Dale Earnhardt

By the numbers: The first 100 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway

Leave a comment

Talldega Superspeedway is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which included holding its 100th Cup Series race at the track in April.

Sunday’s race on the 2.66-mile track (2 p.m. ET on NBC) will be the 101st Cup event and represents the second race in the second round of this year’s playoffs.

The first Cup race on the Alabama track was held under controversial circumstances on Sept. 14, 1969.

NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was forced to fill the field with drivers from the Grand American Series after many of NASCAR’s stars, including Richard Petty, boycotted the race over safety concerns.

The field was made up of 36 drivers – including future NASCAR team owner Richard Childress in his first career Cup start as a driver. Fifteen drivers made it to the finish as Richard Brickhouse took home the victory. It would be his only win in 39 Cup starts.

Here are some highlights and notes from the first 50 years of NASCAR racing at Talladega.

– Dale Earnhardt Sr. is the winningest driver in Talladega history with 10 wins. NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are tied for second with six.  Brad Keselowski leads active drivers with five wins.

– Six drivers have swept both races at Talladega in a season: Pete Hamilton (1970), Buddy Baker (1975), Darrell Waltrip (1982), Dale Earnhardt (1990 & 1999), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2002) and Jeff Gordon (2007).

– Eleven drivers have earned their first career Cup win at Talladega: Brickhouse, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Keselowski (2009), Brian Vickers (2006), Ken Schrader (1988), Phil Parsons (1988)*, Davey Allison (1987),  Bobby Hillin (1986)*, Ron Bouchard (1981)*, Lennie Pond (1978)* and Dick Brooks (1973)*. *Denotes their only Cup win

Keselowski’s win in 2009 is the only example in Cup Series history of a driver’s first career lap led being the final lap of a race.

– Of the Cup champions who have competed at Talladega, only seven have failed to win there: Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, Hall of Famer Benny Parsons, Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac and Hall of Famer Buck Baker.

– Of the 48 drivers who have won at Talladega, 11 will be in the field for Sunday’s race.

– The lowest a driver has started a race at Talladega and won was Jeff Gordon, who won the spring 2000 race after starting 36th.

– Sixty-nine drivers have dared to make their first career Cup start at Talladega.

– The record for most cars in a race was 60 on May 6, 1973.

– The record for most lead changes in a race is 88, which has occurred twice (most recent on April 17, 2011).

– While the record for cautions at Talladega is 11, the track has seen three caution-free races, in 1997, 2001 and 2002.

– The October 2018 race had only one DNF, the fewest in track history.

– Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the best average finish among active drivers (11.8).

– Bill Elliott owns the track’s qualifying record, 212.809 mph, set on May 3, 1987. He also has the record for Talladega poles with eight.

– Speaking of Bill Elliott. In 1985, Elliott dramatically came back from being two laps down to win the Winston 500.

– The closest margin of victory is 0.002 seconds. It came on April 17, 2011 with Jimmie Johnson winning over Clint Bowyer.

Friday 5: Friction grows between non-playoff drivers, playoff drivers

6 Comments

It’s easy to miss one of the key themes to the Cup playoffs with so much talk about Martin Truex Jr.’s dominance, Kyle Busch’s inconsistency and Hendrick Motorsports advancing three cars to the second round.

What has been overlooked is the friction between playoff drivers and non-playoff drivers. 

NASCAR’s postseason is littered with cases where non-playoff drivers had an impact on playoff drivers, whether it was Scott Riggs’ crash on Lap 3 of the opening Chase race at New Hampshire in 2005 that collected title contender Kurt Busch or David Reutimann paying back title contender Kyle Busch at Kansas in 2010, among others.

But this year’s playoff races have seen the divide between the haves and have-nots reach a breaking point.

It was something Jimmie Johnson experienced at Las Vegas in his first postseason race as a non-playoff driver.

“I saw quite a few situations where drivers in the playoffs made desperate moves out there,” Johnson said a few days after the Vegas race. “Saw it happen to other drivers. I had a few make that move on me as well. It’s a tricky situation to be in, and I know they’re going after every point they need to, but so am I. We certainly plan to not allow myself to be used up as I was in Vegas a couple of times.”

Austin Dillon has been on both sides. He made the playoffs the previous three years but failed to do so this year.

“It happens a lot,” Dillon said of playoff drivers taking advantage of non-playoff drivers. “There’s a line between taking that, as a guy that’s out of the playoffs, and there’s a line that you cross.”

Dillon admits “my button ended up pushed” at Richmond by Alex Bowman after Bowman dived underneath Dillon on a restart and came up the track, hitting Dillon’s car, sending it up the track into William Byron’s car. After being told by car owner Richard Childress and crew chief Danny Stockman to pay Bowman back, Dillon retaliated and spun Bowman.

“Yes, I’ve taken advantage of guys because I was in the playoffs,” Dillon said. “I know that feeling. I feel like at some point if you take too much, it will come back on you.”

Bowman didn’t have problems just with Dillon at Richmond. Bowman said he and Bubba Wallace had an issue in that race that led to Wallace flipping him the bird. Then on the first lap of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Bowman lost control of his car entering the backstretch chicane and hit Wallace’s car, forcing Wallace to miss the chicane. Wallace later responded with a series of one finger salutes as they raced together. Tiring the signal, Bowman dumped Wallace.

It’s not just Bowman who has had problems. Kyle Busch was running in the top five, rallying from two laps down, when he ran into the back of Garrett Smithley’s car. Combined with an incident with Joey Gase, a frustrated Busch told NBCSN after the race: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Smithley later responded on social media and Gase followed a day later.

To say that playoff drivers should have the right of the way on the track is shortsighted. The other drivers have something at stake. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whose contact spun Martin Truex Jr. while Truex led at Richmond, is racing for a job. So is Daniel Hemric. No announcement has been made on Daniel Suarez’s status for next year at Stewart-Haas Racing, so he also could be racing for a job.

Those eliminated in the first round — Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola and Erik Jones — are racing to finish as high as fifth in the points.

And others are going after more modest goals. Chris Buescher, 20th in points, seeks to give JTG Daugherty Racing its best finish since 2015 (AJ Allmendinger placed 19th in points in 2016). Johnson seeks to refine the No. 48 team in these final weeks with new crew chief Cliff Daniels to become more of a factor and end his 88-race winless streak.

To have a playoff driver think they own the road is misguided. There’s much taking place on the track.

Whether playoff drivers want to play nice with non-playoff drivers is up to them and how they’ve been raced in the past. Of course, a playoff driver has more to lose than a non-playoff driver. So drivers will need to pick their battles wisely.

2. Hendrick’s round?

It’s easy to note Alex Bowman’s runner-up finishes earlier this year at Dover, Talladega and Kansas — all tracks in the second round of the playoffs — and forecast him advancing to the next round.

It’s just as easy to think Chase Elliott will have a smooth ride into the next round since he won at Talladega this year and scored wins at Dover and Kansas last year (with a different race package).

And if things go well, William Byron could find his way into next round.

Hendrick is building momentum. But what happened in the spring or last year doesn’t guarantee what will happen in the coming weeks, beginning with Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

It would be something if all three of Hendrick’s cars moved into the third round after the team’s slow start to the season: Bowman did not have a top 10 in the first nine races of the season, Byron had one top 10 in the first nine races and Elliott had two top 10s in the same period. And Jimmie Johnson, who is not in the playoffs? He had four top 10s in the first nine races.

Bowman and Byron enter the round outside a cutoff spot. Bowman trails Kyle Larson by one point for the final transfer spot. Byron is five points behind Larson.

3. Under the radar?

It’s hard to imagine someone scoring three consecutive top-five finishes — and five top fives in the last six races — being overshadowed but that seems to be the case with Brad Keselowski.

He has quietly collected consistent finishes at the front. The key will be to continue with mistake-free races or at least races with minimal mistakes. His 29 stage points scored in the opening round trailed only Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick, who each scored 36 stage points.

For what it’s worth, Keselowski won at Kansas earlier this season. That’s the cutoff race in this round.

4. Drivers to watch at Dover

Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott have led the most laps in nine of the last 10 Dover races. Harvick has led the most laps five times. Truex and Elliott have each done so twice. Kyle Larson led the most laps the other time.

Domination doesn’t necessarily equal wins. Only three of those times has the driver leading the most laps won the race. Harvick has done it twice. Truex the other time.

5. Milestone starts 

Sunday’s race marks the 500th career Cup start for Denny Hamlin.

Only two drivers have won in their 500th career Cup start. Richard Petty won at Trenton in July 1970 and Matt Kenseth won at New Hampshire in September 2013.

Kevin Harvick is making his 676th career Cup start. That equals Dale Earnhardt’s career total. Harvick made his Cup debut with Earnhardt’s team the week after Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Richard Childress to drive car Dale Earnhardt won last race in at ‘Dega

1 Comment

Richard Childress will once again climb behind the wheel of a race car – but it won’t be just any race car and it won’t be at just any race track.

Childress announced Wednesday that he will pace the field prior to the start of the Oct. 13 Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway, driving one of the most renowned cars in the sport: the same No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo that the late Dale Earnhardt drove to the 76th and final win of his Cup career nearly 19 years earlier in the Winston 500 at Talladega on Oct. 15, 2000.

Dale Earnhardt celebrates his 76th and final Cup win at Talladega in 2000. Photo: Getty Images.

Earnhardt’s roar to the checkered flag is one of the more memorable moments in NASCAR history, going from 18th to first place in the final four laps, beating Kenny Wallace to the finish line by .119 of a second for a Talladega track record 10th career Cup win.

“Dale is a part of the history of this place,” Childress said. “He loved Talladega because it was so wide, you could move around, and I’ve seen him do things here with a race car that you don’t even think about … fitting in some of the holes. And if there wasn’t room, he would kind of make a hole.”

Talladega president Grant Lynch initially reached out to Childress, who this year is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing, to want to do something special to commemorate the special day.

Grant Lynch called me and says, ‘What do you think about bringing Dale’s car down here that he won the race with in 2000?’” Childress said during a press conference at the track. “I said, ‘I don’t know.’ But how do you say no to your best friend on something like this. So I said, ‘alright, I’ll do it.’

We’re going to be running that car leading the field, which is going to be a great honor. That car hasn’t been out of our museum since we opened the doors of it, so this will be the first time we took it down, put it on the shop floor, got it all fixed, got the engine running – same engine that he had in the car that day. It’s the exact car just like the day when it left the winner’s circle here. That’s going to be the coolest thing. It gives me cold chills just thinking about it.”

Childress then joked, “I asked my guys could I run it 200 mph.”

Talladega was where Childress made his first career Cup start as a race car driver on Sept. 14, 1969. He finished 23rd in a 36-driver field. He would go on to make 285 career starts between 1969 and 1981, collecting zero wins, six top-five and 76 top-10 finishes.

 

Lynch surprised Childress with the old CRC Chemicals helmet that Childress used to wear during his own racing days before becoming solely a full-time team owner.

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ninety drivers entered for BC39 midget race at Indianapolis

Photo: Dustin Long
2 Comments

Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe are among the 90 entries for the second annual Driven2SaveLives BC 39 on Wednesday and Thursday at The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This is the third largest field for a USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship event in the past three decades. Twenty-six drivers will advance to the feature on the quarter-mile track located in Turn 3 of IMS’ infield. The winner of Thursday’s A-Main will collect $15,000.

Also entered are NASCAR driver J.J. Yeley, IndyCar driver Conor Daly, NASCAR on NBC reporter Dillon Welch and Karsyn Elledge, granddaughter of Dale Earnhardt.

Brady Bacon led the final nine laps to win last year’s event, which pays tribute to the late Bryan Clauson.

 

BC39 ENTRY LIST (90 Drivers)

00 LUKE HOWARD/Overland Park, KS (Jay Mounce)

08 CANNON McINTOSH/Bixby, OK (Dave Mac Motorsports)

1 KARSYN ELLEDGE/Mooresville, NC (Tucker/Boat Motorsports)

1BR CHASE JONES/Greenwood, IN (SFH Racing Development)

1K BRAYTON LYNCH/Springfield, IL (Rusty Kunz Racing)

1NZ MICHAEL PICKENS/Auckland, NZ (RMS LLC)

1ST ALEX BRIGHT/Collegeville, PA (Daryl Saucier)

2 RYAN HALL/Midlothian, TX (Mark Bush)

2J J.J. YELEY/Phoenix, AZ (Jeff Taylor)

2x MATT LINDER/Hoschton, GA (Mark Bush)

3 RICH DRANGMEISTER/Hobart, IN (Rich Drangmeister)

3N JAKE NEUMAN/New Berlin, IL (Jim Neuman)

4A JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA (RAMS Racing)

4D ROBERT DALBY/Anaheim, CA (Ken Dalby)

5 KEVIN THOMAS JR./Cullman, AL (Petry Motorsports)

5B CHASE BRISCOE/Mitchell, IN (Chase Briscoe Racing)

5D ZACH DAUM/Pocahontas, IL (Daum Motorsports)

7 CRITTER MALONE/Pittsboro, IN (Seven LLC)

7BC TYLER COURTNEY/Indianapolis, IN (Clauson/Marshall Racing)

7s JON STEED/Rushville, IN (Steed Motorsports)

7u KYLE JONES/Kennedale, TX (Trifecta Motorsports)

7x THOMAS MESERAULL/San Jose, CA (RMS LLC)

8 RANDI PANKRATZ/Atascadero, CA (Wally Pankratz)

9 CHRIS BAUE/Indianapolis, IN (Chris Baue)

9B CLINTON BOYLES/Greenwood, MO (Jay Mounce)

9H EMILIO HOOVER/Broken Arrow, OK (James Hoover)

10 LANCE BENNETT/Aurora, CO (Olivia Bennett)

10A MICHAEL KLEIN/Elsmere, KY (Mike Wallace)

11L AARON LEFFEL/Springfield, OH (Chuck Taylor)

11m KENDALL RUBLE/Vincennes, IN (Martin Motorsports)

11T TOMMY KOUNS/Lebanon, IN (Chuck Taylor)

12 BILLY WEASE/Noblesville, IN (Amanda Wease)

15 DAVE DARLAND/Lincoln, IN (Petry Motorsports)

15DJ DAVID PRICKETT/Fresno, CA (Neverlift Motorsports)

15J JEFF WIMMENAUER/Indianapolis, IN (Jeff Wimmenauer)

15s SHANNON McQUEEN/Bakersfield, CA (Broc Garrett)

15x CARSON GARRETT/Littleton, CO (Broc Garrett)

17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR./Olive Branch, MS (Clauson/Marshall Racing)

17BC CHRIS WINDOM/Canton, IL (Clauson/Marshall Racing)

19 SPENCER BAYSTON/Lebanon, IN (Brodie Hayward)

19m ETHAN MITCHELL/Mooresville, NC (Bundy Built Motorsports)

20 CODY WEISENSEL/Sun Prairie, WI (Kevin Weisensel)

21 CHRISTOPHER BELL/Norman, OK (Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian)

21D JUSTIN DICKERSON/Pittsboro, IN (Mike Dickerson)

21F JONATHAN BEASON/Broken Arrow, OK (Team Ripper)

21KS C.J. LEARY/Greenfield, IN (Team Ripper)

21m MARIA COFER/Macdoel, CA (Team Ripper)

22 JOHN HEYDENREICH/Bloomsburg, PA (John Givens)

23m DAVID BUDRES/Beloit, WI (Manic Racing)

25 JERRY COONS JR./Tucson, AZ (Petry Motorsports)

25B STEVE BUCKWALTER/Royersford, PA (Steve Buckwalter)

27 TUCKER KLAASMEYER/Paola, KS (Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian)

28 ACE McCARTHY/Tahlequah, OK (Jim Neuman)

31 TRAVIS BERRYHILL/American Canyon, CA (Manic Racing)

32J CHRIS JAGGER JR./Warsaw, IN (Chris Jagger Jr.)

35 CONOR DALY/Noblesville, IN (Petry Motorsports)

39BC ZEB WISE/Angola, IN (Clauson/Marshall Racing)

41 OLIVER AKARD/Ft. Myers, FL (Dan Akard)

43 BRENT BEAUCHAMP/Avon, IN (Kevin Arnold)

46 RUSS GAMESTER/Peru, IN (Gamester Racing)

47BC ANDREW LAYSER/Collegeville, PA (Clauson/Marshall Racing)

50 TONY DiMATTIA/Malvern, PA (Tony DiMattia Motorsports)

54 MATT WESTFALL/Pleasant Hill, OH (Steve Bordner)

54m RAY SEACH/Beloit, WI (Manic Racing)

55 NICK DRAKE/Mooresville, NC (Troy Cline)

56AP COLTEN COTTLE/Kansas, IL (Travis Young)

56x MARK CHISHOLM/Cheyenne, WY (Mark Chisholm)

57D DANIEL ROBINSON/Ewing, IL (McCreery Motorsports)

57K KEVIN STUDLEY/Plainfield, IN (Kevin Studley)

61 TREY OSBORNE/Columbus, OH (Mel Kenyon)

67 Logan Seavey/Sutter, CA (Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian)

67F KYLE O’GARA/Beech Grove, IN (SFH Racing Development)

67K HOLLEY HOLLAN/Broken Arrow, OK (Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian)

71 JESSE COLWELL/Red Bluff, CA (Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian)

71B ROBERT BELL/Colfax, IA (Robert Bell)

71K TANNER CARRICK/Lincoln, CA (Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian)

71s CODY SWANSON/Norco, CA (Marcie Campbell)

72 SAM JOHNSON/St. Peters, MO (Joe Johnson)

76 KEN DRANGMEISTER/Hobart, IN (Ken Drangmeister)

76E BRADY BACON/Broken Arrow, OK (FMR Racing)

76m JASON McDOUGAL/Broken Arrow, OK (FMR Racing)

77B BLAZE BENNETT/Parker, CO (Olivia Bennett)

81 DILLON WELCH/Carmel, IN (Tucker/Boat Motorsports)

84 CHAD BOAT/Phoenix, AZ (Tucker/Boat Motorsports)

85 GIO SCELZI/Fresno, CA (Tucker/Boat Motorsports)

88 TYLER NELSON/Olathe, KS (Tyler Nelson)

91T TYLER THOMAS/Collinsville, OK (Brian Thomas)

97 KYLE LARSON/Elk Grove, CA (Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian)

97A AUSTIN O’DELL/Rochester, IL (Patrick O’Dell)

TBA Tanner Thorson/Minden, NV (TBA)

Friday 5: To each their own on celebrating wins

Leave a comment

So many options. So much excitement. What to do?

Should a race winner do donuts? Should they do a reverse victory lap? Or a bow? Or climb a fence? Or the latest, offer a hug.

Just as there are different ways to enjoy a NASCAR win, drivers also have distinct opinions on how to celebrate those accomplishments.

I don’t go too over the top, but we sure do like to hang around the track for a long time and we really don’t ever want to leave that Sunday night after the race,” Martin Truex Jr. told NBC Sports. “We just want to kind of hang out and maybe stay over in the motorhome or something and party in the campground. These races are tough and that’s kind of why you see guys enjoy it so much because you never know when you get another one.”

One tradition that goes with a Truex win is that crew chief Cole Pearn takes a selfie with the team in victory lane and posts it on social media.

Brad Keselowski admits he’s a fan of sprint car drivers climbing on the wing of their car and celebrating after a win. Keselowski has created his unique victory celebration by having a pit crew member bring out an American flag to his car. It’s something he began doing in 2010.

Brad Keselowski celebrating his 2018 win at Indianapolis. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I had won a few races and I didn’t really know what to do, and I thought I’ve got to have a plan for this,” said Keselowski, defending winner of this weekend’s Southern 500. “I thought about something I really liked. I remember when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. did it at Dover (in 2001) and I thought that was the coolest thing and then he stopped. I was never sure why he stopped. I thought that would be really cool to do. Something that nobody else was doing and looked kind of fun and was personal.”

Keselowski has said he thought about a military career if he wasn’t successful with his racing endeavor. His Checkered Flag Foundation supports veterans and first responders.

Kyle Larson has punctuated wins by doing donuts and taking the steering wheel off. That was curtailed after NASCAR advised Larson against such flamboyant actions, citing safety concerns.

“Honestly, in sprint cars, I only do donuts and stuff if it’s a really exciting finish,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I feel like when you win in NASCAR, like you’re obligated to do donuts just because that’s what they expect.”

Rookie Ryan Preece said that there is something better than donuts.

“The donuts are all well and cool, but I think they’re kind of overplayed,” he told NBC Sports. “I think the (reverse) victory lap is something that is pretty special. I would say the (reverse) victory lap is the coolest one of them all. I actually did it at Iowa (in 2017). It’s just not as rough on equipment and is pretty cool seeing all the fans.”

But Ryan Newman likes the donut celebration after a race for a particular reason.

“I still pattern my victory celebrations, which are rusty now at this point, after Alex Zanardi’s donuts,” Newman said. “I always admired him as a race car driver and his ability to celebrate and do it at different parts of the course, and I just thought that was spectacular.

“My dad has always told me if you can’t win, be spectacular. So, I guess if you win, you better be spectacular.”

For others, the celebration can be a moment of thanks. Xfinity driver Chase Briscoe kneels.

“I’m a pretty relaxed guy as it is,” Briscoe said. “I get excited but I don’t get too excited. I feel like my signature thing is just getting down on one knee and praying and just thanking God. I did that at the Roval (last year). I wasn’t in a dark place but really questioning myself and really thankful for the opportunity and just gave Him thanks and it was well received. I’m not going to hide my faith. I’m proud of it. I did it (at Iowa in July) as well.”

The latest celebration comes from the Xfinity Series. While it might not rival a Carl Edwards backflip, Tony Stewart fence climb or Cole Custer’s beer smash and tumble, the latest victory celebration is unique.

It’s a hug.

But not just with anyone.

With one of the NBC Sports reporters.

Austin Cindric bearhugged Rutledge Wood during his interview after Cindric scored his first career Xfinity win at Watkins Glen. Cindric then hugged Dillon Welch during his interview after winning at Mid-Ohio.

It’s that type of emotion Cindric said he likes seeing from others who win, citing Team Penske driver Will Power’s reaction after winning the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

“I think my favorite are the ones where you can see the emotion of the drivers and how much it means to them,” Cindric said. “I think of when Will Power won the Indy 500. He had been trying to win that race so long and to see him do it and be there in person and see how the emotion, there are so many pictures of him going crazy in victory lane, the crazy eyes and the smile, things that mean that much to drivers because there’s a lot of work that goes into it and there’s a lot of pressure you end up putting on yourself. I think that connects with race fans so well when you see ho much it means.

“What drives me nuts, I’ll take your standard Formula One interview, the guy who just had the greatest race of his career and he’s like ‘This is a good weekend, such a great opportunity, thank you to the guys.’ Just the most bland interview. The biggest moment of your life just happened. Get excited about it. I think that’s what makes our sport fun.”

2. Memorable throwback schemes 

With NASCAR heading into to Darlington Raceway for its fifth throwback weekend, here’s a look at my favorite throwback schemes.

Aric Almirola in 2015. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

A classic look.

STP and the Petty Blue. The two were synonymous in NASCAR for years and it only made sense that for the inaugural throwback weekend in 2015, these two would return to the track with the paint scheme from 1972.

Aric Almirola got into the spirit of the weekend by sporting a Fu Manchu to match what Richard Petty once showcased.

Almirola finished 11th in that race.

 

Kyle Larson in 2015. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Perhaps no car has looked as sharp under Darlington Raceway’s lights since the sport went to a throwback weekend format than this car, driven by Kyle Larson in 2015.

What made this car even better was that it had the paint scheme and proper sponsor to go with it.

This mirrored the car Kyle Petty drove for SABCO Racing from 1991-94 (and also the car Tom Cruise’s character, Cole Trickle, drove in the 1990 film “Days of Thunder”).

Larson finished 10th in this car, placing a spot ahead of Aric Almirola in that No. 43 car.

 

Ryan Reed in 2016 in Xfinity Series. (Photo by Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)

This car ran in the Xfinity Series race in 2016, as more Xfinity teams began embracing the throwback idea at Darlington. This continues to grow as several Xfinity teams come to Darlington with throwback schemes each year.

Ryan Reed drove this car for Roush Fenway Racing. The paint scheme pays tribute to Bobby Allison and the car he drove in 1975. Allison won three races that season, including a victory at Darlington.

Reed finished 13th in the Xfinity race.

 

Austin Dillon in 2017 (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Richard Childress Racing had both its No. 3 and 31 cars with this look for the 2017 Southern 500, but the No. 3 car looked the best to me.

RCR went with this look to honor Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 Southern 500 victory with the Wrangler paint scheme.

While Earnhardt will be remembered for his black cars, I always liked this paint scheme.

Dillon finished fourth with this car.

 

William Byron in 2018. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was good to see Jeff Gordon’s rainbow paint scheme eventually return for the Southern 500 at Darlington in 2018.

Dylon Lupton drove a rainbow paint scheme car in the 2017 Xfinity race.

While Lupton’s car looked sharp, the paint scheme was meant to be on a Cup car for throwback weekend. Hendrick Motorsports did the right thing in 2018 by putting it on William Byron’s ride.

Byron finished 35th in last year’s race.

Go here to see what throwback paint schemes will be on the track this weekend at Darlington. The Xfinity Series race will be at 4 p.m. ET on NBC. The Southern 500 airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

3. Playoff race

With two races left in the Cup regular season, four drivers are racing for what would be the final two playoff spots. Daniel Suarez holds the final spot.

The standings look this way entering Sunday’s Southern 500:

15. Ryan Newman — 603 points

16. Daniel Suarez — 591 points

17. Clint Bowyer  2 points out of playoff spot

18. Jimmie Johnson — 26 points out of playoff spot

Newman has an average finish of 12.1 at Darlington, his best of all the active tracks that he’s had more than one start. His 13 top 10s at Darlington also are the most there among active Cup drivers. Suarez has never finished better than 29th in two Cup starts at Darlington. Bowyer has an average finish of 22.8 at Darlington and his only top-10 finish there came in 2007. Johnson is a three-time winner at the track but has not finished better than 12th in the last four races at Darlington.

4. Familiar face

Joe Nemechek, who turns 56 on Sept. 26, will drive the No. 27 Cup car for Premium Motorsports this weekend at Darlington Raceway. This will be Nemechek’s 668th career Cup start but first since March 1, 2015 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He’s continued to run in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

To put it into perspective, when Nemechek last raced in Cup:

# William Byron was in the K&N East Series (and would win the 2015 title)

# Erik Jones was in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series (and would become the youngest series champion that year)

# Daniel Suarez was in the Xfinity Series (and would become the rookie of the year)

# Kyle Busch was out after being injured in a crash during the February Xfinity race at Daytona (he would come back to win the Cup title that year).

Also, Nemechek is entered in both Xfinity and Cup races at Darlington this weekend. That will give him 1,174 career starts in NASCAR’s top series.

Richard Petty holds the record for most starts in NASCAR’s national series with 1,182 — all in the Cup Series.

Mark Martin is third on the all-time starts list with 1,143 across the three national series. Kevin Harvick is next with 1,139 career starts.

5. Rollin’

Since NBC Sports took over broadcasting the Cup series at Chicagoland Speedway, no driver has scored more points in that time than Denny Hamlin. The top four in points in that time are all from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Here are the drivers who have scored the most points since Chicagoland:

313 – Denny Hamlin

295 – Martin Truex Jr.

290 – Kyle Busch

260 – Erik Jones

257 – Kevin Harvick

257 – Kyle Larson

250 – Joey Logano

245 – William Byron

232 – Kurt Busch

225 – Brad Keselowski

 

 and on Facebook