Terry Labonte

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

Cup Series Wednesday night racing factoids

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Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we live in strange times.

It’s forced NASCAR to make seemingly unprecedented scheduling decisions that see the sport attempting to hold four Cup Series races in 11 days, with the second scheduled to take place tonight at Darlington. A third is set for Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway followed by another Charlotte race on May 27.

While this all seems new, such a compact schedule is simply a throwback to NASCAR’s past, which is appropriate for Darlington.

The last time the Cup Series had four races in 11 days was in 1971, the year before NASCAR’s Modern Era began. That season the Cup Series held 48 races.

From July 14-28, the series competed at Albany-Saratoga (N.Y) Speedway, Islip (N.Y) Speedway, Trenton (N.J.) Speedway and Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. Richard Petty won all four races. Only Albany-Saratoga, a dirt track, and Fairgrounds Speedway still exist.

Should tonight’s Darlington race not be rained out, it would be the 34th Cup race held on a Wednesday, but the first since 1984.

That race was the July 4 event held at Daytona that Richard Petty won for his 200th career victory. The last Wednesday race held somewhere other than Daytona was the 1971 race at Albany-Saratoga.

Other Wednesday/Darlington racing factoids:

– Nineteen drivers have earned victories in races held on Wednesdays. Ten of them are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

– The drivers with the most Wednesday victories are Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett with five each.

– This would be the first time that Darlington, Charlotte (May 27) and Martinsville (June 10) would host a Cup Series race on a Wednesday.

– The starting lineup of tonight’s race features an inversion of the top-20 finishers from Sunday’s race. Since 2000, the only driver to start a Darlington race from 15th-20th and win was Erik Jones in last year’s Southern 500 (he started 15th).

– Jones has yet to finish outside the top 10 in four Cup starts at Darlington

– Only three drivers in the Modern Era (since 1972) have earned their first Cup win at Darlington: Terry Labonte (1980), Lake Speed (1988) and Regan Smith (2011). Speed’s and Smith’s wins were their only Cup victories.

– In the Modern Era, Darlington has seen only three last-lap passes for the win. The last came in 2003 (Ricky Craven).

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.

May 2 in NASCAR: Junior Johnson win angers ‘Yankee’ Dick Hutcherson

Dick Hutcherson
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It had been 100 years and a couple of weeks since the American Civil War had ended, but Dick Hutcherson was made so mad by the end of the May 2, 1965 race at Bristol Motor Speedway, he felt the need to invoke it.

“I may be a damn Yankee, but I’ll always believe I won this race. No one will ever convince me I didn’t,” Hutcherson said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Big Bucks and Boycotts.”

“I think Robert E. Lee’s grandson was scoring the race,” he added.

They were strong remarks for Hutcherson, who was a native of Iowa.

The cause of his anger was that Junior Johnson, a native of North Carolina, had been declared the winner of the 500-lap race on the half-mile track. Hutcherson was scored as finishing second.

Johnson had gone a lap-and-a-half down when he lost a tire 265 laps into the race. Then he needed relief from Fred Lorenzen for 147 laps. After returning to the race, Johnson spent 117 laps making up time and then took the lead with 62 laps to go.

Hutcherson believed he had a one-lap lead before Johnson’s final driver change and a two-lap lead afterward.

“At the finish, Johnson was just barely back in the lead lap,” Hutcherson said.

After going over the scoring cards with NASCAR’s chief scorer, Joe Epton, Hutcherson’s co-owner, Ralph Moody, was content with the results.

Also on this date:

1954: Herb Thomas won a Grand National race at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway by one lap for his fifth win in the first 10 races of the season. The top five was swept by drivers in Hudson Hornets.

1971: After Buddy Baker passed Donnie Allison 11 laps from the finish and Allison’s engine expired a lap later, Baker went on to claim the win at Darlington by seven laps over Dick Brooks. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Big Bucks and Boycotts,” the race was the final one for the pairing of David Pearson and the Holman-Moody team. They split over a dispute about how much appearance money Pearson would receive for the May 16 race at Talladega.

1982: With drafting help from Terry Labonte, Darrell Waltrip passed Benny Parsons on the last lap to win the Winston 500 at Talladega.

1993: In a two-lap shootout following a red flag for rain at Talladega, Ernie Irvan went from fourth to first to claim the win. As the field approached the checkered flag, contact from Dale Earnhardt sent Rusty Wallace into a violent tumble that gave him a broken wrist, a concussion and a chipped tooth.

April 24 in NASCAR: Terry Labonte gets Xfinity win in photo finish

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On April 24, 1999, NASCAR had to go to the video tape to determine who won the Xfinity Series race at Talladega.

According to The Associated Press, NASCAR asked potential winners Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek to park their cars outside Victory Lane as it reviewed footage of their photo finish moments earlier.

Labonte had been third when the last lap began and he pulled even with Nemechek on the outside as they entered Turn 3 and raced back to the finish line.

NASCAR ruled Labonte won by .002 seconds. He only led the final lap of the 113-lap event.

Terry Labonte edges Joe Nemechek by .002 seconds to win the Xfinity race at Talladega on April 24, 1999 (Screenshot).

Labonte’s win, which came in a car with a backup engine, was his 11th and final Xfinity Series victory.

“I told them on the radio ‘I don’t know if I won or not, but it was close,'” Labonte told ABC Sports. “I’ve been in some close finishes here, but not that close.”

Also on this date:

1960: Lee Petty earned his 50th Grand National win in a shortened race at Asheville-Weaverville (N.C) Speedway. The race was ended by NASCAR after 167 laps due to hazardous conditions on the half-mile track’s paved surface, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”

1977: Cale Yarborough won a rain-shortened race at Martinsville for his fifth win in nine starts to begin the season. … Future Cup Series crew chief Paul Wolfe was born.

1983: Darrell Waltrip outran four other cars in a nine-lap shootout to win at Martinsville. Tim Richmond led 58 laps before he was held for five laps by NASCAR after his team put left-side tires on the right side. Ricky Rudd was fined $1,500 by NASCAR after repeatedly slamming into Joe Ruttman’s car on the cool down lap and on pit road, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

1999: Dale Earnhardt passed Rusty Wallace coming to the checkered flag to win race No. 2 of the International Race of Champions season. Earnhardt led only the last lap, just like in his IROC win earlier that year in February at Daytona.

2016: Carl Edwards performed a bump-and-run on teammate Kyle Busch in the final turn to win at Richmond.