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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 6 in NASCAR: Harry Gant gets controversial aid from teammate for Talladega win

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Darrell Waltrip objected.

Dale Earnhardt’s team objected to Waltrip.

Every one of the top-three finishers in the May 6, 1991 Winston 500 at Talladega thought they should be declared the winner.

When the dust settled, Harry Gant would remain the victor of the controversial race.

The events leading to the objections began when Gant pitted on Lap 132 of 188. He would attempt to go the rest of way on a tank of gas. Earnhardt made his pit stop on Lap 168 and teamed with Waltrip for a two-car draft. Meanwhile, Gant ran with his teammate, Rick Mast, who was a lap down in 10th.

Gant’s team had been warned Mast couldn’t push him across the finish line to take the checkered flag. It appeared Mast pushed or drafted closely to Gant as they raced into Turn 3 on the final lap. Mast was again on Gant’s bumper as they neared the tri-oval.

Mast pulled to the left before the finish line to show he wasn’t pushing Gant.

“The motor cut off and I was out of gas,” Gant said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Forty Plus Four.” “Rick gave me a good boot when my car cut off in Turn 3. He gave me another good push and I was able to make it to the finish line.”

The protests quickly began.

“You can’t push the lead car in on the last lap,” Waltrip declared according to “Forty Plus Four.” “If they don’t take the win away from him I’m going to be mad. That’s plainly spelled out in the rule book. It’s not a judgement call.”

The objections from Earnhardt’s camp, via team owner Richard Childress, were about Waltrip’s rear spoiler.

“Waltrip’s spoiler was less than the 30 degrees allowed, we ought to get the win,” Childress said according “Forty Plus Four.”

It took three hours for NASCAR uphold Gant’s win, ruling his No. 33 car was “tapped” by Mast’s car and “not assisted.”

As for Waltrip’s spoiler, official Dick Beaty said it wasn’t checked until after cars had gone to the garage.

“Anybody could have adjusted that spoiler in the garage area,” he said according to “Forty Plus Four.” “We’ll do things differently in Daytona.”

Also on this date:

1961: After a fender-banging battle, Fred Lorenzen passed Curtis Turner with two laps to go and won by six car lengths at Darlington. “If I could have caught him before he got to the checkered flag, I guarantee you he never would have finished the race,” Turner said afterward according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”

1962: Joe Weatherly won at Hickory (N.C) Speedway in a 200-lap race plagued by track conditions so poor that Ned Jarrett made one lap and withdrew from the event, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.” Weatherly survived the last 50 laps with a jammed accelerator. To navigate the turns, Weatherly would turn the car off before re-engaging the ignition on the straightaways.

1973: In a race that began with 60 cars and saw a 21-car crash on Lap 9, David Pearson survived to beat Donnie Allison by one lap.

1984: In a race that saw 75 lead changes among 13 drivers, Cale Yarborough passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win at Talladega.

2000: Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed his father for the lead with 31 laps to go and went on to win at Richmond over Terry Labonte. Dale Jr. was the first repeat winner of the season after earning his first Cup win in April at Texas.

 

April 26 in NASCAR: Morgan Shepherd’s upset win at Martinsville

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While Morgan Shepherd‘s first Cup win came relatively early, in his 15th career start, his win at Martinsville Speedway on April 26, 1981 came 11 years after his first start.

Shepherd, a rookie at the age of 39, surprised the field when he led 203 of 500 laps to claim the victory on the short track.

Driving the No. 5 Pontiac for owner Cliff Stewart, Shepherd beat Neil Bonnett, who was the only other driver on the lead lap, by 16 seconds.

It was the first Cup Series win by Pontiac since a victory by Joe Weatherly in October 1963.

“It didn’t sink in until I came around for the checkered flag,” Shepherd said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “I almost cried.”

Shepherd would go on to make 517 starts in the Cup Series through 2014. He’d win only three more times, with each one occurring at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Also on this date:

1964: Fred Lorenzen led all but 13 laps to win at Martinsville over Marvin Panch for his fourth straight win. He’d win in his next start two races later at Darlington. Lorenzen won eight times in 16 starts that year.

1987: With a victory at Martinsville, Dale Earnhardt completed a run of four wins in a row. He took the lead with 17 laps to go when leader Geoffrey Bodine spun from contact with Kyle Petty.

1992: Mark Martin won at Martinsville. He led the final 27 laps after Brett Bodine’s suspension broke. It was the 12th straight Cup win for Ford.

2009: Brad Keselowski won his first career Cup Series race, scoring the victory at Talladega after contact with race leader Carl Edwards sent Edwards into the fence coming to the checkered flag.

2014: Joey Logano passed Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth in half a lap and led the final four laps to win at Richmond.

April 21 in NASCAR: Jeff Gordon ties Dale Earnhardt at 76 Cup wins

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April 21, 2007 was a big day for Jeff Gordon.

The four-time Cup Series champion came out on top in a duel with Tony Stewart in the final 19 laps to win the Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

He did so from the pole, which had never been done in the Cup Series at the 1-mile track. It was Gordon’s first win in 22 Phoenix starts, leaving only Miami and Texas as tracks Gordon had yet to conquer.

The victory also ended a 25-race winless streak dating back to the previous July when he won at Chicagoland. Since then Gordon and the No. 24 team had been planning to celebrate a special occasion: tying Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list.

The victory gave Gordon 76 wins on the Cup circuit, matching him with his former on-track rival and off-track business partner.

After taking the checkered flag, Gordon’s crew donned white hats in tribute to Earnhardt before one crew member gave Gordon a large No. 3 flag. After doing a burnout, Gordon drove around the track as he hoisted the flag out the window.

“It means the world,” Gordon told Fox in Victory Lane. “Just to get a win at a track that we’d never won at before. I drove my guts out, I’ve never had to drive so hard for a win. … Holding that ‘3’ flag … to honor (Earnhardt) in that way it really means a lot to me. I learned so much from him. To even come close to anything he’d ever done in this sport is amazing to me. We wanted to honor him, we’ve been holding onto that flag for a long time. To get 76 is incredible.”

The race also marked the third event with the new Car of Tomorrow. In those three races, Gordon finished third, second and first.

Also on this date:

1963: After Fred Lorenzen broke an axle on Lap 460, Richard Petty took the lead and went on to win at Martinsville Speedway for his third win on the short track.

1968: David Pearson led the final 10 laps and won at North Wilkesboro after LeeRoy Yarbrough blew an engine while leading. Yarbrough was among 17 drivers who had their engines expire in the race, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Big Bucks and Boycotts.”

1991: Darrell Waltrip led the final 52 laps and beat Dale Earnhardt to win at North Wilkesboro. It had been 19 months and 34 starts since Waltrip’s last win.

1996: Jack Sprague led 151 laps and beat Mike Skinner to win a Truck Series race at Phoenix. It was Sprague’s first of 28 career wins he’d earn through 2007.

2001: Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Mike McLaughlin led the final 10 laps and won the Xfinity Series race at Talladega. It was his first win since 1998 and would be his sixth and final career win.

 

April 19 in NASCAR: Lee Petty wins at Richmond as Flocks boycott race

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Today would have seen the Cup Series hold its 128th race at Richmond Raceway.

The race would have fallen on the same day that Richmond hosted its inaugural event in 1953.

Then, instead of a .750-mile paved short track, NASCAR’s pioneers competed on a half-mile dirt track at the Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds.

According to the next day’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, about 5,000 fans watched Lee Petty claim the win. He took the lead with 10 laps to go and went on to beat Dick Rathmann (after an evaluation of scoring cards resulted in Buck Baker being moved back to third).

The race also was highlighted by who wasn’t in it.

Brothers Tim and Fonty Flock boycotted the event. When it came to qualifying, the Flocks had wanted to wait for track conditions to improve before they made their attempts. But after NASCAR gave all drivers a 30-minute window in which to make their runs, the Flocks refused. NASCAR then asked them to start from the rear of the field, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.” The Flocks objected, packed up and left.

Also on this this date:

1964: Fred Lorenzen crossed the finish to win at North Wilkesboro just in time. His engine almost immediately blew after coughing its way through the final five laps, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.” Lorenzen survived to beat Ned Jarrett by about 200 yards.

1997: Steve Park led the final 71 laps to win the Xfinity Series race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Park became the first driver not named Dale Earnhardt to win in the Xfinity Series for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

1998: Ron Hornaday Jr. passed Jack Sprague with five laps to go and won a Truck Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

2010: Denny Hamlin took the lead on a restart with 12 laps to go and led the rest of the way to win at Texas Motor Speedway over Jimmie Johnson. It was Hamlin’s second of eight wins that season.

2015: Matt Kenseth won at Bristol Motor Speedway in a race named after NASCAR reporter Steve Byrnes, who would pass away two days later from cancer.