If it were any other race, Jeff Burton would not have won.
But on March 21, 1999, the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington Raceway did not end like any other race.
Burton, the future NBC Sports analyst, was in the middle of leading a 45-lap stint around the “Lady in Black” when Mother Nature butted in.
With rain starting to come down on the 1.366-mile track, a wreck began on the frontstretch on Lap 162. As cars scattered and checked up, Burton ran into the back of Jerry Nadeau and then smacked the outside wall.
His No. 99 Exide Ford’s right side was crumpled, the right-front tire no longer straight.
For two more laps, Burton led the field under caution as the rain increased into a downpour and brought out the red flag.
“I saw the wreck and I got slowed down, but there must have been something on the race track because I slowed down and it just kept going straight and hit the wall pretty hard,” Burton told ESPN. “It’s torn all to heck. … It was getting so dark you couldn’t see. … If it doesn’t (keep) raining we’ll finish last, if it does rain we’ll win.”
Eventually, NASCAR called the race.
It gave Burton his seventh Cup win and his second of six victories that season, including completing a Darlington sweep in the Southern 500 in September, which was also shortened by rain.
Also on this date:
1976: David Pearson erased a one-lap deficit and led the final 31 laps to beat Benny Parsons at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
1982: With rain about to be unleashed on Atlanta, Darrell Waltrip passed Richard Petty in the final turn on the last green-flag lap and beat Petty to the finish line by two inches according to NASCAR officials (from “40 Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era”). After waiting an hour, the field returned to the track for twelve laps under caution before the race was called, giving Waltrip a win in the Coca-Cola 500.
Eighty-three days after Kyle Busch celebrated his second Cup championship, the garage opens today at Daytona International Speedway.
And with it will be the sense of renewal and unbridled optimism that often pervades during the offseason and Daytona Speedweeks.
Such feelings are evident in drivers who think this is their year to win the Daytona 500 and with smaller teams that count on the race’s big payday to help fund their operations for the coming weeks. Hope also will be strong with those among the many driver and crew chief changes made since last year.
With all the good feelings entering Daytona Speedweeks, here are five storylines to watch:
1. When will Kyle Busch’s Daytona 500 drought end?
While Kyle Busch has won a summer Cup race at Daytona, three qualifying races, a Busch Clash, a summer Xfinity race, a Truck race, and an ARCA race, he’s never won the Daytona 500 in 14 previous attempts.
If it is any solace for Busch and his fans, Hall of Famer David Pearson didn’t win his lone Daytona 500 until his 15th attempt.
Others who needed more years before winning their first Daytona 500 were: Kurt Busch (in his 16th start), Darrell Waltrip (17th start), Buddy Baker (18th start) and Dale Earnhardt (20th start).
Of course, some Hall of Fame drivers never won a Daytona 500. Mark Martin failed to win the race in 29 starts. Rusty Wallace didn’t win in 23 starts. Tony Stewart, inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend in a class that included Baker, did not win the Daytona 500 in 17 starts.
With Toyota the presumptive favorite again this season — based on few rule changes and Toyota’s 19 wins in 36 points races last year — will this be the year that Busch wins the Daytona 500?
But as Brad Keselowski recently said: “We want to be great. We want to win championships. You’ve got to recognize that winning races is still a significant accomplishment in this sport. It’s great competition week in and week out, so winning is good but also emphasize that greatness is the championship. We didn’t win it. It means we’ve got work to do.”
Daytona marks the debut of the new combinations. Keselowski is paired with crew chief Jeremy Bullins. Joey Logano is teamed with crew chief Paul Wolfe, who led Keselowski to a championship in 2012. Ryan Blaney is working with Todd Gordon, who guided Logano to the Cup title in 2018.
Crew chief strategy often is limited at Daytona because of the need for cars within the same manufacturer to work together (i.e. pit at the same time), but Speedweeks can be valuable for new driver/crew chief pairings with communication. After Daytona, Cup teams race seven consecutive weekends before the Easter break in April. If the communication falters, the results may not be as good.
3. Will the chaos continue?
Last year’s Daytona 500 saw 36 of the 40 cars involved in a crash, according to NASCAR’s race report (Racing Insights, which supplies statistics to NBC Sports, had 37 cars involved in accidents).
“It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps,” Jamie McMurray said after last year’s race, his final Cup start.
“Brains come unglued,” Kyle Busch said after last year’s race. “That’s all it is.”
There were three cautions, including two red flags totaling nearly 40 minutes, in the last 17 laps. Those incidents collected 29 cars and forced the race to go seven laps beyond the scheduled distance.
Such destruction has become a trend. The past three Daytona 500s have seen an average of 32 cars involved in accidents.
Last year’s Daytona Speedweeks was especially tough on Cup car owners. A total of 60 cars were involved in accidents in practices, qualifying races, the Busch Clash and the Daytona 500. That was an increase of 16.7% from the previous Daytona Speedweeks.
As another Speedweeks begins, key questions are how many cars will be damaged, how will that impact teams and who can emerge from the chaos to win?
The 18-year-old makes her debut on Daytona International Speedway’s oval with today’s ARCA practice sessions. Of course, she was on track a couple of weeks ago in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
Jeff Hammond, a two-time Cup champion crew chief, will be the crew chief for Clay Greenfield in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Clay Greenfield Motorsports announced Tuesday night.
“It’s like coming full circle to be able to return to the top of the box for such a first-class team and a hungry driver like Clay Greenfield,” Hammond said in a statement from the team. “I believe this Rackley Roofing #68 is going to turn some heads and prove that we’re a team to respect!”
Said Greenfield in a statement: “We are thrilled to have a legendary crew chief like Jeff join our team and help take us to the next level. With the addition of Jeff combined with equipment upgrades Rackley Roofing has allowed us to make, we are poised to have the most successful season in CGM’s history.”
Hammond won 43 Cup races and Cup titles in 1982 and ’85 with Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip. Hammond last served as a crew chief in NASCAR in 2000 with Chad Little before joining Fox Sports as an analyst.
Hammond said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Late Shift” that “I’m not going to do as much television this year, and I got a chance to meet and get to know Clay a little bit last year. We’ve been kicking some things around. … Their desire is a lot like mine. When you go do something, do it right. They’ve shown me already their intention to be a first-class operation with making good decisions.”
Greenfield will compete in at least eight series races this season with Rackley Roofing as the primary sponsor.
Greenfield has 46 career Truck starts since 2010. He ran in four races last season. His best career finish in the series is eighth at Talladega in 2017.
The car lineup was slowly revealed over the last week on social media, culminating in tomorrow’s exhibit opening.
Here are the 18 cars that Earnhardt chose.
Richard Petty’s 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
The car Petty drove to a win in the historic 1979 Daytona 500, which marked the first live flag-to-flag TV coverage of the “Great American Race.”
Petty claimed the win after last-lap crash between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison as Petty ran in third. Petty would race an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet in 1979, winning five times on his way to his seventh and final Cup title.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1994 Chevrolet Lumina
Fifteen years after Petty’s seventh title, Dale Earnhardt became the second driver to reach that mark, winning four times in 1994 along with 20 top fives and 25 top 10s in 31 races. It marked the end of Earnhardt’s run of six championships in nine years.
It took a little longer for Jimmie Johnson to join Petty and Earnhardt as a seven-time champion, doing so 22 years after Earnhardt. Johnson won five times and earned 11 top fives and 16 top 10s through 36 races. Three of those wins came in the last seven races of the season.
Jeff Gordon’s 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo
The actual car Gordon won the 1997 Daytona 500 with – his first of three wins in the “Great American Race” – will be on display. The win kicked off Gordon’s second championship campaign. Gordon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, would go on to win 10 races for the second year in a row.
Bill Elliott’s 1988 Ford Thunderbird
“Awesome Bill from Dawsonville’s” lone Cup title came in 1988. That year he won six times, including the Southern 500 for the second of three times.
He also won the July race at Daytona, at Bristol, Pocono and swept the Dover races.
Tony Stewart’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix
The car Stewart drove to his first of three Cup titles and the second Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing following Bobby Labonte’s in 2000.
Stewart only won three times (Atlanta, Richmond I and Watkins Glen), but had a 13-race streak that included two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s. He took the points lead for the first time after the 30th race of the 36-race season.
Benny Parsons’ 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle
A former Detroit taxi driver, Parson’s lone Cup title came in the 1973 season despite him only claiming one win (Bristol II). But in the 28-race season, he finished outside the top 10 just seven times.
The championship was part of a nine-year stretch where Parsons did not finish outside the top five in the standings.
Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 Ford Thunderbird
One of the most celebrated championship stories in NASCAR history, the independent driver-owner Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup title in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, besting four other drivers who entered the race with a shot at the championship, including race winner Bill Elliott.
Kulwicki, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, died in a plane crash on April 1, 1993 on his way to Bristol Motor Speedway.
The car that will sit on “Glory Road” is the car Kulwicki drove to his fifth and final Cup win on June 14, 1992 at Pocono Raceway.
Bobby Allison’s 1983 Buick Regal
Allison claimed his lone Cup title in 1983 off of six wins, 18 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 30 races.
Allison’s wins included three in a row late in the season, with the first in the Southern 500. His title came after he had placed runner-up in the standings five times.
Cale Yarborough’s 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
In 1978, Cale Yarborough became the first driver to claim three consecutive Cup titles, an achievement that’s been repeated only once since with Jimmie Johnson as part of his five straight titles.
Driving for Junior Johnson, Yarborough won 10 races (for the second time in his career) and earned 24 top 10s in 30 races.
Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150
Baker won his second consecutive Cup title in a car nicknamed “The Black Widow.”
Baker competed in 40 of the season’s 53 races, winning 10 times and earning 30 top fives plus eight more top 10s.
Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix
Wallace’s lone Cup title came in 1989 when he drove the No. 27 car for owner Raymond Beadle. Wallace claimed six wins and 13 top fives during the 29-race season, his last before he teamed with Miller Genuine Draft as a sponsor.
Wallace won the championship by just 12 points over Dale Earnhardt.
Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 Buick Regal
Waltrip claimed his first of three Cup titles in five years in 1981 while driving the No. 11 car for Junior Johnson. That year he won 12 races (which he would also do in 1982) and earned 21 top fives in 31 races.
His wins included four in a row late in the season at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham.
David Pearson’s 1968 Ford Torino
Pearson claimed his second of three Cup titles in 1968 driving the No. 17 car for Holman-Moody Racing. He claimed 16 of his 105 career Cup wins that season, his most in any year.
Pearson also earned 36 top fives over the course of the 49-race season. He started in 48 races.
Jimmie Johnson’s 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Johnson started his historic five-year championship streak in 2006. That year he claimed five wins, including his first victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
This is the first car on the new version of “Glory Road” representative of NASCAR’s playoff era.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The car Earnhardt drove to his first of seven Cup titles in 1980 while he raced for owner Rod Osterlund.
Earnhardt won five times and led the point standings for all but one of the season’s 31 races, leaving the season opener at Daytona second in points.
Dale Jr. helped complete a restoration of the car so it would be historically accurate.
Richard Petty’s 1964 Plymouth Belvedere
The car “The King” raced to his first of seven Cup titles, totaling nine wins and 37 top fives over 61 starts, including his first of seven victories in the Daytona 500.
In the 500, Petty lapped the entire field of 46 cars while leading 184 of 200 laps.
Herb Thomas’ 1951 Hudson Hornet
Thomas won 48 races in his Hall of Fame career, including seven times in his first of two championship campaigns in 1951. Thomas raced a Plymouth for much of the first half of the season before switching to the Hornet. His seven wins included a victory in the Southern 500.