland, a fully fledged NASCAR,” said DGL’s Dave Egan, who narrates the video below. “We’re going to get our full Cole Trickle on because ‘Days of Thunder’ was (the thing) when I was younger. That was the best film, with Tom Cruise, and this is the car from that era. It’s old-school NASCAR.”

This is no replica or show car. It’s the actual race car — and it’s in great condition (except for a few old tire scuff marks from the usual beatin’ and bangin’ that goes on in Cup racing).

Photo: Reddit.com

Here’s the back story: Irish entrepreneur, former race car driver and former Lola Race Cars owner Martin Birrane wanted to go NASCAR racing in the U.S., so he formed “Team Ireland” in 1991, becoming one of the first foreign owners to field a team in NASCAR’s premier series.

With a chassis built by and purchased from Dale Earnhardt Inc., complete with a Richard Childress Racing motor, the team ran four races in 1991, two with Bobby Hillin Jr. behind the wheel of the No. 53, and two other races with John Paul Jr. in the driver’s seat.

Birrane brought Hillin Jr. back to drive in 1992 in the rechristened No. 31. The car’s best finish with Hillin Jr. behind the wheel was 13th in that year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Later that same season, the car was disqualified at Charlotte following the Mello Yello 500 (Hillin Jr. finished eighth in the race before the DQ) for using illegal cylinder heads. Because the team could not afford to pay the hefty $50,000 fine levied by NASCAR (one of the highest penalties assessed at the time), as well as being unable to attract additional sponsorship, that ultimately and abruptly ended Team Ireland’s and Birrane’s brief foray into NASCAR.

After the team disbanded, Birrane brought the car back to his homeland. The car was brought back to life recently by the DGL crew, with Irish driver Ian Beatty putting it through its paces at Mondello Park, which Birrane and now his family owns.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tswr2F8O4mk&w=560&h=315%5D

Beatty took the car for a spin on, believe it or not, with the same tires that it had after its Charlotte DQ, rubber that is over a quarter-century old.

It’s a handful,” Beatty said of his experience driving the car. “It’s a bit like driving a bus with 850 horsepower. … And of course these tires are 20-30 years old, so there’s no grip on them. It’s a handful, but it’s fun.”

One humorous highlight of the ride came before Beatty took it onto the track – he got stuck trying to climb through the window and couldn’t slide down into the seat because the old-fashioned steering wheel blocked him. The team had to remove the steering wheel and then Beatty was able to get to work.

Birrane passed away last June at the age of 82. Hillin Jr., who now runs an oil company in Houston, fondly recalls his time with Team Ireland.

“Martin was a true gentleman,” Hillin Jr. told NBC Sports. “I liked him a lot. I feel bad that I lost touch with him.

“Martin will be remembered for somebody being a pioneer and coming over here and doing a NASCAR team and investing in NASCAR. … I don’t think the sport really appreciated what he had to offer when he was here, and it’s too bad.

A diecast model of the Team Ireland Chevrolet Lumia (photo courtesy RacingChampions.Blogspot.com).

“I was never able to go to Mondello Park, but I was pretty impressed with him because he really was committed to NASCAR and wanted to make a go of it, to the point where he was flying in from London for all the races, sometimes week to week or once a month. It was kind of too bad the way things turned out.”

Then, Hillin Jr. added: “The biggest thing I remember is people loved the car and the big Irish cloverleaf on it. I don’t know how many of those people were Irish, but they sure loved it.”

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Coca-Cola 600 resumes after rain delay

Coca-Cola 600
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The Coca-Cola 600 is back under way following a rain delay.

The caution was issued on Lap 49 for rain and the field was brought to pit road. The red flag was issued at 7:07 p.m. ET and lifted at 8:16 p.m. ET.

The top five at the time of the stoppage was Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Joey Logano.

Check back for updates.

 

Denny Hamlin team faces potential penalty after ballast falls off car

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Denny Hamlin was involved in an incident even before Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 got underway that could result in a hefty penalty.

A chunk of tungsten ballast — which teams use to bring Cup cars up to minimum weight standards — fell off Hamlin’s car on a parade lap.

The incident puts Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart and several others on the team in violation of the NASCAR rule book, which means a hefty penalty could be in the offing.

According to the NASCAR rule book, the penalty is 12.5.2.7.4.d: Minimum safety penalty options — “Loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle will result in a four Race suspension of the crew chief, car chief, and head engineer. If NASCAR cannot identify which series or vehicle the lost ballast originated from, all vehicles entered for that Event from and associated with the team organization identified on the lost ballast may receive the suspensions.”

If NASCAR implements the potential penalty, Gabehart and others could miss the following four races: May 27 at Charlotte, May 31 at Bristol, June 7 at Atlanta and June 10 at Martinsville.

Several of those tracks are good for Hamlin, including winning the Bristol summer night race last year, as well as was fourth at the Martinsville playoff race last fall and 11th at Atlanta.

NASCAR ordered Hamlin back to pit road where the No. 11 crew added a new chunk of ballast to Hamlin’s car. He returned to the race eight laps down.

Here’s what a fabricator from rival team Stewart-Haas Racing tweeted about the incident:

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Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

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Chevrolet drivers swept the top three rows for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600, led by Kurt Busch‘s pole-winning lap of 181.269 mph.

Jimmie Johnson was next with a lap of 181.214 mph. He was followed by Chase Elliott (181.002 mph), Matt Kenseth (180.923), rookie Tyler Reddick (180.905) and Austin Dillon (180.741).

Ford driver Joey Logano, who starts seventh after a lap of 180.451 mph, was the top qualifier not driving a Chevrolet.

TO THE REAR: Matt DiBenedetto (backup car), Brad Keselowski (unapproved adjustment), Aric Almirola (unapproved adjustment), JJ Yeley (unapproved adjustment) and Timmy Hill (unapproved adjustment)

Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Kurt Busch on pole for Coca-Cola 600

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Kurt Busch will lead the field to the green flag for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 after claiming the pole Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It is Busch’s 28th career pole and first at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch is joined on the front row by Jimmie Johnson. Chase Elliott qualified third and is followed by Matt Kenseth and rookie Tyler Reddick. Austin Dillon was sixth, as Chevrolet drivers took the top six spots.

Click here for qualifying results

Aric Almirola spun coming to take the green flag to begin his qualifying lap. He grazed the wall with his rear bumper.

Matt DiBenedetto slapped the wall off Turn 4 during his qualifying lap and will go to a backup car and start at the rear of the field.