‘If you need to throw down, throw down’: The 1979 Daytona 500 40 years later

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This weekend’s Daytona 500 means “one of the high points of NASCAR” for Richard Petty is getting its yearly workout on the highlight reels.

That is the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, a race that helped launch NASCAR into the mainstream and has been a defining moment over the last 40 years.

With much of the East Coast trapped indoors due to a snow storm, a large audience tuned in to the first live, flag-to-flag broadcast of the “Great American Race” on CBS.

“Wasn’t but three TV stations at that particular time,” Richard Petty said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “If you was going to watch TV, then the racing was probably what people were watching.”

With Ken Squier calling the action, viewers saw race leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough wreck on the backstretch, half a lap from the checkered flag.

Petty, who was running in third, assumed the lead and won his sixth Daytona 500. But as Petty drove to Victory Lane, Squier jumped in with an important news bulletin: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers are overflowing, they’re angry, they know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.”

The fight in the Turn 3 grass, which included Donnie Allison’s brother, Bobby Allison, may have been bitter at the time, but proved immensely positive for fueling NASCAR’s growth.

“You come down to the last lap, you see the rednecks come out in the racing part of it,” Petty said. “It was a perfect storm the way it wound up, with the weather, the way the race ended. … It couldn’t have been a better footstep for NASCAR at that particular time.”

Four decades later, few Cup stars were even alive for that race. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were 3, Jamie McMurray was 2, Ryan Newman was 14 months old and Kurt Busch was born six months earlier.

What do some drivers who were born after 1979 think of the moment they’ve only known through highlights?

Here’s a few thoughts from Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day.

Denny Hamlin (Born November 1980) – “I just see what every other person saw on TV. I’m always interested to hear how it all happened. When they cut away for a while talking to other drivers and commentating on things happening, they kind of caught it mid-fight. Who did the shoving first? I think it’s important because it really was the defining moment of when the biggest audience was watching NASCAR and so they latched onto that, and that was something people really loved.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (October 1987) – “It’s cool. If you need to throw down, throw down.”

Austin Dillon (April 1990) – “I’ve probably been seeing that clip for a long time since I’ve been watching a lot of Daytona 500s. I don’t know what my first clip would be, but I guess understanding it, understanding it and how important it was to our sport, I was probably 12, 13 when I really kind of got it, 14. …

“There’s a lot of things throughout history and sports that don’t pertain necessarily to the sport that were important to the sport. You know, it’s huge because it’s entertainment, and that’s what we’re trying to do is entertain fans, and the moment we get away from that, we lose our fans. We need to stay entertaining and that’s a part of it.”

Joey Logano (May 1990) – “That’s the biggest race of the year.  Whether it’s now or then, it was a big deal to win the Daytona 500 and it still will be, and it is. They play (the highlight) every year about five or six times, so I’m sure I was a little guy the first time I saw it.”

Kyle Larson (July 1992) – “I guess you see it in highlight films all the time. So I feel like that moment is something that helped grow NASCAR at the time. But yeah, when I drive through (the tunnel to the infield), I don’t think about the fight. But no, it was definitely a moment that will live on in NASCAR’s history.”

William Byron (November 1997) – “I’m so young, I wasn’t around for a lot of that. I guess, like, growing up watching honestly Jimmie (Johnson) and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) win races at the 500, then watching Kevin Harvick win (in) 2007. Those are the races that stick in my mind.

“I’m trying to make memories of myself. It’s cool to see some of that stuff come around full circle.”

Some of the drivers were asked if it was possible for such a moment to happen again to the sport.

Hamlin said it “Definitely can.”

“Sometimes it happens in the motorhome lot, it’s not on the backstretch,” he said.

They also happen on pit road, as Larson pointed out.

Kyle Busch tried to punch Logano in the face a couple of years ago (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), so yeah … it could happen.”

 

NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood dies at 93

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Wood Brothers Racing patriarch Glen Wood, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, died Friday. He was 93.

The team announced his passing Friday morning on social media.

Wood was a link to NASCAR’s early years.

A former driver – he won four times at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. – Glen Wood founded the Wood Brothers Racing team with brothers Leonard and Delano. In Wood’s first win at Bowman Gray Stadium in April 1960, he beat a field that included former champions Richard Petty, Rex White, Ned Jarrett and Lee Petty. Wood’s history also includes seeing Tim Flock race with a monkey and having Ralph Earnhardt drive convertible and sportsman cars for the team.

His racing career nearly ended as soon as it started. Wood and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford coupe to go racing. The Stuart, Virginia, native ran his first race at a track near Martinsville. During the heat race, his car was hit and bent the rear-end housing. After the race, Wood and his friend hooked the race car to the vehicle they were driving and headed home.

But on the trip, the axle eventually broke, and the damage caused spilling fuel to ignite. The fire engulfed the back of the race car.

“Every once in a while one of them (gas cans) would blow up, and we would be afraid to get close to it because of that,” Wood recalled in a 2011 interview. “Finally we got it unhooked and got the car away from (the one pulling it) and let it burn because we couldn’t do anything about it.”

They salvaged the engine and repaired the car. A few weeks later, Wood was back racing.

While Leonard is often credited as the father of the modern pit stop, Glen was equally as responsible. The two developed a communication and strategy plan that was one of the best in NASCAR for several decades.

Wood Brothers Racing, which has 99 Cup victories, remains the oldest continuous racing team in NASCAR. Among the drivers that have raced for the team are Hall of Famers David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott.

Born on July 18, 1925, Glen retired as a driver at the age of 39, assuming full-time duties as the team’s chief administrator, a role that he handled for nearly 30 years before relegating the role to sons Eddie and Len.

Through the years, Wood’s name mysteriously changed. His birth certificate lists his first name as Glenn, but somewhere along the way the last letter was dropped.

Wood received the colorful nickname of “Wood Chopper” early on for how he used to cut timber at a Virginia sawmill. But when Glen started racing, that nickname followed him and became somewhat of a calling card for his winning ways.

“When he pulled into a racetrack, and the announcer would say, ‘Here comes the Wood Chopper from Stuart, Virginia,’ you knew you had a challenger that night,” Ned Jarrett, a fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer, said of Glen Wood in a 2012 NASCAR Hall video of Glen Wood’s career. “Glen Wood, he was the master.”

Kyle Petty, who drove for the Wood Brothers during his career, was a Hall of Fame voter when the group discussed who to induct in the 2012 class. Behind the closed doors, Petty made an impassioned speech for the voters to select Wood for induction.

“I think people forget the breadth of somebody’s career sometimes when it spans as long as his,” Kyle Petty said that day in 2011.

In a statement, Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors for Ford Motor Company, said of Wood’s passing:

“This is a difficult day for all of us at Ford Motor Company. Glen Wood was the founding patriarch of the oldest continuously operating NASCAR Cup Series team and we consider Wood Brothers Racing a part of our family, the Ford Family. The Wood Brothers race team, by any measure, has been one of the most successful racing operations in the history of NASCAR. Most importantly for our company, Glen and his family have remained loyal to Ford throughout their 69-year history.

“Glen was an innovator who, along with his family, changed the sport itself.  But, more importantly, he was a true Southern gentleman who was quick with a smile and a handshake and he was a man of his word.   I will cherish the memories of our chats in the NASCAR garage, at their race shop in Mooresville or the racing museum in Stuart.  My most memorable moment with Glen was with he and his family in the #21 pit box watching Trevor Bayne win the 2011 Daytona 500 and the celebration that followed in victory lane.”

In a statement, NASCAR’s Jim France said: “In every way, Glen Wood was an original. In building the famed Wood Brothers Racing at the very beginnings of our sport, Glen laid a foundation for NASCAR excellence that remains to this day. As both a driver and a team owner, he was, and always will be, the gold standard. But personally, even more significant than his exemplary on-track record, he was a true gentleman and a close confidant to my father, mother and brother. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I send my condolences to the entire Wood family for the loss of a NASCAR giant.”

In a statement, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said: “Everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is saddened by the passing of Glen Wood. The word ‘legendary’ sometimes is overused, but it absolutely fits Glen and the team that he and his brother, Leonard, founded and built into a powerhouse in NASCAR. Wood Brothers Racing has such a deep, rich connection to IMS through its multiple entries in the Brickyard 400 and by serving as the pit crew for the Lotus/Ford that Jim Clark drove to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Glen’s legacy as a fine driver and motorsports innovator will be matched only by his enduring status as one of racing’s true gentlemen and class acts.”

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report

Milestones Cup drivers could reach in 2019

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NASCAR Cup drivers have many milestones ahead of them in 2019.

Here is a look at some that could be reached this season:

Wins

Jimmie Johnson has 83 victories and is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time list. His next victory will tie him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison in fourth. Johnson was winless in 2018, the first time he ran a full Cup season without a victory.

Since winning in his rookie season of 2005, Kyle Busch has never failed to find Victory Lane in the Cup series – a streak of 14 seasons. He’s also had great success in the Xfinity and Truck series. Busch is six total wins away from achieving 200 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions. Busch has 51 Cup wins, 92 Xfinity wins and 51 Truck wins.

Kevin Harvick is five wins away from joining the exclusive 50-win club that has 13 members. Johnson and Busch are the only active drivers with more than 50 Cup wins.

Hendrick Motorsports looks to extend its streak of consecutive seasons with a Cup win to 34 this year.

Last year Erik Jones and Chase Elliott won, marking three consecutive seasons in which drivers scored career-first victories. That was the longest streak since 2005-2007. The last time at least four consecutive seasons highlighted first-time winners was from 1994-2003.

Top 5s

Jimmie Johnson is seven top fives away from tying Lee Petty for 10th on the all time list with 231.

Kevin Harvick is nine away from achieving 200 top fives.

Top 10s

With four top 10s, Clint Bowyer will become the 37th driver to crack the 200 mark.

Kurt Busch is 20 away from achieving 300 top 10s, which will make him the 21st driver to do so.

Jimmie Johnson has the most top 10s among active drivers with 352 (11th on the all-time list). With nine top 10s he will tie Terry Labonte in 10th.

Kevin Harvick (336) could become the active driver with the most top 10s if he earns 16 more than Johnson.

Poles

Since winning his first pole in the spring Bristol race of 2010, Joey Logano has earned at least one per year. In 2019, he looks to extend his streak to 10 consecutive seasons. Last year, he earned only one pole at Kansas in the fall.

Chase Elliott has won at least one pole in his first three full-time seasons at the Cup level, but he has never earned more than two in a year.

Career Starts

Kurt Busch has 648 starts, which places him currently 23rd on the list. If he makes all the races in 2019 he will pass Dale Earnhardt Sr. and move to 18th on the list.

Kevin Harvick (646), Ryan Newman (620) and Jimmie Johnson (615) also have more than 600 starts.

Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman each have 612 consecutive starts to start the season, which ties them for ninth on the list. If they make nine more consecutive starts they will catch Mark Martin. With 16 more consecutive starts, they will catch Jeff Burton. If both Johnson and Newman make all of the races in 2019, they will end the season tied for sixth with Dale Earnhardt Sr. (648).

Assuming the following drivers make all of the races, this is when they should reach their respective milestones:

500th

Kyle Busch: Feb. 24th at Atlanta
Martin Truex Jr.: Aug. 11 at Michigan
Denny Hamlin: Oct. 6 at Dover
Clint Bowyer: Oct. 13 at Talladega

300th

Michael McDowell: June 9 at Michigan
Aric Almirola: July 21 at New Hampshire

200th

Austin Dillon: March 31 at Texas
Kyle Larson: June 30 at Chicagoland

100th

Ty Dillon: April 28 at Talladega
Erik Jones: Sept. 1 at Darlington
Daniel Suarez: Sept. 21 at Richmond

What’s at stake: Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. —  Here’s a look at some of the key issues heading into tonight’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The Roval is coming

This is the last race before the series heads to Charlotte to compete on the Roval for the first time. The uncertainty of what that cutoff race will be like — especially after several drivers spun or wrecked in testing there — could lead to some panic among drivers tonight. Or make them more cautious.

“I know everybody talks about how wild it’s been, and I’ve been right there amongst them,” Chase Elliott said of the Roval. “But until we get there, I don’t know. That race might be the smoothest race of the year. It’s just tough to say. It’s going to be so slow, I’m sure there will be a lot of rooting and gouging next week and real easy to pick-up some damage on your car.

“As fragile as these cars are, we saw last week guys were just barely touching the wall and three or four laps later they’re crashed. That’s the big one for me is just how fragile these cars are now. And you can’t really even lean on anybody and continue forward. So, It’s important to run good here, absolutely. I would love to go and have another (win) sticker Saturday night and not have to worry about next week.”

Elliott enters tonight’s race nine points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to advance to the second round.

Clint Bowyer, though, isn’t worried about tonight’s race.

“Richmond’s going to be fine,” he said. “Richmond is going to be good stages for us and a win. That way when we go to the Roval we don’t have to worry about you asking me about the pressure of the Roval.”

Will a winless streak end?

Kyle Larson has finished runner-up six times this year but is still looking for his first victory of the season.

He’s on a 37-race winless streak. His last victory came at Richmond last September.

Other playoff drivers seeking to snap a long winless streak include Aric Almirola (146-race winless streak), Jimmie Johnson (50), Ryan Blaney (49), Denny Hamlin (38) and Alex Bowman (winless in 108 Cup starts).

Joining history?

Brad Keselowski seeks to become the ninth driver in NASCAR’s modern era (since 1972) to win four consecutive races. Others who have won four in a row in Cup in that time: Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Gordon (1998) and Johnson (2007).

Pit road woes?

In the spring Richmond race, five teams that made the playoffs were penalized for pit road infractions. Those penalized in that race were: Kevin Harvick (tossing equipment), Kyle Larson (not in control of tire), Alex Bowman (speeding), Austin Dillon (commitment line violation) and Ryan Blaney (not in control of tire)

Will a pit road penalty impact a playoff team tonight?

Friday 5: A final quest at a ‘childhood dream’

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Elliott Sadler is blunt when he considers his NASCAR career ending without a championship.

“(It) would be a huge void in my life,” he said.

The 43-year-old driver, in his 22nd and final full-time NASCAR season, makes his last run at an Xfinity title beginning with tonight’s playoff opener at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four times in the last seven years Sadler finished runner-up for the Xfinity crown, including last season when he lost the title in the final laps to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron.

“Last year really hurt,” Sadler said. “Really, really hurt. We were in position to win that championship. I don’t know if I’m 100 percent over it yet.”

Sadler was upset last year with Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position as Sadler tried to hold off Byron with 10 laps left. Byron got by Sadler. Any hopes Sadler had for a title ended when he made contact with Preece’s car and cut a right front tire. 

Sadler’s anger bubbled after the race and he yelled at Preece on pit road as NASCAR officials stood between them.

Sadler, who competed full-time in Cup from 1999-2010, has called it a “childhood dream” to win a NASCAR championship.

“If we’re not able to win a championship, it would definitely be a scar in my mind of not being a NASCAR champion after putting 20 years of effort into it, after being a kid and a fan and dreaming of being a part of this sport,” he said. “Now, that will not define me as a dad or define me as a person. I’ll still be able, hopefully, to do good things in my community, but it will definitely leave a mark.”

Before he gets to that point, he will have to get through his final race at his home track tonight. Richmond Raceway will honor the Emporia, Virginia, native by having Sadler’s children help with the command to start engines.

Even better for him would be going to Victory Lane with his family. Sadler has never won at Richmond in 56 starts in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. Asked to recall his biggest moment at the track, he instantly brings up the 2005 Xfinity race when Carl Edwards bumped him out of the lead on the last lap to win.

“I’m probably more nervous about going to Richmond, trying to win the race than I am trying to make it to Homestead,” Sadler said.

When the season ends in two months, don’t expect to see Sadler at the track often in the future.

“I don’t see myself involved in any racing at all,” Sadler said of his post-driving career. “I’ve been offered a job to come do TV, but I don’t see traveling away from home to talk about racing.”

Instead he’ll coach youth sports teams.

“My dad was a huge coach growing up,” Sadler said. “My brother is a wonderful coach and I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I love it. We’re at the facility every night hopefully changing kids’ lives. It would be hard for me to do both at 100 percent. It’s not really that I’m retiring from racing, I’m retiring to coaching and to my kids.”

2. What might have been

Jimmie Johnson has witnessed how fine a line it is between winning and finishing in the pack the past two weeks.

At Indianapolis and Las Vegas, Johnson ran with Brad Keselowski during parts of those races only to see Keselowski win both and Johnson finish far behind.

After the end of stage 2 at Indianapolis, Keselowski was 16th and Johnson was 17th. About 30 laps later, Keselowski was third and Johnson fifth. Keselowski went on to win and Johnson finished 16th.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski was sixth and Johnson seventh with just over 100 laps left. Keselowski won. Johnson was headed for a top-five finish before contact late in the race with Kurt Busch’s car cut a tire and forced Johnson to pit. Johnson finished 22nd.

Keselowski has said that he has not had the fastest car in each of the three races he’s won heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team seek to perform the way Keselowski’s team has.

“Drivers make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Pit stops can go wrong. Unfortunate racing luck can happen. To get all of that to rise together, it takes a little bit of time. We have made a nice jump in speed. I still think we have some room to go there, but now we need to execute on all levels and take advantages of those opportunities that (Keselowski) has.”

While the team seeks to find that speed and execute, Johnson has gone winless in a career-long 50 races.

“I’ve been in a deeper hole before, my own personal experiences in motorsports,” Johnson said, referring to early in his career in off-road racing and then in NASCAR when he “risked it all” and moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in stock car racing.

“I didn’t have as big a spotlight on me and wasn’t a seven-time champion, so nobody really remembers those except me. So I know I will get through this. I’ve been through worse.

“We are moving the right direction. I believe we have hit the valley and are climbing back out.”

He’ll need to do so to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Johnson enters Richmond six points behind teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to the second round.

3. Cole Custer’s self-assessment

With no driver announced for the No. 41 Cup car next year at Stewart-Haas Racing, it was easy for some to think that Cole Custer could move up to that ride.

Car owner Gene Haas seemed to quell such talk last weekend at Las Vegas. While saying he believes Custer “is a good talent,” Haas said of the young driver: “He needs to prove that he can win consistently in Xfinity before I think we’ll consider him for a Cup ride.”

Custer has one Xfinity victory in 64 career series starts. He’s placed second or third in five races this season.

So where does Custer believe he needs to improve?

“I think there are little things that I can do better,” he said. “Having the Cup experience this year has helped me with what happens in that series.

“I think for the most part I have speed every single weekend (in Xfinity). It’s just a matter getting the restarts right and working traffic better and controlling the race when you have the fastest car.”

Custer, who is in the Xfinity playoffs, also will run in Saturday’s Cup race. He’ll drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. It will be Custer’s third career Cup start.

4. Going for 4 in a row

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to win four consecutive Cup races in the last 20 years. That’s the feat Brad Keselowski will seek to equal Saturday night at Richmond.

Since NSACAR’s modern era (1972), eight drivers have won four consecutive races: Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Gordon (1998) and Johnson (2007).

5. NASCAR’s 5th President

Steve Phelps will become the fifth president in NASCAR’s history on Oct. 1.

Bill France Sr. held the position from 1948-72. Bill France Jr. took over from his father until 2000. Mike Helton was in that role from 2000-2015 before he was promoted to Vice Chairman of NASCAR.

The president’s position was not filled after Helton’s promotion until Brent Dewar took over that role July 13, 2017. Phelps is replacing Dewar, who will remain with NASCAR through the end of the season and transition to a senior consulting and advisory role in 2019.

Phelps will oversee all competition and business operations for the sanctioning body in his new role.

He has been more visible at races lately and presented Kyle Busch the regular-season champion’s trophy at two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In January, Phelps, as NASCAR’s chief global sales and marketing officer at the time, was thrust into the controversy about how NASCAR marketed younger drivers after Busch complained about the tactics and Clint Bowyer raised questions about the sanctioning body’s actions.

In July, Phelps defended the sport’s ability to attract sponsors.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that sponsorship in NASCAR is not doing well, and that’s not true,” he said at Pocono Raceway during an announcement that Gander Mountain will sponsor the Truck Series beginning in 2019. “We have more sponsors in this sport today than we’ve ever had. We’ve got almost half the Fortune 100, almost a third of the Fortune 500. It’s a lot of large companies who are in the sport not because it would be really cool to go racing. It’s because it works.

“So people tend to focus on, ‘Oh, my gosh, sponsor A left and sponsor B left,’ and for us, it’s like, ‘Okay, well, C, D, E and F also came on board as brand new sponsors.’ And then a plethora of others have renewed or extended for a period of time.

“I think this industry tends to focus on the negative. I’m not really sure why.”

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