April 18 in NASCAR: John Andretti’s spectacular Martinsville drive

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No greater authority than Richard Petty, a winner at Martinsville Speedway a record 15 times himself, put the seal of approval on John Andretti’s stirring Cup win at the historic half-mile track on April 18, 1999.

“It looked like the good old times,” Petty said.

Andretti overcame an early spin that put him a lap down and charged past Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton in the final laps to win. Andretti completed a sweep for Petty Enterprises that weekend after Jimmy Hensley won the Truck race for the team the day before. Andretti’s win marked the first Cup victory for Petty Enterprises at Martinsville in 20 years.

Andretti started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap and began working his way through the field.

A key moment came when the field pitted on Lap 383 of the 500-lap race. Andretti entered 11th and exited fourth after taking two tires. He trailed only Gordon, Mark Martin and Burton.

“I’d been begging for (two tires) all day because I wanted track position, and I wanted to get up there and fight,” Andretti said that day.

Said Gordon afterward: “I’m sure he didn’t take two tires at the end. There’s no way.”

Andretti was third with 50 laps to go, trailing only Gordon and Burton. Andretti passed Gordon for second with 12 laps to go. That left only Andretti’s close friend, Burton, for the win. Andretti charged while ignoring a vibration with the car.

Andretti ran underneath Burton on Lap 494 and they ran side by side for much of two laps before Andretti got by.

“I’ll never forget coming around and taking the checkered flag at Martinsville,” Andretti said that day.

Andretti died Jan. 30 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 56.

Also on this date:

1954: Herb Thomas won at Hillsboro, North Carolina, one of a series-high 12 victories he scored that season.

1960: Glen Wood led all 200 laps to score the victory at Bowman Gray Stadium, marking the first win for Wood Brothers Racing in what would become the Cup Series.

1970: Richard Petty led the final 349 laps to win the Gwyn Staley 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. He was the only driver to complete all 400 laps.

1982: Dale Earnhardt scored the first of his nine career wins at Darlington Raceway.

2009: Mark Martin won at Phoenix, tallying his third victory in the first eight races of the season. He went on to win five times and finish second in the points.