‘If you need to throw down, throw down’: The 1979 Daytona 500 40 years later

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This weekend’s Daytona 500 means “one of the high points of NASCAR” for Richard Petty is getting its yearly workout on the highlight reels.

That is the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, a race that helped launch NASCAR into the mainstream and has been a defining moment over the last 40 years.

With much of the East Coast trapped indoors due to a snow storm, a large audience tuned in to the first live, flag-to-flag broadcast of the “Great American Race” on CBS.

“Wasn’t but three TV stations at that particular time,” Richard Petty said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “If you was going to watch TV, then the racing was probably what people were watching.”

With Ken Squier calling the action, viewers saw race leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough wreck on the backstretch, half a lap from the checkered flag.

Petty, who was running in third, assumed the lead and won his sixth Daytona 500. But as Petty drove to Victory Lane, Squier jumped in with an important news bulletin: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers are overflowing, they’re angry, they know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.”

The fight in the Turn 3 grass, which included Donnie Allison’s brother, Bobby Allison, may have been bitter at the time, but proved immensely positive for fueling NASCAR’s growth.

“You come down to the last lap, you see the rednecks come out in the racing part of it,” Petty said. “It was a perfect storm the way it wound up, with the weather, the way the race ended. … It couldn’t have been a better footstep for NASCAR at that particular time.”

Four decades later, few Cup stars were even alive for that race. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were 3, Jamie McMurray was 2, Ryan Newman was 14 months old and Kurt Busch was born six months earlier.

What do some drivers who were born after 1979 think of the moment they’ve only known through highlights?

Here’s a few thoughts from Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day.

Denny Hamlin (Born November 1980) – “I just see what every other person saw on TV. I’m always interested to hear how it all happened. When they cut away for a while talking to other drivers and commentating on things happening, they kind of caught it mid-fight. Who did the shoving first? I think it’s important because it really was the defining moment of when the biggest audience was watching NASCAR and so they latched onto that, and that was something people really loved.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (October 1987) – “It’s cool. If you need to throw down, throw down.”

Austin Dillon (April 1990) – “I’ve probably been seeing that clip for a long time since I’ve been watching a lot of Daytona 500s. I don’t know what my first clip would be, but I guess understanding it, understanding it and how important it was to our sport, I was probably 12, 13 when I really kind of got it, 14. …

“There’s a lot of things throughout history and sports that don’t pertain necessarily to the sport that were important to the sport. You know, it’s huge because it’s entertainment, and that’s what we’re trying to do is entertain fans, and the moment we get away from that, we lose our fans. We need to stay entertaining and that’s a part of it.”

Joey Logano (May 1990) – “That’s the biggest race of the year.  Whether it’s now or then, it was a big deal to win the Daytona 500 and it still will be, and it is. They play (the highlight) every year about five or six times, so I’m sure I was a little guy the first time I saw it.”

Kyle Larson (July 1992) – “I guess you see it in highlight films all the time. So I feel like that moment is something that helped grow NASCAR at the time. But yeah, when I drive through (the tunnel to the infield), I don’t think about the fight. But no, it was definitely a moment that will live on in NASCAR’s history.”

William Byron (November 1997) – “I’m so young, I wasn’t around for a lot of that. I guess, like, growing up watching honestly Jimmie (Johnson) and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) win races at the 500, then watching Kevin Harvick win (in) 2007. Those are the races that stick in my mind.

“I’m trying to make memories of myself. It’s cool to see some of that stuff come around full circle.”

Some of the drivers were asked if it was possible for such a moment to happen again to the sport.

Hamlin said it “Definitely can.”

“Sometimes it happens in the motorhome lot, it’s not on the backstretch,” he said.

They also happen on pit road, as Larson pointed out.

Kyle Busch tried to punch Logano in the face a couple of years ago (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), so yeah … it could happen.”

 

Long: In a time of change, some things remain the same at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They’ve reconvened in Daytona International Speedway’s infield, some back for a fifth year, others a 10th and still others for more, to watch cars go around in circles.

Their flags pledge loyalties to Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, celebrating days gone by. Other flags wave for Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and reigning series champ Joey Logano.

New or old, fans have returned for Sunday’s Daytona 500, which will held among a swirl of changes.

The season starts with talk of rules that debut next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway and will change how the racing looks. There also have been discussions of a new look for 2020 and beyond. Schedule changes are expected next year, even more in 2021 – when the Gen 7 car is projected to premiere.

The dawn of a new season and what is coming has reinvigorated a garage beaten down the past couple of years. Jim France is now in charge and he’s in the garage, a marked change from Brian France’s approach.

Seeing Jim France each weekend gives those who work in the garage optimism. How long it lasts depends on what changes the sanctioning body make.

For fans, it’s all about what the racing looks like.

That’s a lot left to be desired at Daytona so far. Asked if he thought the racing had been good this week, Richard Petty said: “No, I don’t.”

His comment came before Saturday’s Xfinity race won by Michael Annett, who led the final 45 laps. It was great win for Annett personally but the single-file racing frustrated some fans and left them to wonder how Daytona could turn into a high-speed conga line.

“I don’t know what’s going on with the high line becoming just so clearly dominant,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after watching JR Motorsports win the season-opening Xfinity race for the fourth time in the last six years. “To listen to the drivers and to watch what happened (Saturday) in the race, it doesn’t seem like it’s entirely by choice that they all ride up there, it’s by necessity.”

Fans saw that same type of racing in the Clash and both qualifying races during Speedweeks. What often was missing in those events were things Clint Bowyer says are important to make a good race.

“Moments,” Bowyer said this week. “No different than when I go to a football game. The Super Bowl sucked and I am a football fan. Again, you go watch the (Kansas City) Chiefs games, I was lucky enough to be a Chiefs fan this year and it was a highlight reel one after another with (quarterback Patrick) Mahomes and (Tyreek) Hill.

“I don’t know, there wasn’t a highlight the whole Super Bowl in my opinion. It was a snoozer. Was it an extremely challenging game in other eyes, yes. I guarantee you there are football gods out there saying it was the best game in the history of football. To me, there weren’t enough moments.

“You have to have good passing, side-by-side (racing), changes for the lead, cautions – I don’t want a caution because that means somebody has wrecked or had a problem but there are so many things that go into adding up to those moments. Us drivers, you have to be in a situation that you can make the most of.

“Again, without a caution at the end of some of these restrictor-plate tracks, we may not have those moments. Sometimes all it takes is a caution to make that moment that someone takes to the office the next (day) to say, ‘My gosh, you should have been there and seen that.’ We have to have more of those, no question.”

There is a belief that the racing should be better in the Daytona 500 with a full 40-car field. The Clash had 20 cars and both qualifying races had 21-car fields. There weren’t enough cars to create a competitive second lane, so most ran the high line. That said, Chase Elliott made a number of passes on his own in his qualifying race. Daniel Suarez also tried such moves.

But for all the talk about the racing, some things remain the same. Cup veterans often dominate Speedweeks and have done so this week. Jimmie Johnson won the Clash after contact with Paul Menard. Kevin Harvick and Logano each won their qualifying races. A Hendrick Motorsports car is on the pole for a fifth consecutive year, this time with William Byron.

Maybe things will change Sunday. The Truck Series saw Austin Hill score his first career series win. Then Annett recorded his first career Xfinity win Saturday. 

That’s why fans travel near and far to be at Daytona on a Sunday in February. For all the questions about the racing, for the surprise winners, no one knows what to expect. Just like it has always been at this track.

 

 

NASCAR America: Fans most vital to survival of short tracks

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On the first edition of NASCAR America presents Motormouths, Kyle Petty, AJ Allmendinger and Rutledge Wood fielded phone calls from across the country on a range of topics.

A call from Bill in Dallas, Texas, addressed what NASCAR can do to help ensure the survival of local short tracks.

“What makes a short track work is not necessarily NASCAR,” Petty said. “It’s the fans. It’s the fans that come out to that grassroots racing. That’s where the Richard Pettys came from, that’s where the Dale Earnhardt Sr.s came from. That’s where the Jeff Gordons came from. … We all came from a short track somewhere to find our way to the upper level. But it’s the fans. If a track doesn’t make it, it’s not because of NASCAR.  It’s because of the fans.”

Allmendinger believes something helpful NASCAR can do is promote short tracks that are in the vicinity of where the national series compete each weekend.

Watch the above video for more fan calls and analyst discussion.

NASCAR commercials that deserve to be in Hall of Fame

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Hello and welcome to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

I’ll be your guide as you take a tour of the museum’s newest wing – the Michael Waltrip “I’m at the wrong track” Advertising Hall of Excellence.*

Yes, it’s a mouth-full, but here in NASCAR we’re no stranger to saying a lot in Victory Lane to pay the bills.

And that’s what this exhibit is dedicated to – excellent examples of NASCAR and its teams paying the bills that also entertained loyal fans during breaks in the TV action.

Now, enjoy your trip through this loving look at some of NASCAR’s best commercial campaigns., and remember to watch the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

*This isn’t real, but it should be.

Newman!

Aside from last season’s NASCAR Fantasy commercial, there’s a severe lack of ad campaigns these days that feature multiple drivers from separate teams and showcase their personalities all in one place. But back in the 2000s the Gillette Young Guns campaign was the standard-bearer for such a concept. Oh, and John Cena was in one.

How Bad Have You Got It?

How do you advertise NASCAR in an entertaining way without including a single shot of a stock car, a track or a NASCAR driver? Via the heightened reality of the “How Bad Have You Got It?” campaign.

The series is helped by depicting the actions of one man and his NASCAR addicted family over a majority of the ads.

Personal favorite: spraying champagne at a wedding anniversary.

Ride Along Program

During NASCAR’s 50th anniversary in 1998, this ESPN campaign featured multiple Cup drivers giving “rides” in the back of their cars to celebrities and actors playing every day people (with their dogs and their weasel collections).

Personal favorite: Richard Petty trying to commandeer his son Kyle’s ride after a bout of back-seat driving.

Honorable Mentions

Dale Jarrett and the UPS Truck

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and “Dale Call”

“Dreamin'” with Kasey Kahne

What are your favorite NASCAR commercial campaigns? Share in the comments or on social media at  and on Facebook.

Richard Petty’s grandson, Thad Moffitt, to make Daytona debut in ARCA season opener

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Thad Moffitt, the 18-year-old grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty, will make his Daytona International Speedway debut in the ARCA Racing Series season-opening race on February 9.

Moffitt, who has eight previous ARCA starts over the last two seasons, will compete in the Lucas Oil 200 Driven By General Tire. He’ll pilot the No. 46 Performance Plus Motor Oil Chevrolet in a car prepared by Empire Racing Group (ERG).

Thad Moffitt

Moffitt’s first start at Daytona will also mark the 40th anniversary of uncle and NBC Sports NASCAR analyst Kyle Petty’s ARCA debut at Daytona (his first stock car race start), which ended with a victory.

“This is Daytona, and it means so much to my family,” Moffitt said in a media release. “Testing last year just gave me that desire to race here. I know what Uncle Kyle did in his first ARCA start here – he won the race.

“It would be amazing to accomplish that same feat 40 years later. We had a good test session and I have more experience in the draft, too. I’m ready to go and look forward to that green flag coming down.”

Moffitt recently took part in an ARCA test at Daytona in preparation for his first start at the legendary track where his grandfather earned 10 wins in 74 career starts, including capturing the Daytona 500 seven times. Moffitt also went through last year’s preseason ARCA test at Daytona, but was too young to compete in the race.

“Growing up, I went to Daytona every February and July,” Moffitt said. “I loved watching the ’43’ race and watching Uncle Kyle. It’s cool to finally have my turn. Daytona is a big part of our family history. It started with my great grandfather, Lee, and has been passed down. It feels like a rite of passage to race at Daytona. I’m ready to start our race season in February.”

Moffitt’s best ARCA finish to date has been 10th at Toledo last season. He will make select starts in the No. 46 through the course of the series’ 20-race season.

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