today in nascar history

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

March 27 in NASCAR history: Cale Yarborough’s show car wins at Atlanta

Cale Yarborough
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Four races into the 1983 NASCAR Cup Series season and Cale Yarborough was batting .500.

In those four races – the Daytona 500, Richmond, Rockingham and Atlanta – the three-time champion had won twice.

And he’d earned both those wins in backup cars.

He’d won the Daytona 500 on a last-laps pass in a quickly prepared LeMans after he’d flipped his primary car the week before in qualifying.

Two races later, at Rockingham, Yarborough was involved in a wreck with Neil Bonnett after leading 161 laps. That car was the same one his team had intended to take to the March 27 race at Atlanta.

Instead, the car Yarborough showed up with in Atlanta and beat Bonnett for the victory was another backup car. And not just any backup car.

“We had to pull a show car out of a mall to race,” Yarborough said after the race according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

Yarborough won four times in 1983. The Atlanta win and his ensuing win at Michigan came after he started 41st and 37th.

Also on this date:

1960: Lee Petty bumped his way by Junior Johnson with 14 laps to go and won a race at North Wilkesboro to claim his 49th career Cup win, passing Herb Thomas for the most all-time. Fans were not pleased with how Johnson, a native of North Wilkesboro, lost. According to “NASCAR: The Complete History,” they showered Petty with rocks and debris as he celebrated in victory lane.

1977: Cale Yarborough celebrated his 38th birthday with a dominating win at North Wilkesboro. He led 320 of 400 laps and beat Richard Petty and Benny Parsons.

1988: Darlington Raceway hasn’t been the site of too many upset Cup Series wins, but it was 1988. Lake Speed, then 40, dominated to win the TranSouth 500 by 18.8 seconds over Alan Kulwicki. Speed, who made 402 Cup starts between 1980-98, led 178 of 367 laps. Speed, Kulwicki and third-place finisher Davey Allison were the only drivers on the lead lap.

2004: Martin Truex Jr. led 134 of 250 laps at Bristol and won his first career Xfinity Series race and his first national NASCAR series race. Truex, the 2004 and 2005 Xfinity champion, would have to wait 15 more years to capture his first short-track win in the Cup Series, in 2019 at Richmond.

2011: Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson on the last lap to win the Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.

March 26 in NASCAR History: Matt Kenseth turns Jeff Gordon, Gordon shoves back

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Bristol Motor Speedway is used to fireworks, and the Food City 500 on March 26, 2006, was no exception.

It began with five laps to go with Matt Kenseth leading Kurt Busch, winner of four of the last eight Bristol races.

Busch, in Team Penske’s No. 2 Ford, got into Kenseth’s rear bumper, causing Kenseth to get wicked sideways and letting Busch rocket by as Kenseth fell to third in front of Jeff Gordon.

With two laps to go, Gordon got Kenseth loose exiting Turn 4 and passed him.

As they raced through Turns 1 and 2 on the last lap, Kenseth returned the favor and sent Gordon into a spin.

Meanwhile, Busch outran Kevin Harvick to the take the checkered flag.

During the cool-down lap, Kenseth showed his own displeasure by quickly driving up to Busch and veering toward him, but not making contact.

Then, as Busch performed snow angels on the frontstretch (it had snowed in the area that weekend), Gordon exited his car with his helmet still on, made a beeline for Kenseth and gave him a hard shove.

“Kenseth got shuffled out and you know, he’s holding guys up,” Gordon told Fox. “I got to him a couple times and showed my nose and he shut the door on me. The next time I got the opportunity I definitely moved him, but I didn’t wreck him. We went down into (Turn) 1 afterwards and he just wrecked me. I’m sure he didn’t mean to do it and all that stuff, but I wasn’t happy about it and I showed it to him after the race. … That stuff rarely ever happens with him. I’m going to give back to him what he gives to me.”

Also on this date:

1955: Fonty Flock, driving a No. 14 car owned by Frank Christian, won a premier series race at Columbia Speedway in Cayce, South Carolina. Flock became the first driver to win a race for Chevrolet in NASCAR’s top series.

1961: Bob Burdick only made 15 Cup Series starts in his career, but he left an impression. At Atlanta this year, Burdick led 44 of 334 laps to score an upset win. According to “NASCAR: The Complete History,” he did so in an unsponsored Pontiac car on used tires and with an inexperienced crew in the pits. He beat Rex White and Ralph Earnhardt.

1972: After making up seven seconds in the last 30 laps, Bobby Allison beat A.J. Foyt by about five car lengths to win at Atlanta. Allison earned Chevrolet’s first win on a speedway since 1963. Allison raced for Junior Johnson, who won that 1963 race at Charlotte.

1995:  After 314 career Cup Series starts, Sterling Marlin earned his first win on a non-restrictor plate track with a victory at Darlington. His first two Cup wins were back-to-back in the Daytona 500 in 1994-95.

2000: Rusty Wallace claimed his eighth career win at Bristol, which also marked his 50th Cup Series win.

March 25 in NASCAR history: Car of Tomorrow makes debut

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After years of development with the intention of making stock car racing safer, NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” or the Gen 5 car if you’re into that – made its debut on the Cup Series stage on March 25, 2007 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The race featured a thrilling green-white-checkered finish, as Kyle Busch held off Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon to win the Food City 500.

Then Busch, who’d led the final 20 laps, thew water on NASCAR’s new toy after the usual post-race interview pleasantries.

“I’m still not a big of these things,” Busch told Fox. “I can’t stand to drive them, they suck.”

Busch and the rest of the Cup Series would be stuck with that generation of car, and its ugly rear wing for a few more years. After rolling out full-time in 2008, the “Car of Tomorrow” stuck around through the 2012 season.

Even today, the well intentioned car leaves a bad taste for some.

Also on this date:

1973: Cale Yarborough led all 500 laps to claim a Cup win at Bristol Motor Speedway. For Yarborough, it was his first Cup win since returning to NASCAR full-time after two years spent competing in USAC Champ Cars. Yarborough finished two laps ahead of second-place finisher Richard Petty.

March 24 in NASCAR History: Buddy Baker breaks 200 mph barrier

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Earlier this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500 with a qualifying speed of 194.582 mph.

That’s fast.

But that’s how fast today’s Cup Series cars go on superspeedways with tapered spacers restricting engines.

On this day 50 years ago, Buddy Baker got to go really fast.

On Tuesday, March 24, 1970, Baker strapped into a blue Dodge Daytona during a tire test at Talladega Superspeedway, the largest oval track in NASCAR. During the test, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed circuit.

His fastest lap around the 2.66-mile oval was recorded at 200.447 mph.

“Gosh, it’s the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in a long, long time,” Baker said after the test. “This is something nobody can ever take from you, being the first guy to run 200 mph on a close course circuit. Gosh, I’m just tickled to death.”

Baker said when you’re going 200 mph, the track’s high-banked turns “feels just like it’s flat. Because it takes every bit of the banking to run this speed. ”

Of course, stock cars would only get faster over the ensuing decades.

By 1987, Bill Elliott would establish the qualifying speed records at Daytona (210.364 mph) and Talladega (212.809 mph).

In 1988, following a violent Bobby Allison wreck at Talladega in 1987, NASCAR instituted restrictor plates for races at Daytona and Talladega. They’d be used through the 2019 Daytona 500 before being replaced by tapered spacers.

Other tracks have seen the 200 mph qualifying barrier broken since then, but we’ll likely never see it again at Daytona and Talladega.

UPDATE: According to allpar.com, Larry Rathgeb, the Chrysler engineer who led the test session to reach the 200 mph barrier, died Sunday as a result of the coronavirus.

Also on this date:

1991: Kenny Wallace, the younger brother to Rusty and Mike Wallace, won his first career Xfinity Series race at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Florida. The series would make its fourth and final visit to the half-mile track the next year.

2002: Kurt Busch executed a bump-and-run on Jimmy Spencer with 56 laps to go to take the lead in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch led the rest of the way, surviving a restart with 15 laps to go, and scored his first Cup Series win. Busch would win three of the next four Cup races at Bristol.