Jimmy Hensley

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April 18 in NASCAR: John Andretti’s spectacular Martinsville drive

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No greater authority than Richard Petty, a winner at Martinsville Speedway a record 15 times himself, put the seal of approval on John Andretti’s stirring Cup win at the historic half-mile track on April 18, 1999.

“It looked like the good old times,” Petty said.

Andretti overcame an early spin that put him a lap down and charged past Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton in the final laps to win. Andretti completed a sweep for Petty Enterprises that weekend after Jimmy Hensley won the Truck race for the team the day before. Andretti’s win marked the first Cup victory for Petty Enterprises at Martinsville in 20 years.

Andretti started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap and began working his way through the field.

A key moment came when the field pitted on Lap 383 of the 500-lap race. Andretti entered 11th and exited fourth after taking two tires. He trailed only Gordon, Mark Martin and Burton.

“I’d been begging for (two tires) all day because I wanted track position, and I wanted to get up there and fight,” Andretti said that day.

Said Gordon afterward: “I’m sure he didn’t take two tires at the end. There’s no way.”

Andretti was third with 50 laps to go, trailing only Gordon and Burton. Andretti passed Gordon for second with 12 laps to go. That left only Andretti’s close friend, Burton, for the win. Andretti charged while ignoring a vibration with the car.

Andretti ran underneath Burton on Lap 494 and they ran side by side for much of two laps before Andretti got by.

“I’ll never forget coming around and taking the checkered flag at Martinsville,” Andretti said that day.

Andretti died Jan. 30 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 56.

Also on this date:

1954: Herb Thomas won at Hillsboro, North Carolina, one of a series-high 12 victories he scored that season.

1960: Glen Wood led all 200 laps to score the victory at Bowman Gray Stadium, marking the first win for Wood Brothers Racing in what would become the Cup Series.

1970: Richard Petty led the final 349 laps to win the Gwyn Staley 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. He was the only driver to complete all 400 laps.

1982: Dale Earnhardt scored the first of his nine career wins at Darlington Raceway.

2009: Mark Martin won at Phoenix, tallying his third victory in the first eight races of the season. He went on to win five times and finish second in the points.

April 12 in NASCAR: Hurt Allison holds off Wallace at North Wilkesboro

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On April 12, 1992, Davey Allison was playing hurt and driving an overhauled race car.

Even that wasn’t enough to keep Allison out of victory lane for the spring race at North Wilkesboro.

The race came a week after Allison hurt a shoulder in a crash at Bristol Motor Speedway.

With Jimmy Hensley on standby in case Allison needed to be relieved, Allison started seventh in a car crew chief Larry McReynolds had “pretty much rebuilt” overnight, swapping out four shocks, three springs and the sway bar, according to the next day’s Charlotte Observer.

Hensley was never needed and Allison’s car proved reliable.

The Robert Yates Racing driver took the lead for the first time on Lap 313 when his team got him off pit road first ahead of Rusty Wallace.

They would do it again on Lap 346 and the remaining 50 green flag laps saw Wallace give chase after Allison.

It would prove futile as Allison edged Wallace by .15 seconds to claim his second win of the year following his Daytona 500 victory.

His shoulder wasn’t the only thing bothering Allison over the course of the afternoon.

“My left leg starting cramping real bad in my thigh and my calf (during the last caution) and I couldn’t stretch my leg out, so I couldn’t rub either one of them to get them worked out,” Allison told ESPN. “I just kept mashing on the foot rest down here and it finally went away. When they threw the green flag it was just take care of the race car and take care of myself the rest of the day.”

The victory was the 11th straight Cup win for Ford dating back to 1991. Ford would win two more races before Dale Earnhardt put an end to the streak in the Coca-Cola 600.

Also on this date:

1952: Buck Baker won a 100-mile race in Columbia, South Carolina. During the race, driver E.C. Ramsey crashed into a passenger car as it tried to cross the track during the race, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.” Ramsey then climbed from his vehicle and ran over to the passenger car, where he proceeded to beat up its intoxicated driver until the police intervened.

1958: A night after they finished 1-2 in a race in Columbia, Speedy Thompson and Jack Smith repeated the effort in a race at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

1970: Pete Hamilton led the final 17 laps to win at Talladega. At one point in the race, Cale Yarborough drove for five laps without a windshield after his Wood Brothers Racing removed it. It had been damaged when a fan on the backstretch threw a beer bottle and it impacted on the windshield. “I had to cover my nose and my mouth with one hand so I could breathe,” Yarborough said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Big Bucks and Boycotts.”

1981: It was a day for notable firsts at Darlington Raceway. Bill Elliott started from his first of 55 career Cup poles in the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500. It also saw the first outing of Harry Gant as the driver of Hal Needham’s Skoal Bandit car. It would become a permanent pairing four races later at Dover.

Bump & Run: Biggest upsets in NASCAR

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In light of UMBC’s upset of Virginia in the NCAA basketball tournament, what’s an upset in NASCAR that stands out to you?

Nate Ryan: David Gilliland in the Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway in 2006. That’s the closest approximation in modern-day NASCAR of what the Retrievers pulled off last Friday.

Dustin Long: David Gilliland’s Xfinity win at Kentucky in 2006 with a part-time and independent team. Remarkable upset that eventually led to a Cup ride.

Daniel McFadin: Front Row Motorsports’ two Cup wins, at Talladega in 2013 and Pocono in 2016. The first because David Ragan‘s surge to the lead on the final lap is the definition of “Where did he come from?” The second, because Chris Buescher earned his first Cup win via pit strategy and … fog.

Jerry Bonkowski: Actually, a two-part answer. First, when Trevor Bayne came out of nowhere and was pushed to the win in the 2011 Daytona 500 by Carl Edwards. And then there was the 1990 Daytona 500, when underdog Derrike Cope won.

What was something that stood out to you from the West Coast swing?

Nate Ryan: That the storylines from the end of last season (Toyotas, particularly Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, are fast; Kevin Harvick is a championship contender; Hendrick Motorsports still is searching) generally have remained intact.

Dustin Long: Overlooked was that Erik Jones was one of only three drivers (Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were the others) to score a top-10 finish in all three races.

Daniel McFadin: Joey Logano going from 16th to first in four laps in the Xfinity race on Saturday thanks to fresh tires. It’s the closest thing to a video game I’ve ever seen in real life.

Jerry Bonkowski: I thought for sure that we’d see more success from some of the young drivers. But when it came down to it, veterans won all three races. Sooner or later, the young drivers have to start making more of a name for themselves, guys like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, William Byron and others. And by making a name for themselves, I mean winning.

What’s a special Martinsville memory you have?

Nate Ryan: John Andretti rallying from a lap down to win the first race I covered (and attended) there in April 1999. I was crossing the track in Turn 1 when Andretti drove the No. 43 right by into victory lane … with “The King” sitting on the driver’s window opening (to an enormous cheer from the crowd).

Dustin Long: John Andretti’s April 1999 win, which completed a weekend sweep for Petty Enterprises. Jimmy Hensley won the Truck race for the organization the day before Andretti’s victory. “It looked like the good old times,’’ Petty said in victory lane after riding in on the driver’s window opening of the No. 43 car.

Daniel McFadin: When I covered my first race there in the fall of 2014 as an intern for Sporting News. It turned out to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s first and only win at the track and the only time I attended a race he won. He’s retired now so I can say he’s my favorite driver. I still have confetti from the celebration in a plastic bag. 

Jerry Bonkowski: This is more of a sad rather than special memory. I was at the fall race in 2004 when the Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into nearby Bull Mountain, killing all onboard. We got word about halfway through the race that there had been an incident, and as we got closer to the end of the race, things became confirmed. I recall it as if it was yesterday, and it’s a day I’ll never forget.