Darrell Waltrip

Kurt Busch to make 700th career Cup start

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Former champion Kurt Busch will make his 700th career Cup start today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports App).

Busch becomes only the 16th driver to amass at least 700 career Cup starts. Richard Petty owns the series record with 1,185 starts.

Busch, who starts second today at Indy, has the most career starts among active drivers. He has two more starts than Kevin Harvick, who is scheduled to make his 700th career Cup start July 19 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch made his first career Cup start Sept. 24, 2000 at Dover, finishing 18th.

He has 31 career victories, including the 2017 Daytona 500. Busch won the 2004 Cup title. He has 307 career top-10 finishes.

The 41-year-old marvels at making his 700th career Cup start today.

“It’s amazing,” Busch said. “To have this opportunity and to have been blessed to have raced with so many great race teams over the years, just making it past the local track was something that I thought was an achievement because my dad was a local racer. He won a lot. But it was like money, sponsors, and the whole challenge of even getting to like the Southwest Tour and Late Model division, that was even tough for us way back in the past.

“So, it’s amazing. Twenty years of racing at the top series level and now having 700 starts, I never would have guessed.”

Busch is 10th in points entering today’s race. He has yet to win his year but has three top-five finishes and nine top-10 results in 15 starts for Chip Ganassi Racing.

MOST CAREER CUP STARTS

1,185 – Richard Petty

906 – Ricky Rudd

890 – Terry Labonte

883 – Dave Marcis

882 – Mark Martin

829 – Kyle Petty

828 – Bill Elliott

809 – Darrell Waltrip

805 – Jeff Gordon

784 – Michael Waltrip

763 – Ken Schrader

748 – Sterling Marlin

729 – Bobby Labonte

706 – Rusty Wallace

700 – Kurt Busch

NASCAR’s top five moments from Darlington Raceway

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NASCAR returns to racing today with the Cup Series at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

Before the engines fie, it’s time to look back at the top five most memorable NASCAR moments from the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

Our look at memorable Darlington moments follows our look back at moments for MiamiTexasBristol, former NASCAR tracks, Richmond, Talladega, Dover and Martinsville.

As we look at the Darlington moments, it was hard to pick the top one, so we’ll go with 1 and 1A.

Let’s get started.

1. .002 seconds (2003)

Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven combined to lead only 24 laps in the March 16, 2003 race at Darlington but those were the final 24 laps.

And it was the last lap that would give the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 a prominent place in NASCAR history and a display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Busch, driving his No. 97 Ford, had about a half-second lead over Craven’s No. 32 Pontiac with five laps to go. But Busch’s power steering had failed earlier in the race, adding to the challenge of fending Craven off.

Craven caught Busch with three laps to go as they neared Turn 1 and attempted a pass, but Busch kept him at bay.

Craven tried again out of Turn 4 and they were nearly even at the start-finish line. They made contact in Turn 1, causing Busch to slap the wall and allowing Craven to take the lead. Busch bumped the back of Craven’s car and executed a crossover maneuver to retake the lead exiting Turn 2.

Craven charged back out of Turn 4 and was on Busch’s bumper as they took the white flag. A lap later, Craven pulled to Busch’s inside out of Turn 4. They locked doors as they drag raced to the finish line. Craven won by 002 seconds.

It was Craven’s second and final Cup win and the moment that has come to define Darlington Raceway in the 21st Century.

1a) Million Dollar Bill (1985)

While the 1979 Daytona 500 helped put NASCAR on the map, the 1985 Southern 500 and the season leading up to the race helped it surge further.

That year was the start of the Winston Million promotion. If a Cup Series driver could win three of four races – the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega, the Coca-Cola World 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 – they would claim a $1 million prize from Winston.

Bill Elliott rose to the occasion. He won at Daytona and Talladega and arrived in Darlington with his chance at $1 million still intact. Elliott, who had won at Darlington in the spring, started from the pole and led 100 of 367 laps in a race that saw 21 of 40 cars fail to finish.

He assumed the lead for the final time with 44 laps to go and endured four restarts before winning over Cale Yarborough by .6 seconds to claim the $1 million prize. The achievement landed Elliott on the cover of Sports Illustrated, something not often seen for NASCAR.

It would take 12 years for anyone else to claim the Winston Million.

3) Darrell Waltrip tops Richard Petty (1979)

The 1979 Rebel 400 at Darlington was, quite simply, a barnburner. The contestants for the win in the final laps were Darrell Waltrip and six-time champion Richard Petty, who would earn title No. 7 at the end of the season.

Waltrip (242 laps) and Petty (89) led 331 of the race’s 367 laps. But it came down to a five-lap shootout that saw each driver lead twice on the final lap.

Petty led at the white flag before Waltrip passed him on the inside in Turn 1.

Petty pulled up to Waltrip’s left-side door for the length of the backstretch before briefly pulling ahead entering Turn 3. That’s when Waltrip pulled a crossover maneuver, darting to the inside to take the lead and sail to the win.

4) Million Dollar Jeff (1997)

While Bill Elliott was one of the dominating drivers at Darlington in the 80s, Jeff Gordon took over that role in the 1990s as he and his No. 24 “Rainbow Warriors” thrashed the competition on the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

From 1995-98, Gordon won five of eight races at Darlington, including four straight Southern 500s. The biggest of those wins came on Aug. 31, 1997. That season was the final one for the Winston Million promotion.

Gordon had won the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 to set up his chance at the prize.

One of the drivers standing in his way was, of all drivers, Bill Elliott. Elliott, who hadn’t won a Cup race since the 1994 Southern 500, led 181 laps before losing it for good on Lap 258 to Dale Jarrett, the driver who came close to claiming the Winston Million the year before.

But Gordon took the lead from Jarrett with 72 laps to go. The race came down to a battle between Gordon and Jeff Burton. As they came to the white flag Burton attempted to pass Gordon on the inside, resulting in contact. Gordon held on and pulled away for the win.

5) Jeff Burton: Rain Main (1999)

NASCAR is no stranger to races being won by damaged cars. Terry Labonte in 1995 at Bristol and Erik Jones in this year’s Busch Clash are two examples.

But they’ve got nothing on Jeff Burton.

In the spring 1999 race at Darlington, Burton led on Lap 162 when rain fell on the “Lady in Back.”

A wreck unfolded on the frontstretch in front of Burton. He was collected, resulting in significant damage to his right front fender.

But Burton still held the lead. After a few laps around the track under yellow, the race was stopped. The race was officially called, making Burton the winner. Later that year, Burton won the Southern 500 after it was also shortened by rain.

NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Martinsville Speedway

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When you’re the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, having opened in the sport’s inaugural season in 1949, you have a lot of stories to tell.

That’s the case with Martinsville Speedway, which is the next subject of our on-going series looking back the top five moments of specific NASCAR tracks.

The short track in Virginia follows  MiamiTexasBristol, former NASCAR tracks, Richmond,  Talladega and Dover.

Let’s get started.

1) Retaliation and One Last Victory (Nov. 1, 2015)

A lot happened in the fall 2015 Cup Series race at Martinsville. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. All of it was memorable.

Entering the final round of playoffs before the championship race, Joey Logano had swept every race in the previous round.

Along the way he’d ticked off Matt Kenseth, a result of spinning Kenseth from the lead with five laps to go at Kansas.

Two races later, Kenseth laid out his version of justice on NASCAR’s oldest track.

After being involved in a wreck on a Lap 435 restart, Kenseth returned to the track multiple laps down as Logano led.

As the the field entered Turn 1 on Lap 454, Logano attempted to lap Kenseth on the outside. That was perfect for Kenseth, as he proceeded to run straight into Logano, forcing Logano into the wall and wrecking himself in the process.

Meanwhile Jeff Gordon, who had been running in second, raced by to take the lead. After a red flag to clean up the wreck, the race resumed as Martinsville began running out of sunlight.

Following a late Sam Hornish Jr. incident, Gordon successfully held off Jamie McMurray in a two-lap shootout to claim the win. It was his only win of the year, his 93rd Cup victory and it locked him into the Championship 4 in his final full-time season.

 

2) Earnhardt vs Waltrip vs Labonte (1987)

It was the year of Earnhardt.

Through 23 races in the 1987 Cup Series season, Dale Earnhardt had won 11 times, including all six races held on short tracks.

The fall race at Martinsville was a three-way contest between Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte and it came down to them in a three-lap shootout to end the race.

As Earnhardt took the white flag, he led his 170th lap. In second was Labonte, who had led 119 laps and Waltrip, in third, had led 137.

Labonte tried to pass Earnhardt on his outside in Turns 1 and 2, but Earnhardt pinned him to the outside wall as they exited onto the backstretch.

As they entered Turn 3, Labonte lurched forward and rammed Earnhardt’s rear bumper, sending Earnhardt up the track and Labonte into a spin. Waltrip snuck by underneath them, took the lead and raced to the checkered flag.

It was Waltrip’s only win of the year and his eighth Martinsville victory.

3) An Andretti wins for Petty (1999)

John Andretti only won twice in NASCAR Cup Series career, but he made both of them count. In 1997, he won the July Daytona race while driving for three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

Two years later, he won for The King.

In the spring 1999 race at Martinsville, Andretti was the driver of Richard Petty’s No. 43 car. While Petty had won a record 15 times on the short track, a Petty-owned car hadn’t won there since 1979.

Andretti changed that with a hard charge to the win.

He started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti then passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap.

On Lap 383 of the 500-lap race, Andretti pitted from 11th, took two tires and exited in fourth.

He eventually caught race leader Jeff Burton on Lap 494 and they would race side-by-side for two laps before Andretti took the lead for good. After taking the checkered flag, Andretti gave Petty a lift to Victory Lane.

4) Ricky Rudd Beats The Heat (1998)

On a 93-degree day in Martinsville, Ricky Rudd went above and beyond to ensure he’d extend his streak of seasons with at least one Cup win to 16.

Rudd led 198 of 500 laps, including the final 96. But with a broken cooling box, it was not an easy task.

“I started seeing things with 60 laps to go,” said Rudd, who requested a relief driver with 50 laps to go. “I was starting to lose it. I should have come out.”

Rudd suffered second-degree burns to his back and had to conduct his Victory Lane interview with ESPN laying down.

Rudd’s steak of seasons with a win would end in 1999. He wouldn’t win again until 2001 at Pocono.

5) No Ray Evernham, No Problem (1999)

The team of the late 1990s was Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 squad, led by crew chief Ray Evernham.

From 1994-1999, Evernham led Gordon and the “Rainbow Warriors” to three Cup Series titles and 47 race wins.

Then, in the middle of the 1999 season, he was gone. Evernham departed the team after the Sept. 26 race Dover to begin building Dodge’s Cup Series operation, which would debut in 2001.

His departure occurred right before the fall race at Martinsville. Taking his place as crew chief of the No. 24 was Brian Whitesell.

While the Oct. 3 race didn’t see the typical dominating performance by Gordon at the short track, he only led 29 laps, the end result was familiar.

Dale Earnhardt was leading late when a caution came out for a Chad Little incident in Turn 4. While the rest of the leaders pit, Gordon’s team elected to stay out and he assumed the lead with 25 laps to go.

Gordon then held off Earnhardt for the final 19 laps under green and beat him by .198 seconds for his sixth win of the season.

May 10 in NASCAR: Dale Jr. announces departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Dale Jr.
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In a press conference at JR Motorsports on May 10, 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced the end of an era.

Earnhardt revealed the final 26 Cup races of the season would be his last as a driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his father, Dale Earnhardt.

“It’s time for us to move on and seek other opportunities,” Earnhardt said while sitting next to his sister, Kelley.

Earnhardt was in his seventh full-time season driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for DEI. Up to then he had won 17 races, including the 2004 Daytona 500. He had also been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver four times.

But he’d only won one race each in the last two seasons. In 2007, he’d go winless for the first time.

“It is time for me to compete on a consistent basis and compete for championships now,” Earnhardt said.

The NASCAR world waited a little over a month to find out Earnhardt’s destination. On June 13, it was announced he was signing with Hendrick Motorsports. He’d spend the rest of his Cup career with the powerhouse before retiring after the 2017 season.

Also on this date:

1956: Buck Baker won a Grand National race at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway after running all 200 laps without a pit stop. The result was protested by the Schwam Motor Company team, which owned the car driven by second-place finisher Curtis Turner, who finished one lap down. The team believed Baker’s fuel tank was illegal. NASCAR ruled it was legal.

1969: LeeRoy Yarbrough came back from being a lap down with 30 laps to go, survived a three-car incident with Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough to win at Darlington.

1975: In his 50th Cup Series start, Darrell Waltrip claimed his first career win in a race at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Waltrip triumphed after Cale Yarborough blew an engine on Lap 321 of 420. Waltrip beat Benny Parsons by two laps.

1997: In a caution-free race at Talladega, Mark Martin led 47 of 188 laps and beat Dale Earnhardt for his second and final Cup points win on a superspeedway.

2014: Ryan Blaney made his Cup Series debut at Kansas Speedway. In a race won by Jeff Gordon, Blaney started 21st and finished 27th.

May 8 in NASCAR: Matt Kenseth gets Darlington Xfinity win after Kyle Busch cuts tire

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It was Kyle Busch‘s race to lose and he lost it under caution.

On May 8, 2009, Busch dominated the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway, starting from the pole and leading 143 laps.

But Busch’s chances at a victory ended in a whimper.

Busch led when the caution came out on Lap 147 of 153 for a wreck between Joe Nemechek and Scott Lagasse, Jr.

As the field slowly made its way around the 1.366-mile track, Busch’s No. 18 car drove through debris from the wreck on the backstretch.

The team soon realized Busch’s right-rear tire was going down.

After a few more circuits of the track, Busch was forced to bring his car to pit road. That gave Matt Kenseth the lead as Busch returned to the track in 18th.

Kenseth wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the lead very long. Moments after the field took the green flag as part of a green-white-checkered finish, Morgan Shepherd crashed into the inside wall on the frontstretch, bringing out the caution and effectively ending the race.

It gave Kenseth the win, his only Xfinity victory in 15 starts in 2009.

Also on this date:

1955: Tim Flock completed a marathon of running in two races in two states on back-to-back days. After finishing second in a 100-mile race at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway, Flock took the private plane of team owner Carl Kiekhaefer and flew to Arizona. At Fairgrounds Raceway in Phoenix, Flock started second and led all 100 laps on the 1-mile dirt track to claim the win over Marvin Panch. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning,” Panch was able to compete in the race due to receiving a weekend pass from the U.S. Army. After competing in the following weekend’s race in Tucson, he wouldn’t race again until July.

1976: Cale Yarborough led all but 22 laps to win the Music City 420 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. An 18-year-old Sterling Marlin made his first of 748 Cup Series starts. He started last and fell out after 55 laps due to an oil pump failure.

1982: Darrell Waltrip led all but one of 420 laps to win at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. It was his fifth win in the first 10 races.

1993: Ward Burton led 227 of 300 laps to beat Bobby Labonte in a Xfinity Series race at Martinsville. It was his only national NASCAR victory in his home state of Virginia.

2004: Martin Truex Jr. led 123 laps and won the Xfinity Series race at Gateway International Raceway. He was joined by two other “Juniors” in the top five. Ron Hornaday Jr. placed second and Bobby Hamilton Jr. finished fourth.