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Leader of the pack: These Cup drivers raced to history

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Today brings the inaugural Cup race on the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin will start on the front row. But given the chaos that can be expected on the first lap for a road course race when there wasn’t practice or qualifying, who will be able to claim they led the first lap?

Leading the first lap of inaugural Cup races at a new track is a big deal.

For the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, Dale Earnhardt pressed the issue so much that he caused his No. 3 Chevrolet to slap the outside wall exiting Turn 4.

He still didn’t lead the first lap. That honor went to pole-sitter Rick Mast.

Among the information available for the 24 active Cup tracks (excluding Richmond Raceway), only four times has the driver who led the first lap of an inaugural race not started in first place. Those occurred in 1950 at Darlington, 1961 at Bristol Motor Speedway, 1969 at Michigan International Speedway and 2011 at Kentucky Speedway.

Three drivers have led the first lap more than once: Dale Jarrett (Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Kurt Busch (the last two inaugural races at Kentucky and the Charlotte Roval) and Fireball Roberts (Atlanta and Charlotte).

Here’s a look back at all the inaugural Cup races at each active track and the drivers who led the first lap in each event.

 

Charlotte Roval, 2018: Kurt Busch (started first)

Kentucky Speedway, 2011: Kurt Busch (started third)

Kansas Speedway, 2001: Jason Leffler (started first)

Chicagoland Speedway, 2001: Todd Bodine (started first)

Homestead-Miami Speedway, 1999: David Green (started first)

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 1998: Dale Jarrett (started first)

Auto Club Speedway, 1997: Joe Nemechek (started first)

Texas Motor Speedway, 1997: Dale Jarrett (started first)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1994: Rick Mast (started first)

New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 1993: Mark Martin (started first)

Sonoma Raceway, 1989: Rusty Wallace (started first)

Phoenix Raceway, 1988: Geoffrey Bodine (started first)

Pocono Raceway, 1974: Buddy Baker (started first)

Dover International Speedway, 1969: David Pearson (started first)

Michigan International Speedway, 1969: LeeRoy Yarbrough (started second)

Talladega Superspeedway, 1969: Bobby Isaac (started first)

Bristol Motor Speedway, 1961: Junior Johnson (started second)

Charlotte Motor Speedway, 1960: Fireball Roberts (started first)

Atlanta Motor Speedway, 1960: Fireball Roberts (started first)

Daytona International Speedway, 1959: Bob Welborn (started first)

Watkins Glen International, 1957: Buck Baker (started first, led every lap)

Richmond Raceway, 1953: Due to poor record keeping, the info isn’t available.

Darlington Raceway, 1950: Gober Sosebee (started third)

Martinsville Speedway, 1949: Curtis Turner (started first)

Brad Daugherty joins NBC Sports NASCAR broadcast team

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Brad Daughterty has joined the NBC Sports team for NASCAR broadcasts this season, NBC Sports announced Tuesday. Daugherty is scheduled to make his debut with NBC Sports during the Michigan doubleheader weekend Aug. 8-9.

He will primarily join the team of studio analysts for pre- and post-race coverage alongside current NBC Sports NASCAR analysts Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty. Daugherty also will join the broadcast booth for select Xfinity Series races.

“I’m extremely excited and I’m looking forward to spending time with all of the folks at NBC Sports and talk racing,” said Daugherty, who also has served as an analyst for ESPN. “I want to thank NBC Sports for giving me this historic opportunity and share my passion and insight about this sport that I’ve loved for more than 30 years. I’m boisterous, I love to laugh and talk, and I think my excitement will translate to the viewers watching at home.”

“Brad’s energy, emotion and passion for NASCAR make him a perfect fit for the NBC Sports team,” said Jeff Behnke, vice president of NASCAR production and motorsports, NBC Sports. “His ability to inform, entertain and simply share his love of the sport will be terrific for the fans and viewers.”

Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, has been involved in racing for much of his life. He wore the No. 43 during his eight-year NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a tribute to Richard Petty.

Daugherty grew up in Black Mountain, North Carolina and was friends with former NASCAR driver Robert Pressley. Daugherty and Pressley built a late model car together. They eventually paired together on a Busch Series car and Pressley won in his rookie year in 1989 in a car owned by Daugherty.

NBC Sports’ coverage of NASCAR continues this weekend with the Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Myrtle Beach Speedway moves one step closer to shutting down

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One of the oldest and longest operating tracks in NASCAR and other racing series is one step closer to shutting its doors forever.

The Horry County Council in South Carolina passed the first reading of a rezoning request Tuesday night that will likely lead to Myrtle Beach Speedway being redeveloped into a commercial and residential development, per a story by the Myrtle Beach Sun News/MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

The rezoning request needs two more readings in front of the Council before approval would be given to complete the sale of the speedway property. Including the track, the overall size of the property is about 45.5 acres and worth about $2.17 million, per the Sun News.

The .538-mile paved oval was built in 1958 and has operated for the past 62 years. Because its rezoning and sale are expected to be approved, the track has set August 15 as its “farewell race,” according to the Sun News. However, the track’s web site still lists events into early December.

This past February, track owner Bob Lutz, who purchased the property in 2012, said operating the facility continues to be a money losing proposition, according to the Sun News.

“(Closing the track) isn’t an easy decision to do that but the problem is it’s getting harder and harder for short tracks to survive, and the reason why is because we’re just not getting the attendance that they used to years ago,” Lutz told the Sun News in February. “It makes it hard, because you struggle and do everything you can. I think me and my team have shown that we have put 100 percent effort into building the speedway and making it successful and making it a great place for people to race at, and even though we’ve put in all the effort it still continues to lose money.”

NASCAR has a long history with the track, including holding events in Cup (1958-65) and the Xfinity Series (1988-2000). Since then, the facility has hosted a number of races across a variety of racing series.

Drivers who have raced at Myrtle Beach over the years include NASCAR On NBC and 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt Jr. (see video above of his race there in 1999); NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett; Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and NASCAR On NBC analyst Jeff Burton.

Speedway general manager Steve Zacharias, who has been at the track for nearly a decade, had previously told the Sun News that he and two partners have agreed to purchase Florence (S.C.) Motor Speedway and essentially move racing operations to there from Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Plans are for the new ownership group to hold its first race at Florence Motor Speedway on September 4, according to the Sun News.

As for Myrtle Beach Speedway, it’s a bittersweet ending for Lutz.

“It is so expensive to operate a facility like that, we continue losing money year after year and just at some point you have to say we tried with everything we possibly could and realize that without people in the stands you’re never going to be able to survive,” Lutz told the Sun News in February. “So the people that say, ‘Why is it going away?’ and ‘We wish it would stay,’ I wish those people would support us week after week and we wouldn’t have to do this.”

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Dale Jr. on Hall of Fame: ‘No greater pat on the back or tip of the cap than this’

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Many people would likely rather run as far away from the dentist as they can.

But on the day he could be named one of three inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to the dentist for a root canal.

“I’ve been more nervous about that and the anxiety about the root canal was all counter to this whole Hall of Fame induction,” Earnhardt said after his selection to the Class of 2021 with Mike Stefanik and Red Farmer. “At 5 o’clock, when the (announcement) show started, that’s when it all started. I didn’t think I was going to be this emotional. But it’s a great feeling and it was very emotional to be chosen.”

It wasn’t just the dentist visit that has kept his mind off Tuesday’s announcement.

“I’m sorry but I hadn’t put any thought into (Tuesday’s announcement),” he said. “My mind’s been dominated by what’s going on in our world and what’s happening around us and how to keep the movement and the conversation going and what can I do, things like that. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into that.

“Since we’re coming out of the pandemic and everything going on with that, there’s a lot of news that’s fluid every single day and trying to understand where we are with that and what I need to be understanding about that … there’s so much happening and I haven’t been able to put a lot of thought into this Hall of Fame induction.

“… I didn’t have any time whatsoever to be nervous or worried about being picked or any of that until 5 o’clock when the show started. It really started to hit me then, that this is such a weird, important moment in my life. I didn’t know it was going to be this emotional.”

Earnhardt choked up several times, both on NASCAR America’s telecast of the Hall announcement on NBCSN, as well as on the media teleconference afterward. For a man who has spent much of his career comfortably displaying a wide range of emotions, Earnhardt admitted this was a whole different feeling.

“I was really surprised and taken aback by the feeling that came over me,” he said.

While many fans and even voters felt Earnhardt’s selection for the Hall would be a slam dunk – after all, he did earn 76 percent of the vote – the son of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt felt otherwise.

“I was good with just being on the sheet (of 10 nominees), I was going to be happy with that,” Earnhardt said. “I’m 45 and relatively young in the grand scheme of Hall of Fame things and I was going to be patient waiting.”

But it was difficult for voters, be they members of the media or those in the NASCAR industry, to overlook Earnhardt.

He was NASCAR’s most popular driver unabated for a decade and a half. He was a two-time Xfinity Series champion. He was a two-time Daytona 500 champion.

And perhaps more than all the wins or what he achieved during nearly a quarter-century in the sport, starting on its lowest rungs and working his way to superstardom, was the fact Junior also was picked for the Hall because of who he became, whether he wanted to or not, after his father died in a crash at Daytona in 2001: The sport’s biggest ambassador.

“There’s no greater pat on the back or tip of the cap than this, from the industry, from the people who vote … whether they’re drivers, journalists, industry execs or what,” Earnhardt said. “It’s such a great feeling that somebody felt I made an impact on the sport.”

Now that he’s a father himself (with a second child now on the way), and has become a popular broadcaster, Tuesday’s announcement was somewhat cathartic for the former driver of the No. 8 and 88.

“There was a point in my career I started to think, ‘Ok, I’m not going to win seven championships, maybe not even one championship, or not win 100 races, maybe not even 40 races,’ ” he said.

“ … People wanted me to be like (my father). When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to win those races and championships, I started to think what I could do outside of that, what else I could control to help the sport and be a good ambassador for the sport.

“I wasn’t always perfect but started focusing in those areas, being accessible and being accountable. I feel I did a decent job at that. I don’t want to sit here and measure that, but I’m pretty happy about that part of my career and the impact I had on the sport.”

Earnhardt admitted early in his career, he did some things that potentially ruffled some feathers of the sport’s hierarchy, like his celebrated interview with Rolling Stone or being on TV shows like “Cribs” on MTV.

“I always thought it was important I gained a ton of fans because of who I was, right out of the gate,” he said. “But I knew when dad died, I was going to assume all or most of his fan base, and I feel like I took care of that. I didn’t squander it, and I grew that base and introduced people who hadn’t heard of Dale Earnhardt.

“I always felt like the sport needed to be healthy long after my driving career was over. It’s important for me that our sport survives and stays strong long after my life is over.”

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Dale Jr. highlights NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2021

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join his father in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2021, becoming the sixth father-son set to be enshrined.

Voters also selected modified ace Mike Stefanik and Red Farmer to join Earnhardt in the Class of 2021. Ralph Seagraves was selected as the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Earnhardt, Stefanik and Farmer make up the 12th class to be selected to the Hall of Fame.

Earnhardt Jr. received 76% of the Modern Era ballot votes, Stefanik received 49%. Ricky Rudd finished third, followed by Neil Bonnett. Red Farmer received 71% of the Pioneer ballot votes. Hershel McGriff finished second. There has never been a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.

Voting Day was held virtually on June 9 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The panel consisted of 65 former drivers, inductees, NASCAR executives, industry leaders and media members, plus one vote reserved for fan balloting. Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote were Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Red Farmer.

The induction ceremony date will be announced at a later date.

This also marked the first time the Hall class was reduced from five inductees to three: Earnhardt and Stefanik being chosen from 10 Modern Era candidates and Farmer chosen from five candidates considered from the Pioneer Era.

Here are the newest Hall inductees:

Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr., nicknamed Dale Jr., is a two-time Daytona 500 winner (2004, 2014). Voted as the sport’s Most Popular Driver for 15 consecutive years from 2003-17, he retired as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver following the 2017 season.

“It was great to see my face pop up on that screen,” Earnhardt said with a smile to NBCSN’s NASCAR America. “I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t really nervous. I had a root canal earlier today, so maybe I was more nervous about that. That was kind of distracting my thoughts.

“I also was understanding the fact I’m young, considering most people that are inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I had a lot of years that I could be patiently to hopefully see my name called. So I was going to be okay.”

But Earnhardt’s voice began to crack with emotion when he added:

“Once you started the show, man nerves set in and I got shook up and I was extremely emotional to be nominated. Not a lot of people are like this, but I really work off affirmation — I succeed off affirmation — and there’s no better compliment or affirmation than from your peers and the people that you work with and work around.

“This is such a great pat on the back for a lot of hard work and a lot of years in the sport, trying to do the right thing for the yourself, your sponsors but most importantly for the health of the sport. I’m feeling great about this experience and looking forward to what lies ahead, the evening itself and the ceremony. It’ll be a great experience and I’ll be excited.”

Earnhardt made 631 Cup starts between 1999-2017, earning 26 wins (tied with Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen for 30th in NASCAR history), 149 top-five and 260 top-10 finishes. His highest single-season finish was third in 2003.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and father Dale Earnhardt talk during the 1998 Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

He also made 142 career Xfinity Series starts from 1996 through this past Saturday at Miami, earning championships in 1998-99 when the series was known as the Busch Series. He earned 24 wins, 70 top-five and 94 top-10 Busch/Xfinity finishes.

Since his retirement from the Cup Series, the now 45-year-old Earnhardt has become a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, but kept his hand still in racing, making one start per season in the Xfinity Series, with finishes of fourth in 2018 and fifth in 2019 and 2020. He said after Saturday’s race at Miami that it potentially may be his last race ever as a NASCAR driver.

Earnhardt’s father, seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, was in the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class in 2010, along with Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty and Junior Johnson.

The other father-son pairings in the Hall are: Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr., Lee and Richard Petty, Ned and Dale Jarrett, and Buck and Buddy Baker and Bobby and Davey Allison.

“I don’t know the entire voting panel, but I know some of the folks that are in that. To think they have that respect and feeling for you, it really hits you in the heart, it really does.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t know how I’m going to feel as we move forward, but it’s going to be a lot of fun reflecting on our past, our driving career, going to get to share a lot of great stories and it should be a good time.”

Michael Paul Stefanik was one of the most prolific NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drivers, earning seven championships. In 453 Modified starts, the Massachusetts native earned 74 wins, 223 top-five and 301 top-10 finishes.

Mike Stefanik was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Stefanik is the third driver who primarily raced modified to be enshrined in NASCAR’s Hall. He joins Richie Evans (inducted in 2012) and Jerry Cook (2016).

Stefanik was named the second greatest driver in NASCAR Modified history in 2003.

He won successive K&N Pro Series East championships in 1997-98, and finished second in 1995, 2003 and 2005. He also competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

Stefanik was killed in a plane crash on September 15, 2019, when the plane he was piloting experienced mechanical failure and crashed in Sterling, Connecticut. He was 61.

Charles “Red” Farmer is well into his 80s but is still competing, having gained notoriety primarily for short track racing, as well as being one of the charter members of the “Alabama Gang,” a group of drivers who settled in the area of Hueytown, Ala., and became legendary in all forms of stock car racing, from dirt tracks to NASCAR Cup.

Farmer’s career stretched for more than seven decades, although the numbers vary widely. He is estimated to have won between 700-900 races from the 1950s through the 2000s. He also won numerous championships at tracks in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Still racing, still winning — that’s Red Farmer at 87 years old. Photo: Red Farmer.

While Farmer made only 36 career starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, he excelled in the NASCAR National Late Model Sportsman division (now known as the Xfinity Series), earning three straight championships from 1969-1971.

Despite the few starts on the Cup Series, he was still named NASCAR’s most popular driver four different times, and was named one of the 50 Greatest Drivers In NASCAR History in 1998. Including Tuesday’s announcement, Farmer will now be a member of six different auto racing halls of fame.

Farmer is also known for coyly claiming he was born anywhere from 1928 through 1932.

And he’s still racing, having competed as recently as last weekend, finishing 10th. At the age of 87. He said he will race this weekend at Talladega Short Track.

Farmer was Davey Allison’s crew chief in the then-Busch Series and was with Allison when the helicopter they were in crashed while landing at Talladega Superspeedway on July 12 1993. The younger Allison died. Farmer suffered a broken collarbone and several fractured ribs. Farmer continues to race, primarily at the Talladega Short Track, a 1/3-mile dirt oval across the street from NASCAR’s Talladega Superspeedway.

William Ralph Seagraves has long been acknowledged as the architect who brought tobacco manufacturer RJ Reynolds into NASCAR as its title series sponsor.

Ralph Seagraves of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Initially brought on as a sponsor for car owner Junior Johnson’s team, Winston was the first non-automotive sponsor to enter NASCAR on a full-time basis. Winston found a welcome home after the U.S. government banned TV cigarette advertising in 1970.

Realizing the impact and return on investment it could obtain would be greater in the overall sport, as opposed to sponsoring just one team, Seagraves and RJR made NASCAR an offer it couldn’t refuse and became the exclusive title rights sponsor in 1971.

From 1971-2003, NASCAR’s premier series – which was previously known as the Grand National Series – was renamed the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, becoming a marketing juggernaut that led to the sport becoming one of the most popular in the United States.

In addition to NASCAR, Winston – with Seagraves’ guidance and leadership as the company’s top sports marketing executive – would also go on to sponsor NHRA drag racing, golf, soccer, tennis and hydroplane racing before tobacco sponsorship was outlawed by the federal government.

Seagraves retired in 1985 and passed away on Sept. 27, 1998 at the age of 69.

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Falling short of being voted in from the Modern Era were Neil Bonnett, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Harry Gant, Harry Hyde, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd and Kirk Shelmerdine.

Falling short of being voted in from the Pioneer Era were Jake Elder, Banjo Matthews, Hershel McGriff and Ralph Moody.

Not being chosen for the Landmark Award were Janet Guthrie, Alvin Hawkins, Mike Helton and Dr. Joseph Mattioli.

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