Gray Ghost

May 4 in NASCAR: A ghost that could not be caught at Talladega

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It is among NASCAR’s most famous cars and added to its legacy on this day in 1980.

As Buddy Baker and Dale Earnhardt ran at the front at Talladega Superspeedway, they pitted together. Earnhardt’s team took two tires. Baker’s team took four tires. The difference left Baker nearly 20 seconds behind Earnhardt.

But Baker, the 1980 Daytona 500 winner, was driving the “Gray Ghost” at Talladega.

The car was nicknamed the “Gray Ghost’’ because its colors allowed it to blend in with the track, as the story goes. Driver complaints led NASCAR to have Baker’s team put reflective decals on the car so it was easier to see after that Daytona 500 win

“Silver and black. Chrome numbers. It doesn’t get any cooler than that,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in 2016 on his Dale Jr. Download.

Baker’s charge at Talladega 40 years ago also was memorable for catching and then passing Earnhardt for the lead with three laps to go. Baker withstood Eanhardt’s final charge at the line to win by 3 feet.

Baker told Motor Racing Network in Victory Lane: “We had to earn this one.”

Also on this date:

1957: Fireball Roberts won at Shelby, North Carolina, for his fifth win in his first 13 starts of the season. Roberts went on to score eight victories that season.

1969: Bobby Isaac started from the pole and led 283 of 300 laps to win at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. No other car finished on the lead lap. The victory was one of a career-high 17 wins he had that season.

1997: Mark Martin won at Sonoma Raceway, holding off Jeff Gordon on the final lap. Martin snapped a 42-race winless streak.

2002: Tony Stewart came from the rear after an engine change to win at Richmond Raceway.

The ‘Gray Ghost’ rides again for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in final Martinsville start

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive one of his old Nationwide Insurance paint schemes in his final Cup Series start at Martinsville Speedway.

Sort of.

Earnhardt announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon that a fan vote held by Nationwide had chosen his 2016 Southern 500 “Gray Ghost” paint scheme for the Oct. 29 race at Martinsville.

But due to a concussion that forced Earnhardt to miss the final 18 races of last season, Jeff Gordon wound up driving the car at Darlington Raceway.

The “Gray Ghost” scheme, a tribute to a car driven by Buddy Baker, beat out seven other old Nationwide paint schemes Earnhardt has actually driven.

“I wanted to make sure that all the fans that voted know I really appreciate it,” Earnhardt said in a Twitter video. “Yes, I was a little envious (of Gordon). It is a paint scheme I really, really like and I just never got a chance to run it. This goes out to all the fans for voting. I have only you to thank.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘real sad’ he won’t be able to drive ‘Gray Ghost’ at Darlington

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he is “real sad” that he won’t be able to drive the “Gray Ghost” throwback paint scheme in Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Sunday’s race on NBC will mark the seventh consecutive Sprint Cup event Earnhardt has missed because of a concussion that doctors pinpoint to a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway.

Jeff Gordon will drive the No. 88 car, which has been made to look like the car Buddy Baker drove to victory in the 1980 Daytona 500.

“I wanted to drive that car,’’ Earnhardt said Monday on his podcast, the Dale Jr. Download at Dirty Mo Radio.

“Silver and black. Chrome numbers. It doesn’t get any cooler than that. NASCAR obviously does not allow chrome numbers anymore. We got as close as we could. The orange on the car is a nod to Nationwide and a bit of a throwback to them.’’

The car was nicknamed the “Gray Ghost’’ because its colors allowed it to blend in with the track. Driver complaints led to NASCAR forcing Baker’s team to put reflective decals on the car so it was easier to see after that Daytona 500 win.

Earnhardt did drive a “Gray Ghost” scheme in the 2008 All-Star Race. He finished eighth.

Although he won’t race, Earnhardt is excited about the second throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway and the paint schemes that are coming back for that race.

“Darlington could be forever a throwback weekend,’’ Earnhardt said on his podcast. “Whatever anybody’s interpretation is of a throwback, just let Darlington forever be that weekend where we kind of celebrate the past. I love this whole plan. I love this whole promotion.

Aric Almirola sported a Fu Manchu mustache at last year's Southern 500 in honor of Richard Petty. (Photo: Dustin Long)
Aric Almirola sported a Fu Manchu mustache at last year’s Southern 500 in honor of Richard Petty. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“Last year, we saw the 43 team come in really strong (with its throwback scheme). (Aric Almirola) had the Fu Manchu. The Wood Brothers brought it. There’s a couple of teams that came in and did it right. What’s been interesting is that people saw that, other teams saw that, and everybody is coming really hard with all these great schemes. You’re even seeing it in the Xfinity Series, which didn’t happen a whole lot last year.

“This program is going to keep getting cooler and cooler. It’s great for Darlington and it adds to the history.’’

As for Earnhardt’s favorite throwback scheme, other than his car?

“There’s a lot of great ones out there,’’ he said. “I love the Busch car because I was a big Cale Yarborough fan. The Busch car is kind of cool.’’

Kevin Harvick’s car will look like the one Cale Yarborough drove in 1979 and ’80.