john andretti

NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Martinsville Speedway

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When you’re the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, having opened in the sport’s inaugural season in 1949, you have a lot of stories to tell.

That’s the case with Martinsville Speedway, which is the next subject of our on-going series looking back the top five moments of specific NASCAR tracks.

The short track in Virginia follows  MiamiTexasBristol, former NASCAR tracks, Richmond,  Talladega and Dover.

Let’s get started.

1) Retaliation and One Last Victory (Nov. 1, 2015)

A lot happened in the fall 2015 Cup Series race at Martinsville. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. All of it was memorable.

Entering the final round of playoffs before the championship race, Joey Logano had swept every race in the previous round.

Along the way he’d ticked off Matt Kenseth, a result of spinning Kenseth from the lead with five laps to go at Kansas.

Two races later, Kenseth laid out his version of justice on NASCAR’s oldest track.

After being involved in a wreck on a Lap 435 restart, Kenseth returned to the track multiple laps down as Logano led.

As the the field entered Turn 1 on Lap 454, Logano attempted to lap Kenseth on the outside. That was perfect for Kenseth, as he proceeded to run straight into Logano, forcing Logano into the wall and wrecking himself in the process.

Meanwhile Jeff Gordon, who had been running in second, raced by to take the lead. After a red flag to clean up the wreck, the race resumed as Martinsville began running out of sunlight.

Following a late Sam Hornish Jr. incident, Gordon successfully held off Jamie McMurray in a two-lap shootout to claim the win. It was his only win of the year, his 93rd Cup victory and it locked him into the Championship 4 in his final full-time season.

 

2) Earnhardt vs Waltrip vs Labonte (1987)

It was the year of Earnhardt.

Through 23 races in the 1987 Cup Series season, Dale Earnhardt had won 11 times, including all six races held on short tracks.

The fall race at Martinsville was a three-way contest between Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte and it came down to them in a three-lap shootout to end the race.

As Earnhardt took the white flag, he led his 170th lap. In second was Labonte, who had led 119 laps and Waltrip, in third, had led 137.

Labonte tried to pass Earnhardt on his outside in Turns 1 and 2, but Earnhardt pinned him to the outside wall as they exited onto the backstretch.

As they entered Turn 3, Labonte lurched forward and rammed Earnhardt’s rear bumper, sending Earnhardt up the track and Labonte into a spin. Waltrip snuck by underneath them, took the lead and raced to the checkered flag.

It was Waltrip’s only win of the year and his eighth Martinsville victory.

3) An Andretti wins for Petty (1999)

John Andretti only won twice in NASCAR Cup Series career, but he made both of them count. In 1997, he won the July Daytona race while driving for three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

Two years later, he won for The King.

In the spring 1999 race at Martinsville, Andretti was the driver of Richard Petty’s No. 43 car. While Petty had won a record 15 times on the short track, a Petty-owned car hadn’t won there since 1979.

Andretti changed that with a hard charge to the win.

He started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti then passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap.

On Lap 383 of the 500-lap race, Andretti pitted from 11th, took two tires and exited in fourth.

He eventually caught race leader Jeff Burton on Lap 494 and they would race side-by-side for two laps before Andretti took the lead for good. After taking the checkered flag, Andretti gave Petty a lift to Victory Lane.

4) Ricky Rudd Beats The Heat (1998)

On a 93-degree day in Martinsville, Ricky Rudd went above and beyond to ensure he’d extend his streak of seasons with at least one Cup win to 16.

Rudd led 198 of 500 laps, including the final 96. But with a broken cooling box, it was not an easy task.

“I started seeing things with 60 laps to go,” said Rudd, who requested a relief driver with 50 laps to go. “I was starting to lose it. I should have come out.”

Rudd suffered second-degree burns to his back and had to conduct his Victory Lane interview with ESPN laying down.

Rudd’s steak of seasons with a win would end in 1999. He wouldn’t win again until 2001 at Pocono.

5) No Ray Evernham, No Problem (1999)

The team of the late 1990s was Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 squad, led by crew chief Ray Evernham.

From 1994-1999, Evernham led Gordon and the “Rainbow Warriors” to three Cup Series titles and 47 race wins.

Then, in the middle of the 1999 season, he was gone. Evernham departed the team after the Sept. 26 race Dover to begin building Dodge’s Cup Series operation, which would debut in 2001.

His departure occurred right before the fall race at Martinsville. Taking his place as crew chief of the No. 24 was Brian Whitesell.

While the Oct. 3 race didn’t see the typical dominating performance by Gordon at the short track, he only led 29 laps, the end result was familiar.

Dale Earnhardt was leading late when a caution came out for a Chad Little incident in Turn 4. While the rest of the leaders pit, Gordon’s team elected to stay out and he assumed the lead with 25 laps to go.

Gordon then held off Earnhardt for the final 19 laps under green and beat him by .198 seconds for his sixth win of the season.

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

Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)
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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.

NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Bristol Motor Speedway

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It’s Bristol weekend, baby!

Sort of.

There’s no NASCAR action in “Thunder Valley” today, aside from the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series.

But we’re here to continue our weekly look at memorable moments from each track that the NASCAR Cup Series would have visited if not for the race’s postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If there’s one track that’s produced its share of memorable moments, it’s Bristol Motor Speedway.

Here are the five most memorable moments from Bristol.

 1. Intimidator vs Ice Man, Part II (1999)

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Same track. Same drivers. Same lap.

Slightly different outcomes.

Like four years earlier, the 1999 night race at Bristol came down to Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Terry Labonte.

Like in 1995, Labonte led at the white flag.

Unlike 1995, Labonte didn’t make it back to the checkered flag, thanks to Earnhardt’s attempt to “rattle” Labonte’s “cage.”

 

 2. Intimidator vs Ice Man, Part 1 (1995)

Earlier this year, Erik Jones and his team re-created a Victory Lane photo of Labonte and his team from 1995.

Why?

Because the noses of both their cars were demolished and in Victory Lane.

Jones’ car was damaged in a wreck-filled Busch Clash at Daytona.

Labonte’s car received its damage courtesy of Earnhardt’s attempt to pass him for the lead coming to the checkered flag at Bristol.

Labonte slid across the finish line and plowed into the outside wall.

At least Labonte has a win to smile about.

 

 3. Jeff Gordon ends winless streak (2002)

Time for some more rhyming.

In 1997, Jeff Gordon performed a bump-and-run on Rusty Wallace coming to the checkered flag and won the spring race at Bristol.

Five years later, in nearly the same spot, Gordon moved Wallace out of the way to take the lead with three laps to go in the Bristol night race.

Wallace was unable to get back to Gordon, who went on to win his first race of the year, ending what was at the time the longest winless streak of his career at 31 races.

 

 4. Elliott Sadler sends Wood Brothers back to victory lane (2001)

Eighty races is a long time.

That’s how long it took for Elliott Sadler to earn his first career NASCAR Cup Series win.

Sadler did it on March 25, 2001, driving for the oldest team in NASCAR: Wood Brothers Racing.

After starting 38th in a backup car due to a wreck in practice, Sadler led the final 70 laps and beat John Andretti.

Sadler’s win over Andretti, who was piloting Richard Petty’s No. 43 car, was the Wood Brother’s first Cup win since 1993.

There also was some late-race drama. On the final lap, Jeff Gordon spun Tony Stewart in the last turn while trying to pass him on the inside.

Stewart wasn’t having it. Once they were on pit road, Stewart retaliated by turning Gordon’s car.

 

 5) Matt DiBenedetto‘s Big Night (2019)

How often does the a crowd yell the loudest for the team that came in second?

Not often.

But it happened last year after the Bristol night race as many fans stuck around to voice their approval for Matt DiBenedetto.

DiBenedetto, who had spent the majority of his career with underfunded race teams, finished second to Denny Hamlin.

That was after DiBenedetto, driving Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota, led a race-high 93 laps, only to be passed by Hamlin with 12 laps to go. DiBenedetto suffered minor damage when he made contact with Ryan Newman, which helped Hamlin catch and pass DiBenedetto.

A few weeks later, DiBenedetto’s performance and perseverance would be rewarded when he was announced as the new driver for the Wood Brothers.

Friday 5: New slogan spotlights Jimmie Johnson’s focus in 2020

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CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson is not chasing history. He seeks to enjoy it.

Johnson’s revelation this week that he has ditched #chasing8 for #One FinalTime as the slogan for his final Cup season is not a sign of surrender, he insists.

Instead, he wants to be more focused on the moment and hope that leads to greater goals.

“I’m not chasing anything,” the seven-time Cup champion said Thursday at the Hendrick Motorsports complex.

Johnson used #6pack on his quest for a sixth title and #se7en in his bid for a seventh title. He had used #chasing8 while seeking an unprecedented eighth Cup title for a driver.

Jimmie Johnson on his final season: “I’ll lay it on the line and go.” (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Even without the slogan, Johnson says he remains focused on this coming season.

“I’m going to get in that car, I’m going to give it 100% as I always do … I’ll lay it on the line and go,” he said.

But Johnson’s go has been slow in recent years. He is winless in 95 races, dating back to June 2017 at Dover International Speedway.

Since that victory, Johnson has six top-five finishes, 29 top 10s and led 216 laps. He has not finished better than third in a points race in that span.

Such struggles make it easy to discount a driver for championship contention — even one of only three seven-time champions in series history.

It’s not been just one thing, though, that has held the 44-year-old back. His struggles coincided with a decline in performance for Hendrick Motorsports in 2017 and ’18. Chevrolet’s Camaro had its issues. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus split after the 2018 season. Johnson went on to change crew chiefs again in 2019 when performance soured.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Johnson said of missing the playoffs last year for the first time in his career. “I was angry, embarrassed.”

He cites last year as a learning experience in racing without Knaus on his pit box. Without Knaus’ leadership, there was a vacuum and Johnson had to understand how to help fill it. As his performance waned, the team struggled. A late-summer crew chief change failed to get Johnson into the playoffs.

Johnson, considered among NASCAR’s greatest drivers, said that “winning races, making the playoffs would be a good season (this year). A great season is going (multiple) rounds (in the playoffs). The ultimate season is being in that championship four.”

First Johnson must be able to run at the front. And win again.

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his 2016 title with wife Chandra and daughters Lydia (held by Johnson) and Genevieve.(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

While his 83 career Cup victories are tied for sixth with Cale Yarborough on the all-time list, Johnson’s focus is to win again to show his daughters what he can do. Genevieve is 9 years old and Lydia is 6.

“I think deep down inside it would be very satisfying,” Johnson said of winning again. “In my heart of hearts I still now I’m doing my best work out there.

“I can also say from a family perspective, to have another moment or two this year with my family in that environment and winning at the top level would be very special for us.

“I guess, ultimately, my kids don’t remember going to victory lane. They don’t have any vivid memories of it. They have no filters. To come home and especially Lydia is like, ‘so Dad, we didn’t win, what happened?’ Evie is so polite about it: ‘Dad you tried hard, good job.’

“To have that moment with them and a moment they will hopefully remember … would be really special.”

2. Hope for Nashville for 2021?

NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc. are not ready to publicly shut the door on a race at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville for 2021, even though no deal has been announced between Nashville and SMI. NASCAR is expected to release the 2021 Cup schedule in April.

“We’re having great discussions with leadership in Nashville,” Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., told NBC Sports this week. “We think it’s a great opportunity for the city and for NASCAR and for Speedway Motorsports. … Everything we’re working on seems to be moving forward in a reasonable pace.

Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville in July 2019. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“I don’t think I can really put a timeframe on it right now because it would just be speculation. I’m very optimistic about NASCAR in Nashville.

“The timing is one of those things that once we get the agreement done, then we’ll have some planning and … the actual construction will take place. It’s a big project and one that when it’s done, the city of Nashville will be really proud of.”

Speedway Motorsports Inc. seeks an agreement with the city to bring top-tier stock-car racing back to Nashville but has not been able to work through financing and other issues. SMI proposed a $60 million renovation plan in May for the historic .596-mile track that would increase seating capacity from 15,000 to 30,000, among other projects.

A previous plan for $54 million in bond payments was rejected by then-Mayor David Briley. John Cooper defeated Bailey to become the city’s mayor in September.

The Tennessean reported in December that the mayor’s spokesperson confirmed that the administration received a new proposal from SMI and it was being reviewed.

Cooper told the Nashville Rotary Club on Monday, according to The Tennessean, that “racing needs to be a success, not just soccer (at the Fairgrounds property). It has to be a workable overall site plan.”

However, The Tennessean notes that that Cooper has not said if he supports a deal to bring NASCAR’s top-tier series to the Fairgrounds.

The Tennessean reported Thursday that Cooper had met with auto racing advocates this week.

Asked if Nashville was still a consideration for the 2021 schedule, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said: “I would say Nashville as a market is a high priority for us in 2021.”

3. Changes for 2020

Along with the changes to stage lengths this season — and how a race will be official once it hits the halfway mark (unless the end of the second stage occurs first) — NASCAR also revealed a few other changes for the coming season.

Last year, NASCAR typically took no more than one car to the R&D Center after a race. That was primarily to study trends in the sport and if NASCAR needed to adjust any rules. The point was to get away from issuing penalties days after the race.

This year, series officials said they would look at taking multiple cars back to the R&D Center after Cup races.

“We tried to do the best we could in response to the teams and try to curb development,” said Jay Fabian, NASCAR Cup director. “Part of that there is that there’s been a new set of rules as far as a parts freeze. Teams have to submit a significant amount of parts and they have to run those parts throughout the year. They have options of each part, they can mix and match as long as they are on that list.

“We will bring more cars back this year because that’s, quite honestly, a lot of work postrace. So we’re going to bring that back and make sure everybody is on the up and up.”

Fabian said if NASCAR found “a major, significant issue, we’d react to it” by issuing a penalty that week.

Erik Jones drives the Next Gen car in a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Jan. 2020. (Photo: NASCAR)

In regards to the Next Gen car, NASCAR’s next test will be March 2-3 at Auto Club Speedway. That’s expected to have only one car but NASCAR anticipates having two cars test by April. That would give officials more information on how a Next Gen car reacts behind another car. Teams are expected to take delivery of their first Next Gen car by July. Tests will be set up for August and beyond.

Five tests are expected to be held for teams before next season. How those tests will be done — whether only one car per organization is allowed or one car per team — will be determined later.

Also, NASCAR officials were scheduled to meet Wednesday with manufacturers in the sport and those that could join the sport about a new engine for 2023, among other issues.

4. Stress of rule change on teams

There have been many reasons discussed for Team Penske’s decision to change its entire driver/crew chief lineup for this season after winning six Cup races and placing all three drivers in the top 10 in points.

As Brad Keselowski acknowledged this week, that type of season was good but not good enough.

“We want to be great,” he said. “We want to win championships. You’ve got to recognize that winning races is still a significant accomplishment in this sport. It’s great competition week in and week out, so winning is good but also emphasize that greatness is the championship. We didn’t win it. It means we’ve got work to do.”

Brad Keselowski with crew chief Paul Wolfe last season. As part of Team Penske’s moves, Wolfe will be Joey Logano‘s crew chief this season. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Keselowski, who will be teamed with crew chief Jermey Bullins this season, also expressed his belief on why the change was made at Team Penske.

“I’ll be honest with you, I think the rules package is as much a factor as anything else,” Keselowski said. “The rules changed when we went to the high downforce and the really small horsepower. That’s really hard to accept. It’s hard to accept for the drivers. It’s really hard to accept for the teams with respect some of the things that we consider telltales of the past that are not necessarily the telltales of today.

“Used to get into this car and you were a good racecar driver if you could run every lap within half a tenth to a tenth (of a second). With these rules, the lap time variance is very significant. You might run one lap, let’s say around (Charlotte Motor Speedway), a 30 (second) flat and the next lap you catch the draft wrong in all the wrong places and you run a 31 flat and the team sees that and they say ‘What the hell? What is this guy out here doing? Is he drunk? Is he not focused? What’s going on?’

“I think it’s part of the package. When you’re not winning, when you’re having the bad days you’re going to have in this sport … it really has put a lot of stress on the team relationships, driver relationships, that dynamic. I think that dynamic has caused a fair amount of rift and ripples across the whole sport and the easiest way for Team Penske to fix it was this change because it forces everyone to think a little bit more thoroughly and different about it.

“That’s one of many examples, it’s not the only reason. I do think the rules change has had a drastic impact on the drivers’ and teams’ abilities to communicate with each other and value the right things.”

5. An unforgettable ride

One of John Andretti’s greatest gifts was what he could give others. Sometimes it was his wit that left one laughing. Sometimes it was his smile and positive nature even through a battle with colon cancer that ended Thursday with his death at age 56.

Other times it was his drive.

Andretti, the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, won an IndyCar race, two Cup events, a Rolex 24 and even a USAC national midget race. He also competed in NHRA, reaching the semifinals once. 

Of all that, there was one drive that illustrates Andretti’s essence.

It came in his 1999 Cup win at Martinsville Speedway for Petty Enterprises. Andretti won the day after Petty Enterprises claimed the Martinsville Truck race, completing a weekend sweep for the famed organization that no longer exists.

But Andretti’s path was not easy that day. He fell a lap down less than 50 laps into the event after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton and spun. No Martinsville Cup winner in the previous decade had come back from a lap down to win.

MORE: Motorsports world mourns passing of John Andretti 

Andretti needed less than 100 laps to pass leader Jeff Gordon and get back on the lead lap. A two-tire pit stop with about 120 laps left played a key role and Andretti did the rest. He was third with 50 laps to go.

Andretti passed Gordon for second with about 12 laps to go as his car suffered a vibration.

“With 12 to go, I figure the heck with it,” Andretti said later that day. “Nobody is going to remember if you run third.”

Andretti challenged close friend Jeff Burton for the lead and drove past the Virginia driver with four laps to go as the crowd cheered.

After taking the checkered flag, Andretti took an extra victory lap. On his way to victory lane, he stopped to give car owner Richard Petty a ride.

The sight of Petty sitting on the driver’s window opening as Andretti drove the No. 43 to victory lane is a memory that won’t be forgotten.

Motorsports world mourns death of John Andretti

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John Andretti, who passed away Thursday after a lengthy battle with colon cancer, was blessed with a well-known surname and famous family members.

But he also was a versatile and successful race car driver in his own right, competing across several motorsports disciplines.

Those included sports car racing (including winning the 1989 Rolex 24 Hours); USAC; open-wheel racing in CART, IRL and IndyCar; in all three major NASCAR series; and even spent time competing in NHRA Top Fuel racing and USAC.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said of Andretti:

“John Andretti embodied the spirit of a champion and inspired an entire fan base through his courageous battle with cancer. He was a fierce competitor throughout his life, and we are saddened by his passing. The entire NASCAR family extends its deepest condolences and prayers to John’s family.”

Many of those in the motorsports world who knew Andretti took to social media to express their condolences:

 

 

There were also several statements released, including these:

Steve Phelps, NASCAR president: “John Andretti embodied the spirit of a champion and inspired an entire fan base through his courageous battle with cancer. He was a fierce competitor throughout his life, and we are saddened by his passing. The entire NASCAR family extends its deepest condolences and prayers to John’s family.”

Penske Entertainment Corp. President & CEO Mark Miles, on behalf of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: “John Andretti’s skills behind the wheel of any kind of race car were admired by his millions of fans around the world, and he always returned that loyalty and kindness to become one of the most popular drivers of his generation. But John’s true mission was helping others, whether through his countless hours of charity work, especially with Riley Children’s Hospital here in Indianapolis, or by the colon screening campaign he started in April 2017 after he was diagnosed with cancer. John’s positive attitude and selflessness throughout his brave fight inspired all of us and will be a legacy that will continue forever. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Nancy, their three children and the entire Andretti family.”

Clay Campbell, Martinsville Speedway president: “On behalf of everyone at Martinsville Speedway I want to share my deepest condolences to Nancy, Jarett, Olivia, Amelia and the entire Andretti family. John was a winner in everything he set out to do and always did it with class and dignity. One of my fondest memories with him was watching him celebrate his victory at Martinsville Speedway in 1999. Although John’s courageous battle with cancer might be over, his memory and legacy will be remembered for years to come by everyone who was fortunate to know him.”

John Doonan, IMSA President: “We are devastated by the news that our dear friend, John Andretti, has passed away. John was an extremely talented IMSA racer, as his 1989 Rolex 24 victory and three other victories will attest. But he was one of the most versatile racers ever, winning races in IndyCar and NASCAR and reaching the pinnacle of top fuel drag racing as well. Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s family, friends and many colleagues, and he will be missed by many throughout our motorsports community.”

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