While Morgan Shepherd‘s first Cup win came relatively early, in his 15th career start, his win at Martinsville Speedway on April 26, 1981 came 11 years after his first start.
Shepherd, a rookie at the age of 39, surprised the field when he led 203 of 500 laps to claim the victory on the short track.
Driving the No. 5 Pontiac for owner Cliff Stewart, Shepherd beat Neil Bonnett, who was the only other driver on the lead lap, by 16 seconds.
It was the first Cup Series win by Pontiac since a victory by Joe Weatherly in October 1963.
“It didn’t sink in until I came around for the checkered flag,” Shepherd said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “I almost cried.”
Shepherd would go on to make 517 starts in the Cup Series through 2014. He’d win only three more times, with each one occurring at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Also on this date:
1964: Fred Lorenzen led all but 13 laps to win at Martinsville over Marvin Panch for his fourth straight win. He’d win in his next start two races later at Darlington. Lorenzen won eight times in 16 starts that year.
1987: With a victory at Martinsville, Dale Earnhardt completed a run of four wins in a row. He took the lead with 17 laps to go when leader Geoffrey Bodine spun from contact with Kyle Petty.
1992: Mark Martin won at Martinsville. He led the final 27 laps after Brett Bodine’s suspension broke. It was the 12th straight Cup win for Ford.
2009: Brad Keselowski won his first career Cup Series race, scoring the victory at Talladega after contact with race leader Carl Edwards sent Edwards into the fence coming to the checkered flag.
2014: Joey Logano passed Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth in half a lap and led the final four laps to win at Richmond.