Top 5 moments at former NASCAR tracks

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While seven Cup Series races were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t a race scheduled for this weekend due to the Easter holiday.

The past few weekends we’ve taken a look at memorable moments at the tracks the Cup Series would have raced at on that particular Sunday.

With no corresponding track this weekend, we decided to go off the beaten path and look at moments from tracks that NASCAR no longer visits, which includes some that no longer exist.

Let’s get started.

 1. ‘They ought to fine that son of a (expletive)’; North Wilkesboro Speedway

It was an odd role reversal on Oct. 15, 1989.

With four races left in the season, Dale Earnhardt was 35 points behind Rusty Wallace and three laps away from clinching a dominating win at the short track located roughly 90 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Earnhardt, who would lead 343 of the race’s 400 laps, was leading on the final restart with three laps to go, as Ricky Rudd started alongside him.

Earnhardt kept the lead all the way to the white flag. Rudd tried to pass Earnhardt on the inside as they entered Turn 1. Their cars made contact, which sent both into a spin.

That opened the door for Geoffrey Bodine to take the lead and win the race. Rudd finished ninth and Earnhardt placed 10th.

Afterward, Earnhardt displayed the kind of anger usually seen from someone who had been spun by Earnhardt himself.

“They ought to fine that son of (expletive) and make him sit out the rest of the year,” Earnhardt declared to ESPN after the race.

Instead of leaving North Wilkesboro with 185 points, Earnhardt earned 144 points and lost two points to Wallace. Earnhardt would win the season finale three races later at Atlanta, but Wallace claimed the title by 12 points.

North Wilkesboro’s final NASCAR race occurred seven years later in 1996.

 

2. No sponsor, no problem; North Carolina Speedway (Rockingham)

Victories like Matt Kenseth’s first in the Xfinity Series just don’t happen.

Driving an unsponsored No. 17 Ford for Robbie Reiser (the Lycos decals on the rear quarter panels were there to express gratitude to the company for their Daytona sponsorship), Kenseth earned the win on the 50th birthday of NASCAR.

He just had to go through a fellow future Cup champion to do it.

After chasing him down in the late stages of the race, Kenseth got to Tony Stewart’s bumper with less than five laps to go.

On the last lap, Kenseth gave a tap to Stewart’s rear bumper as they exited Turn 4, sending Stewart up the track and allowing Kenseth to get beside him. It was a drag race from there with Kenseth beating Stewart by a car length.

That wasn’t Kenseth’s only big moment at Rockingham. Six years later in 2004, he beat Kasey Kahne in a photo finish to win the final Cup Series race at the track.

 

3. Two in a row for Tim Richmond; Riverside International Raceway

The first 11 races of the 1987 Cup Series season were held without Tim Richmond in the field. The Hendrick Motorsports driver sat out while he suffered from a mysterious illness that eventually was revealed as AIDS.

Richmond returned on June 14 at Pocono and promptly won, leading the final 47 laps and beating Bill Elliott.

A week later, Richmond’s comeback continued at Riverside International Raceway, a road course Richmond had won at three times before.

Richmond led the final 10 laps after passing Phil Parsons. He beat Ricky Rudd by 1.5 seconds.

It would be the last win for Richmond, whose last nine wins occurred over 19 starts. He would start the next six races after Riverside with his final start coming at Michigan.

NASCAR held its last Cup race at Riverside in June 1988.

Richmond died on Aug. 13, 1989 from AIDS complications.

 

4. The King earns final title at Ontario Motor Speedway

The 1979 Cup championship came down to the wire.

When the series held its season finale at Ontario Motor Speedway in California, Darrell Waltrip entered the race with a two-point advantage over Richard Petty, who had trailed Waltrip by 229 points in August.

Waltrip’s title hopes were dashed on Lap 38 when he spun trying to avoid a spinning car. The caution came out two laps later, trapping Waltrip a lap down. Waltrip never got back on the lead lap. Petty finished fifth and Waltrip placed eighth.

Petty ended the year 11 points up on Waltrip and claimed his seventh and final Cup championship.

Ontario would host its final Cup race the following year, ending a nine-race run that began in 1971.

 

5. NASCAR’s last hoorah at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis

The 2011 Xfinity Series season included the series’ last visit to Lucas Oil Raceway, the short track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park.

After a 30-race tenure, the series would move to Indianapolis Motor Speedway the following year.

But the .686-mile track provided some drama in its sendoff.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dominated the event, leading 189 laps until a late-race restart.

With three laps to go in the scheduled distance, Brad Keselowski went to Stenhouse’s inside as they headed toward Turn 3.

When they got to the turn, Keselowski’s car went up the track and into Stenhouse’s, almost putting him into the wall.

But it was enough for Keselowski to take the lead. He would survive another restart to take the win.

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC)

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).