Joe Nemechek

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Leader of the pack: These Cup drivers raced to history

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Today brings the inaugural Cup race on the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin will start on the front row. But given the chaos that can be expected on the first lap for a road course race when there wasn’t practice or qualifying, who will be able to claim they led the first lap?

Leading the first lap of inaugural Cup races at a new track is a big deal.

For the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, Dale Earnhardt pressed the issue so much that he caused his No. 3 Chevrolet to slap the outside wall exiting Turn 4.

He still didn’t lead the first lap. That honor went to pole-sitter Rick Mast.

Among the information available for the 24 active Cup tracks (excluding Richmond Raceway), only four times has the driver who led the first lap of an inaugural race not started in first place. Those occurred in 1950 at Darlington, 1961 at Bristol Motor Speedway, 1969 at Michigan International Speedway and 2011 at Kentucky Speedway.

Three drivers have led the first lap more than once: Dale Jarrett (Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Kurt Busch (the last two inaugural races at Kentucky and the Charlotte Roval) and Fireball Roberts (Atlanta and Charlotte).

Here’s a look back at all the inaugural Cup races at each active track and the drivers who led the first lap in each event.

 

Charlotte Roval, 2018: Kurt Busch (started first)

Kentucky Speedway, 2011: Kurt Busch (started third)

Kansas Speedway, 2001: Jason Leffler (started first)

Chicagoland Speedway, 2001: Todd Bodine (started first)

Homestead-Miami Speedway, 1999: David Green (started first)

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 1998: Dale Jarrett (started first)

Auto Club Speedway, 1997: Joe Nemechek (started first)

Texas Motor Speedway, 1997: Dale Jarrett (started first)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1994: Rick Mast (started first)

New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 1993: Mark Martin (started first)

Sonoma Raceway, 1989: Rusty Wallace (started first)

Phoenix Raceway, 1988: Geoffrey Bodine (started first)

Pocono Raceway, 1974: Buddy Baker (started first)

Dover International Speedway, 1969: David Pearson (started first)

Michigan International Speedway, 1969: LeeRoy Yarbrough (started second)

Talladega Superspeedway, 1969: Bobby Isaac (started first)

Bristol Motor Speedway, 1961: Junior Johnson (started second)

Charlotte Motor Speedway, 1960: Fireball Roberts (started first)

Atlanta Motor Speedway, 1960: Fireball Roberts (started first)

Daytona International Speedway, 1959: Bob Welborn (started first)

Watkins Glen International, 1957: Buck Baker (started first, led every lap)

Richmond Raceway, 1953: Due to poor record keeping, the info isn’t available.

Darlington Raceway, 1950: Gober Sosebee (started third)

Martinsville Speedway, 1949: Curtis Turner (started first)

Chase Briscoe holds off Kyle Busch for thrilling Darlington Xfinity win

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Chase Briscoe held off Kyle Busch in a thrilling last-lap drag race to the checkered flag to win Thursday’s Toyota 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

It capped an emotional few days for Briscoe. Earlier this week, he and his pregnant wife learned they had lost their first child.

The 23-year-old Briscoe broke into tears after climbing out of his race car, telling FS1: “That’s for my wife. This is the hardest week I’ve ever had to deal with. I was crying in the race car and emotionally I wasn’t there at all.

“This is more than a race win, it’s the biggest day of my life after the toughest day of my life. To beat the best there is just so satisfying.”

Click here for results, driver standings

Briscoe, who beat Busch to the checkered flag by .086 seconds, led 44 laps en route to his fourth career Xfinity triumph and second of the season.

Busch finished second, followed by Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and polesitter Noah Gragson.

If there was a comeback award, Busch would have won hands down. He won Stage 2 and was coming off pit road on the resulting caution when he was caught speeding, sending him to the back of the field for the restart for the final segment.

He quickly moved through the field and came up about one car length short.

“I hated we had the pit road penalty,” Busch said. “No excuses, just got busted for speeding unfortunately, .02 over and had to go to the back. Hopefully we put on a good show for the fans.”

It was the Xfinity Series’ first event since the season was suspended March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The race was scheduled for Tuesday night, but rain forced its postponement to today at Noon ET. Even with that, rain Thursday caused a 4 ½-hour delay until the green flag.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Noah Gragson

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Justin Allgaier had a strong car and appeared to be the only challenge for Briscoe and Busch, but couldn’t get back to the front, having to settle for third.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: It was a bad end to what had been a good day up to that point: Michael Annett was running fourth and charging toward the lead when a tire went down on him with 15 laps to go, leading to a spin that caused significant damage to the right front of his car.

NOTABLE: Brett Moffitt made his first race start since suffering two broken legs in a motocross accident in mid-March and didn’t look too worse for the wear, finishing 11th.

WHAT’S NEXT: Alsco 300, Monday March 25 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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May 8 in NASCAR: Matt Kenseth gets Darlington Xfinity win after Kyle Busch cuts tire

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It was Kyle Busch‘s race to lose and he lost it under caution.

On May 8, 2009, Busch dominated the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway, starting from the pole and leading 143 laps.

But Busch’s chances at a victory ended in a whimper.

Busch led when the caution came out on Lap 147 of 153 for a wreck between Joe Nemechek and Scott Lagasse, Jr.

As the field slowly made its way around the 1.366-mile track, Busch’s No. 18 car drove through debris from the wreck on the backstretch.

The team soon realized Busch’s right-rear tire was going down.

After a few more circuits of the track, Busch was forced to bring his car to pit road. That gave Matt Kenseth the lead as Busch returned to the track in 18th.

Kenseth wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the lead very long. Moments after the field took the green flag as part of a green-white-checkered finish, Morgan Shepherd crashed into the inside wall on the frontstretch, bringing out the caution and effectively ending the race.

It gave Kenseth the win, his only Xfinity victory in 15 starts in 2009.

Also on this date:

1955: Tim Flock completed a marathon of running in two races in two states on back-to-back days. After finishing second in a 100-mile race at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway, Flock took the private plane of team owner Carl Kiekhaefer and flew to Arizona. At Fairgrounds Raceway in Phoenix, Flock started second and led all 100 laps on the 1-mile dirt track to claim the win over Marvin Panch. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning,” Panch was able to compete in the race due to receiving a weekend pass from the U.S. Army. After competing in the following weekend’s race in Tucson, he wouldn’t race again until July.

1976: Cale Yarborough led all but 22 laps to win the Music City 420 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. An 18-year-old Sterling Marlin made his first of 748 Cup Series starts. He started last and fell out after 55 laps due to an oil pump failure.

1982: Darrell Waltrip led all but one of 420 laps to win at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. It was his fifth win in the first 10 races.

1993: Ward Burton led 227 of 300 laps to beat Bobby Labonte in a Xfinity Series race at Martinsville. It was his only national NASCAR victory in his home state of Virginia.

2004: Martin Truex Jr. led 123 laps and won the Xfinity Series race at Gateway International Raceway. He was joined by two other “Juniors” in the top five. Ron Hornaday Jr. placed second and Bobby Hamilton Jr. finished fourth.

 

May 3 in NASCAR: Bobby Allison wrecks at ‘Dega, Davey earns 1st Cup win

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To paraphrase late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 3, 1987 will forever be a day that will live in NASCAR infamy.

Not only was it a day in which Bobby Allison was involved in a horrific wreck at Talladega Superspeedway, it was also the day that would begin NASCAR’s move to smaller carburetors and then restrictor plates at the superspeedways in Talladega and Daytona.

Allison was coming through the ‘Dega tri-oval 21 laps into the scheduled 188-lap race when the right rear tire on his Stavola Brothers Buick blew.

The car almost immediately became airborne and remained so for several seconds, spinning into and tearing up approximately 100 feet of catch fencing before landing on the track.

Bobby Allison was unhurt in a horrifying crash at the 1987 Winston 500. It took three hours for track officials to repair the fence.(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Several fans suffered mainly minor injuries. Allison emerged from the infield care center rattled and bruised but otherwise uninjured, telling ESPN:

“I’m okay. Very thankful for the good Lord that I’m not hurt and I hope nobody else down there is hurt too bad. I think I ran over something, I couldn’t really tell, something bounced under the car and the tire exploded. I think I ran over something and cut my right rear tire down and spun the car in the tri-oval and up in the air it went, around backwards and there was nothing I could do.”

Allison’s crash came four days after Bill Elliott set a speed record during qualifying that remains: 212.809 mph, in a Ford Thunderbird.

By comparison, just a week later, Bobby Rahal would win the pole for the 1987 Indianapolis 500 with a speed of 216.609 mph.

With a number of notables in the sport, including NASCAR Hall of Fame driver-turned-owner Junior Johnson, fearing speeds were reaching dangerous levels, NASCAR implemented smaller carburetors for the second races of that season at Daytona and Talladega.

The sanctioning body would introduce restrictor plates in 1988 to keep speeds down, a move that remained in place until last year, when the sport changed to tapered spacers as well as a larger spoiler, larger splitter and aero ducts added to the car to decrease speeds and lower the odds of cars going airborne.

Plate racing would bring with it drafting, cars driving in packs, and massive multi-car wrecks that simply became known as “the big one.”

As for the rest of the 1987 race at Talladega, after a three-hour red flag to repair the fence, the race resumed. Davey Allison would come back to lead 101 of the remaining 167 laps and take the checkered flag .78 of a second ahead of Terry Labonte, for the first of what would be 19 career NASCAR Cup victories.

The younger Allison, one of the youngest members of the fabled Alabama Gang, would earn three Cup and four ARCA wins, as well as an IROC victory, at ‘Dega in his career.

Sadly, Davey would also lose his life at the 2.66-mile racetrack in 1993 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed while attempting to land at the facility.

Also on this date:

1981: Following a last-lap pass, Bobby Allison edged Buddy Baker at the finish line by 0.1 seconds to win the Winston 500 at Talladega.

1992: Davey Allison won the Winston 500 at Talladega, leading 110 of 188 laps, including the last 71, beating Bill Elliott to the finish line by two car lengths. It was the third and final time the younger Allison would win a Cup race at his home track.

1998: Future NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin won at California Speedway, beating Jeremy Mayfield by nearly two seconds.

2003: Joe Nemechek won the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond under caution due to rain, seven laps short of the scheduled 400 laps. It would be the third of four career Cup wins for Nemechek.

2008: Clint Bowyer earned the second of his 10 Cup wins to date, winning at Richmond by .439 seconds over Kyle Busch.

2015: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Geico 500, his sixth and final Cup win at Talladega. He beat Jimmie Johnson by .158 seconds.

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NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Talladega Superspeedway

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Talladega.

You either love or hate the track in Alabama.

As we’ve done with with Miami, Texas, Bristol, former NASCAR tracks and Richmond, we’re taking a look at the top five NASCAR moments from the track.

You’ll either love them or hate them.

Here they are.

 1. 18th to first (2000)

With four laps left in the 2000 Winston 500, Dale Earnhardt was nowhere near the front.

He was 18th.

Over the last four circuits of the 2.66-mile superspeedway, the seven-time Cup champion would put on one last show at the track he’d won nine previous times.

Earnhardt deftly navigated the draft and the field, rubbing fenders when he needed to, and eventually picked up help from Kenny Wallace with three laps to go. That allowed him to move into third on the backstretch behind his teammate, Mike Skinner, and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As they took the white flag, the elder Earnhardt narrowly led Skinner and Earnhardt Jr. across the finish line.

By the time they reached Turn 3, Earnhardt led Wallace and Joe Nemechek as they broke away from the chaos of the pack behind them.

Earnhardt kept the lead and crossed the finish line for his 76th and final Cup Series win.

 2. Gordon win angers Dale Jr. fans (2004)

From fall 2001 to spring 2003, Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed four straight wins on NASCAR’s biggest oval. After his teammate Michael Waltrip won the fall 2003 race, he aimed for win No. 5 in April 2004.

He came very close.

Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon were battling for the lead with five laps to go when a Brian Vickers incident in Turn 3 brought out the caution and froze the field.

When the field raced through the tri-oval back to the finish line, Earnhardt led Gordon.

Cue controversy.

As the field crept around the track with four laps to go, NASCAR ruled Gordon had been the leader when the caution was issued.

The race never resumed and Gordon took the win.

As the checkered and yellow flags flew, so did cups and cans of beer, as angry fans pelted the track and a celebrating Gordon to show their disapproval in the race not resuming and the outcome.

The creation of the green-white-checkered finish wasn’t far behind.

 3. Brad Keselowski gets first win in a part-time role (2009)

In 2009, Brad Keselowski was driving part-time for James Finch. The spring race at Talladega was his fifth Cup Series start and his third of 15 starts that season.

Entering the race, Keselowski had yet to lead a lap. Exiting the race, he had one lap led on his record. How he led that lap is notable.

The tandem racing era on superspeedways was just getting underway and it was on display during a four-lap shootout to the finish.

When the white flag was displayed, Carl Edwards, with Keselowski hooked to his bumper, sped by Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead and second place.

As they raced through the tri-oval for the final time, Keselowski went to Edwards’ inside. They made contact and Edwards went into a spin, the momentum of which caused him to collide with Newman and get airborne into the catch fence. He was unharmed.

By the end of the season Keselowski would be driving for Team Penske. He’d go full-time in 2010 and two years later would win his first Cup title. In the spring 2010 Atlanta race, Edwards would get payback when he intentionally spun Keselowski, causing him to flip onto his roof.

 4. Dawn of the restrictor plates (1987)

Every era of auto racing has to start somewhere.

NASCAR’s restrictor-plate era began in 1988 and lasted through the 2019 Daytona 500.

But its origins are in the May 1987 Winston 500 and a scary Bobby Allison wreck, days after Bill Elliott established the track’s qualifying record at 212.809 mph.

Twenty-one laps into the event, Allison was racing through the tri-oval when his engine blew. Debris from it cut a tire, causing Allison to lose control. He lifted up into the catch fence, where his car ripped a large section of it down right before the flag stand.

Allison was unharmed in the crash.

After a lengthy red flag to repair the fence, the race resumed. It ended with Davey Allison, Bobby’s son, earning his first Cup Series win.

That year was the last year of unrestricted racing on superspeedways.

 5. ‘Sorry we couldn’t crash more cars today’ (2012)

While Daytona and Talladega provide plenty of spectacle, they also provide really big crashes.

In the May 2012 Cup race, one of those wrecks unfolded on a restart with four laps to go.

Among those involved in the nine-car wreck was Tony Stewart.

Afterward, an unhappy Stewart showed his displeasure in a sarcastic interview.

“Sorry we couldn’t crash more cars today. We didn’t fill the quota for today for Talladega and NASCAR,” Stewart deadpanned. “If we haven’t crashed at least 50% of the field by the end of the race we need to extend the race until we crash at least 50% of the cars. ‘Cause it’s not fair to these fans for them to not see any more wrecks than that and more tore up cars.”