One year after missing out on a Martinsville win by one spot thanks to a dominating performance by Jeff Gordon, Bobby Hamilton turned the tables on the Cup Series field on April 20, 1998.
The 40-year-old Hamilton started from the pole, the fifth and final of his Cup career, and proceeded to lead 378 of 500 laps.
Hamilton led eight times, taking the top spot from John Andretti for good with 63 laps to go. He went on to win over Ted Musgrave.
The win turned out to be the 14th and final trip to a Cup Victory Lane for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, which competed from 1983-2009.
“I’m tired … But I stayed up in that seat all day long though,” Hamilton told ESPN. “They built a brand new car a week-and-a-half ago. It was a wreck from here two years ago.”
Also on this date:
1958: After starting 20th in a field of 47 cars, Bob Welborn won at Martinsville for his third of nine career Cup Series wins. He won despite losing a tire with 30 laps to go when he had a four-lap lead, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.” Welborn stopped for new tires and returned to the track still the leader over Rex White. Welborn won by 12 car lengths.
1961: Cotton Owens won a 200-lap race at Greenville (S.C) Speedway by one lap over Ned Jarrett. Jarrett led the first 196 laps from the pole until he ran out of gas. “From now on whenever I come into the pits at any race, someone’s going to be there pouring gas into the tank (even) if it runs over every time,” Jarrett said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”
1980: Richard Petty led 327 laps, including the final 27, to win at North Wilkesboro Speedway for the 14th time in his career.
1997: Jeff Gordon led 431 of 500 laps to win at Martinsville over Bobby Hamilton for his second straight Martinsville victory.
Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes
After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.
NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’
The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.
Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall?
Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.
The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.
Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.
If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.
The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.
A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.
Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.
Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.
2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals
Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:
Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.
In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.
The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.
With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).
So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.
4.Dodge and NASCAR?
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’
While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.
The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.
For Jeremy Clements, one of the best things about his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is the Peach Blossom Diner.
When he was younger, Clements would make trips to the restaurant, located on Hospitality Drive, to hang out with some of his NASCAR predecessors who also called the city home.
Nine-time Cup winner Cotton Owens and 1973 Talladega 500 winner Dick Brooks were among the patrons.
There was also the “Silver Fox.”
Clements is no stranger to three-time Cup champion David Pearson and his family. His son Ricky Pearson served as Clements’ crew chief in the Xfinity Series in 2007 and from 2010-14.
A winner of 105 Cup races, Pearson wasn’t above trying to give Clements advice on how to manhandle a stock car.
“He’d always tell me how to drive and tell me what to do,” Clements tells NBC Sports, giving an example of an exchange.
“You need to just use one foot. One foot brake, one foot gas,” Pearson would say.
“David, there’s no way you can do that anymore, buddy.”
“I’ll get in that dang car and show you.”
But when the No. 51 Chevrolet of Jeremy Clements Racing arrives at Darlington Raceway on Friday, it will pay tribute not to the career of Pearson. It will be an ode to Clements’ grandfather, Crawford Clements.
The car will look like the one driven by A.J. Foyt when he won the 1964 Firecracker 400 at Daytona with Crawford Clements serving as his crew chief.
“I was really close to him,” Jeremy Clements says. “It was devastating when he passed. He’s the one that got me started. He would take my brother Jason and I to the go-kart track Buck Creek Speedway (in Chesnee, South Carolina) and race with us and do all the work and everything for years. I’ll never forget that. … I always have his name on the cars we race every week because he meant so much to me. He did a lot for a lot of people.
“He was a very smart man and I wish he was here today to see all this.”
NO REST FOR FIRST-TIME WINNERS
Clements is very tired.
Three days earlier, in his 256th start, the 32-year-old driver became the first Xfinity competitor with no Cup experience on a team with no Cup connections to win a race since 2006.
That causes the phone to ring. A lot.
“I’ve been going after it non-stop,” Clements says. “Haven’t slept the most. Everybody wants to talk to you. It kind of wears you out, but in a good way. I’m not complaining about it.”
He was not prepared for the attention one brings by winning in NASCAR.
“Heck no, man,” Clements says. “Not at all. It’s been crazy. I went into Road America thinking that we could run really well there because we had, and I like that place and the road courses were somewhere we could always run good. But I didn’t anticipate to win the race, honestly. It’s just been insane.”
Clements has tried to keep up with all the well wishes on social media, with congratulatory messages from Brad Keselowski, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.
“All those meant a ton,” Clements says. “I think I missed a few.”
The “coolest” acknowledgment he received was one he couldn’t miss. On Tuesday, a goody basket full of cheese, crackers and sausages arrived.
“It wasn’t a low-end basket,” Clements says. “It was a nice one.”
The basket was courtesy of Rick Hendrick.
“First of all, I’ve never even met Mr. Hendrick,” Clements says. “Second of all, for him to even think about me was amazing. To get our address and send something to us was pretty cool. He’s one of the best team owners in the garage.”
Even as the week of celebration unfolds around Clements, the work preparing for the rest of the season does as well.
The car Clements won with, built in 2008 and the oldest of the team’s seven-car fleet by a month, was up on a lift in the shop having its engine removed.
“When I was doing my victory stuff on the front stretch, I wanted to burn that thing down,” Clements says. “But the sad truth of that is that I couldn’t. I was like, ‘heck, we’ve probably got to use this motor next week.’ I had to be easy with it and take care of it. Truth be told, that engine had two races on it before that race.”
Clements and his team don’t yet know how much their winner’s gross will be. They’ll find out Friday and instantly start spending it at Darlington.
“You need probably 15, 16 grand worth of tires there,” Clements says. “It’s going to be a good payday for sure but it’s not going to be something we can just go out and start buying cars and stuff because everything’s so expensive.
“It’s crazy how much, that’s just life in general I guess. It’s like an axle for our cars are $225 a piece and you need them every week, but that’s just one little thing, you know? It takes a lot of individual parts and all of them cost a lot.”
The team, owned by his father Tony Clements, has already made purchases they hope will benefit them in their unexpected position of having qualified for the Xfinity playoffs, which begin Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway.
Even before Road America they had acquired two newer composite body cars from Richard Childress Racing. They’ll first run one next weekend at Richmond.
No matter how things go for Jeremy Clements once the playoffs start, he’s “playing with house money” after Road America.
“I’m not going to get too worked up about it,” Clements says. “We’re going to go give her hell and do the absolute freakin’ best we can. But I don’t want to get too boiled up about it if we don’t do the best and we don’t make it to the next round. I’m not saying we’re not gonna, I’m just saying we’re playing with house money. In my opinion it’s just icing on the cake.”
‘LOOK AT ME. LET’S GO’
When Clements took the white flag at Road America, he started getting chills, goosebumps and knots in his stomach.
First, he had no idea how after spinning with Tifft and briefly stalling out he still had the lead. Also, as he made his final lap around the 4-mile road course, his mind began racing.
“Just honestly started thinking about what do I even do if we win?” Clements says. “What do I say and who do I need to thank?”
When he finally got to victory lane, he had the presence of mind to give a shout out to any big team owners that were paying attention.
“I want to drive for a big team, but it hasn’t been the way it’s gone,” Clements told NBC. “I try to keep doing this, to keep my name out here getting as much experience as I can in case I do get the call. To any big team guys. Look at me. Let’s go.”
For Clements, NASCAR has always been his goal since his days of watching Days of Thunder on a TV in the back of a van on the way to go-kart tracks to get “amped up.”
In the few days since his win, when not talking with the press, Clements has reached out to owners.
“They say ‘we’ve paid attention to you before,’ but at the end of the day, they need money,” Clements says. “There’s hardly anybody getting opportunities these days that didn’t bring some kind of money to get them in there. That’s the bad part about it. It’s been like that for years.”
But Clements isn’t inclined to give up on his dream, especially after the biggest win of his racing career. If his career had come to an end after Sunday, he still wouldn’t be satisfied.
“I don’t think I would be pleased until I got that break and that’s what I’m still working on,” Clements says.
But before he can continue to do that at Darlington in his tribute to his grandfather, he’s going to enjoy the perks of being a first-time winner as long as he can.
“I don’t think I’ve bought a meal yet this week so far,” Clements says. “Hopin’ to continue that streak.”