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How Austin Dillon’s first two Cup wins stack up against other drivers

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It took Austin Dillon until his fourth full-time season to finally visit victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series.

In his 133rd start, in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, the Richard Childress Racing driver took his first trip to victory lane.

Dillon only needed 24 more races to make a return visit, winning Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The 27-year-old driver claimed victories in two of NASCAR’s crown jewel events to begin his climb up the all-time wins list.

How do those two victories compare to the initial set of wins for other notable drivers throughout NASCAR history?

David Pearson

The second winningest driver in Cup history and a NASCAR Hall of Famer, Pearson also got his first victory in NASCAR’s longest race on May 26, 1961, beating Fireball Roberts and Rex White.

Win No. 2 came two months later in the July race at Daytona, the Firecracker 250.

Jeff Gordon in victory lane following the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 1994 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon

In his second full-time season in 1994, Gordon went to victory lane for the first time in the Coca-Cola 600. It came in his 42nd start in the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Two months later, Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was his first of five victories at the track located minutes away from his hometown of Pittsboro.

Bobby Labonte

If you can’t tell, Charlotte Motor Speedway has been kind to drivers looking for their first Cup win.

A year after Gordon won the Coke 600, Labonte followed with his own victory in the race. Driving the No. 18 for JGR, he won over his brother Terry.

Bobby Labonte’s second win came at Michigan International Speedway in June 1995.

Matt Kenseth

As a rookie in 2000, the former Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing driver claimed his first Cup win in the Coke 600, beating Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt. It was in his 18th start (his first was in 1998).

Kenseth’s second win came in the spring 2002 race at Rockingham.

Terry Labonte

The two-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer claimed his first victory in the 1980 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

He only led the final two laps and had to pass Pearson at the start-finish line in a race back to the caution.

Labonte’s second win came three years later at Rockingham.

Sterling Marlin

Marlin made his first Cup start in 1976 at Nashville Speedway.

But his first visit to victory lane didn’t come until 18 year later in the 1994 Daytona 500.  The win was in Marlin’s 279th start.

His second win came a year later – in the Daytona 500. Marlin is the last driver to win the “Great American Race” in consecutive years.

Michael Waltrip

Waltrip had a lot more starts before achieving his first Cup win – 462. In start 463, Waltrip won the 2001 Daytona 500 for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

He didn’t have to wait quite as long to get win No. 2. That came in July 2002 in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. All four of Waltrip’s Cup wins came at restrictor-plate tracks.

Dale Jarrett

The NASCAR Hall of Famer and NBC Sports analyst also took awhile to get his first victory. After eight years and 129 starts, Jarrett got his first victory in a photo finish over Davey Allison at Michigan while driving for Wood Brothers Racing.

Two years later, Jarrett returned to victory lane in the Daytona 500 in one of the most iconic finishes in NASCAR history, beating Dale Earnhardt to deliver Joe Gibbs Racing its first NASCAR win.

Jamie McMurray

It only took two starts for McMurray to get his first win.

Substituting for an injured Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 car, McMurray won the fall 2002 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He wouldn’t win again until 2007.

In a common theme with this look back, win No. 2 took place at Daytona. Driving for Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray won the Pepsi 400 by .005 seconds over Kyle Busch.

 

Daytona 500 victory 50 years in the making for Austin Dillon’s tire changer

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — The younger members of Austin Dillon’s team, full of adrenaline-fueled energy and excitement, celebrated their Daytona 500 victory Sunday with a late-night visit to a tattoo parlor to permanently etch their achievement on their rear end.

Terry Spalding didn’t make it that far. It was time to turn in.

That’s OK, Sunday was a big enough day for the 50-year-old front tire changer, who experienced his first Daytona 500 win.

Yes, Spalding is 50 years old and changes tires for a Cup playoff team. Age alone gives him a different perspective on the Daytona 500 victory.

“I’m really able to appreciate it,’’ Spalding told NBC Sports. “I’ve been doing it 20-some years. Only since I’ve been at RCR in the last seven or eight years have I really been able to win the races that I won.’’

Dillon says Spalding doesn’t need a Daytona 500 ring to note how special he is.

“Terry is just a champion in life, period,’’ Dillon said. 

Spalding grew up the son of a racer in Pennsylvania and moved to North Carolina to pursue a job in the sport in 1990 — the same year Dillon was born.

Along the way, Spalding has worked in Cup for car owners such as Travis Carter, Ray Evernham, Richard Petty, Michael Waltrip, Richard Childress. Spalding has gone over the wall to service cars for drivers such as Jimmy Spencer, Elliott Sadler, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Dillon.

Spalding went to in Victory Lane at Indianapolis in 2011 when Paul Menard won. Spalding was in Victory Lane last year when Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600.

That he is still going over the wall is a feat considering the radical changes for pit crew this season. With NASCAR eliminating one of the over-the-wall positions, pit crew members are having to redefine their roles. Those that haven’t adjusted as well have lost jobs or been dropped down a series. Spalding’s duties have changed. He now carries a 60-pound tire with along with his air gun.

He’s always managed to adjust through the years. When he turned 40, he often was asked how much longer would he wanted to change tires. He randomly said 50. It’s a nice round number. Realistically, as pit crews have become more athletic and younger — many are in their 20s — that seemed like a pipe dream.

Now that he’s 50, how much longer will he go?

“I feel as good as I did when I was 40,’’ Spalding said. “I thought about when I can’t go over the wall anymore, starting to coach.’’

He’s got to find time. He plays in the same basketball league Denny Hamlin hosts at his house that includes Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney and others. In recent years, Spalding competed in slalom ski races. He’s also played in a roller hockey league. He’s competed in mountain bike races.

“I still go in the weight room, I don’t hit it as hard as I used to,’’ Spalding said. “I like to do things … and stay active that way.’’

He’s not ready to quit any time soon.

“I want to go as long as I can,’’  he said. Barring some freak injury, I honestly think 55 is no problem.’’ 

That would be at least five more Daytona 500s.

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A special night for Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains soured by competitor’s comments

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TALLADEGA, Alabama — Sixteen years later, the sting and anger remain with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The night of one of his greatest triumphs in NASCAR — if not his greatest — remains soured by questions that all was not legit when he won the July Daytona race, the first Cup race there since his father’s fatal crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

While Earnhardt celebrated his win that July night, Jimmy Spencer raised doubts about the legitimacy of the emotional victory.

“I knew going in that the 8 car (Earnhardt) was going to win this race,’’ Spencer said after the event. “Something was fictitious and he was really fast the other night. They were fast down here in February. It’s not ironic that the 8 car would win with what happened here in February.’’

A few days later, Earnhardt challenged those comments: “It’s really bothered me pretty bad. That’s like the biggest race of my career. That was my biggest win. Aside from the wins that I had when my father was there, that is going to be a day that I’ll always remember. For somebody to question its credibility, question my credibility, I feel like that’s a slap in my face, a slap in my father’s face and a slap in (crew chief) Tony Eury’s face.

“I never drove any harder in my life. I went out there and got the lead and I was blocking all night long.’’

Even now, Earnhardt can’t forget Spencer’s comments.

When Earnhardt sees Spencer’s diecast cars in the office of a JR Motorsports employee, Earnhardt’s thoughts return to what Spencer suggested.

“I see those diecasts, that’s the only thing that I think about,’’ Earnhardt said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. “So it bothers me today. A lot of times, myself included, you don’t think before you speak, but that was an incredible night for us in 2001 when we won that race. I just felt like even if he did feel that way, I was disappointed that he would do that and say that.

“For us to come back here the next race and win and have success over the next several years was sort of was like “Hey, it wasn’t a one-race fluke or illegal car, that’s just how good our program was at the plate tracks.’’

Earnhardt’s victory came during a three-plus season stretch of dominance by Dale Earnhardt Inc. The team won 10 of 13 restrictor-plate races between the 2001 Daytona 500 (won by DEI’s Michael Waltrip) and the 2004 Daytona 500 (won by Earnhardt).

Spencer wasn’t the only driver who seemed to raise questions about Earnhardt’s win in the July Daytona race. After the race, Johnny Benson said: “You don’t go by yourself on the outside and and make that kind of time up. But it’s OK. It was good that Junior won.’’

Earnhardt told the New York Times he received apologies from both Spencer and Benson shortly after the event.

“Johnny Benson came up to me, and he was really upset because some of what he said was taken out of context,” Earnhardt told the New York Times. “Spencer pretty much blatantly said what he said.’’

Nothing has changed for Earnhardt since.

“Of course, you know it’s Jimmy Spencer, it’s the kind of thing he does,’’ Earnhardt said. “I never really liked that too much and haven’t forgotten about. It’s hard to forget something like that.

“It was nice to keep winning and show people that that was legit. That was like for me, that’s the stuff movies are made of, to come back after you dad passes away and win that race was the greatest thing that I could imagine happening for me or anyone else, all his fans, all our family.’’

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Michael Waltrip finds family he befriended hours before Las Vegas tragedy (UPDATE)

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Michael Waltrip joined in the chorus of voices from the NASCAR community in sending out thoughts and prayers to the victims of Sunday night’s horrific tragedy in Las Vegas.

But Waltrip’s thoughts and written words were much more poignant and hit home a lot more because he had originally planned on attending the Route 91 concert’s final night, a show that featured country music stars Big and Rich, Jake Owen and the main headliner, Jason Aldean — who was onstage when the shooting began.

Waltrip decided to skip the concert and went to bed early in his Las Vegas hotel, not far from the Mandalay Bay, only to be awoken by a phone call from his frantic daughter, checking to make sure he was okay after news of the shooting broke.

Still in Las Vegas, Waltrip took to Instagram Monday afternoon to recall a chance meeting with a fan and father Sunday morning who sought a photo of Waltrip with his family, as they were in Las Vegas and planned to attend that evening’s concert to celebrate his daughter’s 21st birthday.

Waltrip had been in Las Vegas for the Fox Sports 1 telecast of the Camping World Truck Series race Saturday night. Now he’s wondering if the father, daughter and the rest of the family he met earlier in the day are okay.

Tuesday, Waltrip provided an update:

Read Waltrip’s touching and heartfelt Instagram post:

Yesterday morning in Las Vegas, at the MGM, I met a man who was a fan. He asked me if it was ok if his daughter took a photo of us. They were in Vegas celebrating her 21st birthday. The whole family was in town, wife and sister too. Daughter was happy and excited to be headed to the concert. Route 91 was the reason she chose Vegas for her 21st. As they walked off I smiled and I was a bit sad too. My daughter Macy turned 20 just a couple days before and I couldn’t be with her. His daddy daughter time made me a bit envious. At 4:45 this morning I was awaken by my phone ringing. It was Macy. ‘Are you ok dad?’ She asked. I was. I didn’t attend the concert as I had planned to. I called it an early night. After we shared our ‘I love yous’ and hung up the phone the first thing I thought of was the dad I met with his daughter. I prayed they were ok. I have no way of knowing if they are safe or not. I can’t stop thinking about them. So much joy, such beautiful family time and then….. This is my personal story to the unthinkable attack last night. I know there are many more who are hurting. I pray for everyone. To the first responders that helped save lives and comfort the hurting, thank you. Your courage and commitment is amazing. I appreciate each and everyone of you. My heart hurts for all who were effected by the horrific tragedy. I pray for everyone involved. Fortunately, friends that I know who were there are all physically ok. The emotional scars will likely never heal. To the father I met who was doing what every dad dreams of, being with his girl celebrating a significant moment I will do all I can, pray.

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Spencer Gallagher sporting Michael Waltrip’s rookie scheme for Xfinity Darlington race

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Spencer Gallagher‘s first Xfinity Series start at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 2 on NBCSN) will be in a car with Michael Waltrip‘s rookie Cup Series paint scheme.

The GMS Racing driver’s No. 23 Chevrolet will look like the No. 23 Pontiac Waltrip drove in 1986 when he was sponsored by Hawaiian Punch.

“I am really excited about being a part of the throwback weekend at Darlington,” Gallagher said in a press release. “I have always looked up to Michael so getting the opportunity to honor him is an amazing feeling. He has done a lot for this sport and to be able to bring back some memories and history for him and the fans is really exciting.”

Now an analyst for Fox Sports, Waltrip drove in the Cup series from 1985-2017. He earned four wins, including two Daytona 500 victories. He made his last start in this season’s Daytona 500.

He also made 279 starts in the Xfinity Series earning 11 wins from 1988-2011. One of those was at Darlington in 1992.

“I love the throwback weekend at Darlington,” Waltrip said in a press release. “I’m honored that Spencer is racing my rookie year scheme. I came into NASCAR with a ton of energy, enthusiasm and appreciation for the sport and Spencer (Gallagher) is the same way. He will love every minute of racing at Darlington. Just like I did.”

Gallagher is currently 19th in the points standings after 20 races. His best finish so far is 10th at Richmond.

MORE: Southern 500 throwback paint schemes