Mark Martin

Kurt Busch to make 700th career Cup start

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Former champion Kurt Busch will make his 700th career Cup start today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports App).

Busch becomes only the 16th driver to amass at least 700 career Cup starts. Richard Petty owns the series record with 1,185 starts.

Busch, who starts second today at Indy, has the most career starts among active drivers. He has two more starts than Kevin Harvick, who is scheduled to make his 700th career Cup start July 19 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch made his first career Cup start Sept. 24, 2000 at Dover, finishing 18th.

He has 31 career victories, including the 2017 Daytona 500. Busch won the 2004 Cup title. He has 307 career top-10 finishes.

The 41-year-old marvels at making his 700th career Cup start today.

“It’s amazing,” Busch said. “To have this opportunity and to have been blessed to have raced with so many great race teams over the years, just making it past the local track was something that I thought was an achievement because my dad was a local racer. He won a lot. But it was like money, sponsors, and the whole challenge of even getting to like the Southwest Tour and Late Model division, that was even tough for us way back in the past.

“So, it’s amazing. Twenty years of racing at the top series level and now having 700 starts, I never would have guessed.”

Busch is 10th in points entering today’s race. He has yet to win his year but has three top-five finishes and nine top-10 results in 15 starts for Chip Ganassi Racing.

MOST CAREER CUP STARTS

1,185 – Richard Petty

906 – Ricky Rudd

890 – Terry Labonte

883 – Dave Marcis

882 – Mark Martin

829 – Kyle Petty

828 – Bill Elliott

809 – Darrell Waltrip

805 – Jeff Gordon

784 – Michael Waltrip

763 – Ken Schrader

748 – Sterling Marlin

729 – Bobby Labonte

706 – Rusty Wallace

700 – Kurt Busch

Denny Hamlin seeks new milestones at Martinsville

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There’s something about Martinsville Speedway that brings out the best in Denny Hamlin.

Even though Hamlin considers Richmond Raceway his “home track,” it’s at Martinsville, nearly 200 miles southwest, that he’s enjoyed his greatest success on a single track in NASCAR.

And tonight, Hamlin seeks to move up yet another level at the famed .526-mile oval. Hamlin is going for his sixth career win at NASCAR’s oldest and still operating racetrack.

If Hamlin is able to take the checkered flag, it will mark the 40th win of his Cup career, tying him with Mark Martin for 19th on the Cup all-time wins list (he’s currently tied for 20th with Tim Flock and Matt Kenseth).

“It would be special to get (No. 40) there for sure,” Hamlin said in a media teleconference. “When we looked at all of the two-race week schedule, over the last few weeks, we really looked at the tracks and said that we should be able to win two or three of these, not easily, but easily.

“Obviously, Bristol slipped through us. We got the Darlington win, and I just feel like these tracks are really good for me. We’re good everywhere at this point. I don’t think we have any weaknesses at all, but Martinsville’s one that is special. … Those big even number wins, the 40’s, the 50’s, if I can ever get there those are going to be special moments.

“Obviously, you take wins anywhere that you can get them, but if they can fall at a track that I cut my teeth at, it’d mean a little bit more.”

Hamlin also has five wins at Pocono, but he’s overwhelmingly dominated at Martinsville. In 28 prior starts, he also has 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes, meaning he’s finished outside the top 10 in just seven races.

In other words, he has made racing on a very tough track look easy much of the time.

“Well, it’s just the technicality of it, I think similar to a road course in how technical it is,” Hamlin said. “The road courses you have to really be good using the gas and the brake.

“Your braking points – the car gets very, very light on entry there with the back tires, especially as the tires wear out. You got to really be conscious of how your braking. Your acceleration has got to be really on point. You rush the throttle and you will burn up the tires.

“So, I think it’s a driver’s racetrack in that sense that you have to be smart. You’re going to get run into at some point of the day. You can’t let that escalate and throw you off mentally, and you go an retaliate and the next thing you know you’ve got a torn-up car. It’s just a racetrack that demands no mistakes and that’s what I like about it.”

As familiar as he is with and as successful he’s been at Martinsville, tonight’s race under the lights for the first time almost presents a new track feel, Hamlin said.

“Martinsville will be different in a lot of different ways,” Hamlin said. “They’re bringing a new tire to that racetrack, that could be as big as or a bigger change than any weather change that we are going to have from history.

“You look at the dates, it’s going to be way further in the year than we’ve raced at Martinsville, way hotter temperatures. It used to be with the old tires, we used to need for it to be 60 degrees outside temperature for the tire to lay rubber.

“I know they really worked hard in the Goodyear test to try to have a tire that laid rubber down, that had fall off, because we hadn’t had fall off, and the racing had kind of suffered the last few years when we had the big spoiler and no fall off. Just really, racing suffered at Martinsville.

“That’s a track that should never – we should never be talking about aerodynamics, so they worked really hard on it. Even though we are going from day to night, I don’t think it will be as much because it is still a concrete surface that is brighter in color.

“The lighter the color the less transition you’ll have from day to night anyway. I don’t think that will be as big as of a difference as the tire change and the actual temperature.”

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Joey Logano hopes to give Ford first Coke 600 win in 18 years

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Joey Logano was the last Ford driver to win a Cup Series race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval in 2015.

Who better to ask what’s needed in Sunday’s Coca-Coal 600 (6 p.m. ET on Fox) for a Ford driver to win NASCAR’s longest race for the first time in 2002.

That’s right, the blue oval hasn’t been to Victory Lane in the Coke 600 in 18 years. The last driver to do it was Mark Martin, when he capped off four straight years of Coke 600 wins by Roush Fenway Racing.

Since then, only three of Ford’s 30 Charlotte oval wins have occurred, all coming in the fall race that has since been converted to a race on the roval. The last was Logano.

So what will it take to end a nearly two decade drought?

“Go faster than everybody, I guess,” Logano said with a laugh Friday in a Zoom press conference. “I can think of quite a few 600s (where I’ve been) very close to winning. …  have yet to break through.”

Logano placed second in the 2019 edition of the race, which ended a four-race streak of Logano placing 21st or worst on the Charlotte oval.

“As a Coca-Cola driver, I know how big of a deal it is to win that thing and feel the pressure to do it,” Logano said. “I want to get it done. I’ve been, like I said, close. There are different things every time and it takes the whole package to make it happen. The driver has got to be on his game. The pit crew’s got to be on it. The car’s got to be good and things gotta fall your way, so I guess in recent years it hasn’t for the Ford guys, but I wouldn’t bet money against us this week.”

MORE: Logano: Never shorten the Coke 600

Logano is one of two drivers, the other being Denny Hamlin, who have won twice in the first six races of the year. Logano’s victories came at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway.

Logano was the only Ford driver with a win this year before Kevin Harvick‘s win last Sunday at Darlington.

“Just want to (win the Coke 600) so bad, but that race track with this 550 (horsepower) rules package is pretty intense on these restarts,” Logano said.  “There is gonna be three and four-wide racing. There’s more room at Charlotte than there is at Darlington, so there’s gonna be more aggressive moves that you’ll see.

“I expect the outside lane still to be the dominant one and that’s something we’ve got to fight through. … I guarantee those restarts are gonna be super-intense because once you get 15-20 laps into a run, it just gets harder and harder to pass. But for the first 15-20 laps it’s gonna be game on, where we’re gonna be very intense out there pushing and shoving.”

May 10 in NASCAR: Dale Jr. announces departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Dale Jr.
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In a press conference at JR Motorsports on May 10, 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced the end of an era.

Earnhardt revealed the final 26 Cup races of the season would be his last as a driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his father, Dale Earnhardt.

“It’s time for us to move on and seek other opportunities,” Earnhardt said while sitting next to his sister, Kelley.

Earnhardt was in his seventh full-time season driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for DEI. Up to then he had won 17 races, including the 2004 Daytona 500. He had also been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver four times.

But he’d only won one race each in the last two seasons. In 2007, he’d go winless for the first time.

“It is time for me to compete on a consistent basis and compete for championships now,” Earnhardt said.

The NASCAR world waited a little over a month to find out Earnhardt’s destination. On June 13, it was announced he was signing with Hendrick Motorsports. He’d spend the rest of his Cup career with the powerhouse before retiring after the 2017 season.

Also on this date:

1956: Buck Baker won a Grand National race at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway after running all 200 laps without a pit stop. The result was protested by the Schwam Motor Company team, which owned the car driven by second-place finisher Curtis Turner, who finished one lap down. The team believed Baker’s fuel tank was illegal. NASCAR ruled it was legal.

1969: LeeRoy Yarbrough came back from being a lap down with 30 laps to go, survived a three-car incident with Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough to win at Darlington.

1975: In his 50th Cup Series start, Darrell Waltrip claimed his first career win in a race at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Waltrip triumphed after Cale Yarborough blew an engine on Lap 321 of 420. Waltrip beat Benny Parsons by two laps.

1997: In a caution-free race at Talladega, Mark Martin led 47 of 188 laps and beat Dale Earnhardt for his second and final Cup points win on a superspeedway.

2014: Ryan Blaney made his Cup Series debut at Kansas Speedway. In a race won by Jeff Gordon, Blaney started 21st and finished 27th.

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.