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Poll: Vote for NASCAR’s greatest driver

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On Friday, NASCAR.com revealed the results of poll it conducted with 19 Cup drivers that covered six categories.

Among the topics drivers were polled:

# Greatest driver of all-time

# Driver who will win the 2020 championship

# Best active crew chief

We decided to take those questions, tweak them a little bit and pose them to you.

Greatest Driver of All-Time

With 37% of the vote, Jimmie Johnson‘s peers voted him the greatest NASCAR driver to grace the track, besting four other choices: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Kyle Busch and David Pearson.

We’re giving you one more option in our poll, with the addition of four-time champion Jeff Gordon.

 

2020 Cup Championship Pick

The 19 drivers polled by NASCAR.com voted Denny Hamlin as their choice to win the title with 53% of the vote. Kevin Harvick got 47%.

We’re opening the choices to the current top 10 drivers in the Cup point standings, plus an “other” option.

 

Best Crew Chief

Behind every great driver is a crew chief calling the shots. NASCAR.com’s poll saw Rodney Childers, who works with Kevin Harvick, voted best crew chief with 63% of the vote. Second place, Chris Gabehart (Denny Hamlin’s crew chief), received 16%.

Who do you think is the best crew chief who can be found in the Cup Series garage?

Bowman Gray Stadium cancels 2020 season

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Bowman Gray Stadium, which first hosted races in 1949 and witnessed some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, announced Thursday that it is canceling its season.

The move comes two days after North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper extended the state’s Phase 2 reopening through Aug. 7. Mass gatherings are limited to 25 people outdoors during Phase 2. The state had a record 1,142 residents hospitalized because of coronavirus on Wednesday.

The track cited Gov. Cooper’s extension of Phase 2 and the uncertainty of what the future will be in deciding to not race this season.

The track stated:

“On July 14, Governor Cooper extended ‘Phase 2’ of COVID-19 restrictions for another three weeks until August 7. During this phase, events such as the racing at Bowman Gray Stadium are not permitted to have more than 25 spectators. We believe it is highly unlikely that Governor Cooper will significantly relax these restrictions in August or even September.

“Some professional sporting organizations may be holding events without fans. We, however, have no plans or desire to hold events without our fan base in the stands.

“This unprecedented situation has unfortunately forced us to cancel any plans for racing during the 2020 season. We have no plans to race in the fall or winter. We do not know how the COVID-19 situation will continue to evolve over the coming months, but we are planning to return to racing in the spring of 2021 – and we are hopeful that we will be able to do so at full capacity.

“Again, we are thankful for the patience and understanding of our fans, drivers, crew members, sponsors, officials, employees, friends, and family. We hope that everyone stays healthy and well during this time. We look forward to seeing you all again at the Madhouse in the spring of 2021.”

MORE: Wood Brothers Racing’s first win came at Bowman Gray Stadium

The track did not run a race this year.

Bowman Gray Stadium, NASCAR’s longest running weekly track, hosted NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson, Glen Wood, David Pearson, Richie Evans and Jerry Cook during their driving days. It is the track where NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Richard Childress sold peanuts in the stands before later racing at that track.

The track was started by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and Alvin Hawkins.

NASCAR’s top five moments from the Coca-Cola 600

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Today marks the longest race of the year for NASCAR as the Cup Series holds the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 400-lap race was first held in 1960 and has seen its fair share of defining moments.

Here are the five top moments from the first 60 years of the Coca-Cola 600.

1) New Kid on the Block (1994)

The first 46 years of NASCAR were defined by names like Petty, Earnhardt and Waltrip.

Arguably the first big moment for NASCAR’s next generation of racers came on May 29, 1994 courtesy of Jeff Gordon.

That was the day the 22-year-old kid from California scored his first Cup Series win.

After making his first start in the 1992 season finale, Gordon’s team, led by crew chief Ray Evernham, had to wait until their 42nd start together to visit Victory Lane.

The victory was aided by Evernham’s decision on a late pit stop to take two tires instead of four.

Gordon led the final nine laps and beat Rusty Wallace. In Victory Lane, an emotional Gordon called it the greatest day of his life.

2) One Turn Away (2011)

May 29, 2011 was not a good day to drive a race car sponsored by the National Guard.

The bad luck began on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. Rookie J.R Hildebrand was leading Dan Wheldon when Hildebrand passed a slow car on the outside in the final turn and hit the wall, allowing Wheldon to steal the win.

Hours later, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s turn to experience misfortune in the Coke 600.

An overtime finish saw Earnhardt leading at the white flag. He still led in Turn 3, but then his No. 88 Chevrolet pulled up lame in Turn 4 as it ran out of gas.

That allowed Kevin Harvick to overtake him and streak to the checkered flag as Earnhardt limped to a seventh-place finish.

It was the first of two Coke 600 wins for Harvick.

3) The No. 3 Returns to Victory Lane (2017)

After Feb. 18, 2001 and the death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, the No. 3 did not compete in the Cup Series for 13 years.

Richard Childress Racing brought the number back in 2014 with Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, behind the wheel.

Dillon and his team would have to wait until May 28, 2017 to bring the famous number back to Victory Lane.

The race ended with a 67-lap green flag run, which set up a fuel-mileage battle between Jimmie Johnson and Dillon.

Dillon won.

Johnson ran out of gas with two laps to go, which allowed Dillon to take the lead on the backstretch. Dillon took the checkered flag, giving the No. 3 a win in the Coke 600 for the first time since 1993.

4) The Silver Fox Arrives (1961)

1960 saw the inaugural Coke 600 – then called the World 600 – and the arrival of David Pearson on the NASCAR stage.

The following year Pearson began building his Hall of Fame resume in the 400-lap race.

Pearson, driving a car owned by Ray Fox, dominated the race by leading 225 laps.

But Pearson’s car didn’t finish the race in one piece.

With two laps to go, one of the tires on Pearson’s Pontiac blew. But Pearson managed to pilot the car to the checkered flag, crossing the finish line in sparks to beat Fireball Roberts by two laps.

It was the first of 105 career Cup wins for Pearson and his first of three Coke 600 wins.

5) Janet Guthrie Arrives in NASCAR (1976)

While David Pearson and Richard Petty finished first and second, the future Hall of Famers weren’t the highlight of the World 600 on May 30, 1976.

That was the driver who finished 15th in her first NASCAR race: Janet Guthrie.

Guthrie, a former aerospace engineer and a sports car driver, had been brought to the World 600 by Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler after her bid to make the Indianapolis 500 failed.

Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR race on a superspeedway. She started 27th and survived the 400-lap marathon as 16 cars dropped out. While she finished 21 laps behind Pearson and Petty, she placed ahead of future Hall of Famers Richard Childress, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Isaac.

It was the first of 33 career Cup starts Guthrie would make over the next four years and it was her only start in the 600.

MORE: Where Are They now? Janet Guthrie

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May 9 in NASCAR: Richard Petty survives violent 1970 Darlington wreck

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David Pearson won the spring 1970 Cup Series at Darlington Raceway.

But that’s just interesting trivia compared to the lasting memory of the May 9, 1970 race at the “Track Too Tough to Tame.”

It occurred on Lap 176 when Richard Petty, after his steering failed, brushed the outside railing in Turn 4. That caused his No. 43 Plymouth to shoot to the inside of the track and slam into the frontstretch wall nose-first.

Petty’s car then went into a violent tumble, as it flipped roughly five times before coming to a rest on its roof.

Petty, who had been knocked out, could be seen hanging out of the driver-side window.

Red could be seen near Petty, and it was feared to be blood.

“At the time I used to run with a rag in my mouth,” Petty said years later. “Well, them rags got to coming out the windows and stuff. It looked terrible.”

Petty was rushed to the infield medical center before being taken to a hospital in Florence, South Carolina.

But even the drive out of the track in the ambulance was eventful.

”The cat driving didn’t know how to get out of the infield,” Petty said in 1992. ”He would have driven on the track if I hadn’t stopped him. He didn’t know about the tunnel under Turn 3 and didn’t know how to get to the hospital in Florence. Start to finish, it was quite a deal.”

Miraculously, Petty escaped with only a broken left shoulder. He would miss the next five Grand National races and returned on June 7 at Michigan International Speedway before winning the next two races, at Riverside and Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway. Petty would go on to win 18 of the 40 races he entered that season.

The incident led to NASCAR implementing the use of the window net in the driver’s side door.

Also on this date:

1964: Fred Lorenzen beat Fireball Roberts to win at Darlington Raceway, securing his fifth straight Grand National win. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom,” Bobby Allison was slated to start the race in a car owned by Ray Fox. But Allison, who hadn’t made a Grand National start since 1961, opted out of the race after just one practice session, citing his own inexperience. He’d make his return in the 1965 season opener at Riverside.

1981: Benny Parsons held off Darrell Waltrip in a two-lap shootout to win a Cup race at Nashville.

2009: Three days after Hendrick Motorsports announced he would return to the team full-time in 2010, Mark Martin earned his second win of the year, beating Jimmie Johnson in the Southern 500. Martin led only the final 46 laps and secured his second Cup win at Darlington, 16 years after he won the 1993 Southern 500.

2015: In a six-lap shootout and on old tires, Jimmie Johnson held off Kevin Harvick, who had put on two fresh tires under caution, to win at Kansas Speedway. The race saw Erik Jones make his official Cup Series debut as he substituted for an injured Kyle Busch.

May 7 in NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt earns lone road course win

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Last week we documented Mark Martin’s first of two restrictor-plate wins, which came in 1995 at Talladega after he passed Dale Earnhardt coming to the white flag.

Only a week later, on May 7, The Intimidator returned the favor. But his revenge didn’t come on a superspeedway. It occurred on one of Martin’s specialities in the mid-90s — a road course.

From 1989-98, Martin was an ace on road courses. In his first 10 starts at Sonoma Raceway, he placed in the top three five times, including a win in 1997. At Watkins Glen International, he never finished outside the top five in the same time span, winning three consecutive races from 1993-95.

Earnhardt, on the other hand, only broke through for a road course win once in 47 attempts during his Cup career, which included 20 starts and 13 top fives at the defunct Riverside International Raceway.

The breakthrough happened at Sonoma and occurred in typical Intimidator fashion.

Martin led 64 of the first 70 laps in the 74-lap event. Earnhardt had led none. But on Lap 70, Earnhardt loomed in Martin’s rear-view mirror as Jeff Gordon looked on from third place in almost a mirror image of the week before.

Earnhardt didn’t let up. He almost gave Martin a shove as they entered the Carousel with two laps to go. After Martin slipped in oil, Earnhardt dove to his inside and emerged with the lead as they exited Turn 6.

Earnhardt led the rest of the way, never receiving a real challenge, aided by Martin and Gordon nearly getting together in Turn 11 coming to the white flag.

“I was as careful as I could be the last lap without giving Mark a chance to get back to me,” Earnhardt said in the next day’s Charlotte Observer. “I knew I was close to getting my first win on a road course and I didn’t want to blow it after trying for so long.”

Earnhardt was asked if would have been able to pass Martin cleanly if not for Martitn’s slip in the Carousel.

“Clean to me is not putting him out of the race track,” Earnhardt replied. “Now why did I say that?”

Also on this date:

1955: Junior Johnson overcame two spins to lead 123 of the final 136 laps and win at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway. It was the first of his 50 career Grand National victories.

1972: David Pearson passed Bobby Isaac with three laps to go to win at Talladega. A young rookie from Franklin, Tennessee, named Darrell Waltrip competed in his first Cup Series race. He started 25th but fell out on Lap 69 due to a blown engine. Also in the race was country singer Marty Robbins, who placed 18th and was voted rookie of the race. Robbins later was disqualified for an illegal carburetor.

1983: Darrell Waltrip lapped the field to win a Cup race at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway over Bobby Allison. The race was named after Marty Robbins, who died the previous December at 57 due to complications from a heart attack. Robbins made 35 Cup starts from 1966-82. His only start at the Nashville short track was his first career start.

2005: In an overtime finish, Greg Biffle overtook Ryan Newman and beat Jeff Gordon to win the first night race at Darlington.

2011: On old tires, Regan Smith held off Carl Edwards to win at Darlington to claim his first and only Cup Series win and the first NASCAR win for Furniture Row Racing, which had been competing since 2005. After being involved in a late wreck, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch got into a post-race altercation that saw Harvick reach into Busch’s car and Busch drive away, pushing Harvick’s car into the pit wall.