Ward Burton

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 8 in NASCAR: Matt Kenseth gets Darlington Xfinity win after Kyle Busch cuts tire

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It was Kyle Busch‘s race to lose and he lost it under caution.

On May 8, 2009, Busch dominated the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway, starting from the pole and leading 143 laps.

But Busch’s chances at a victory ended in a whimper.

Busch led when the caution came out on Lap 147 of 153 for a wreck between Joe Nemechek and Scott Lagasse, Jr.

As the field slowly made its way around the 1.366-mile track, Busch’s No. 18 car drove through debris from the wreck on the backstretch.

The team soon realized Busch’s right-rear tire was going down.

After a few more circuits of the track, Busch was forced to bring his car to pit road. That gave Matt Kenseth the lead as Busch returned to the track in 18th.

Kenseth wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the lead very long. Moments after the field took the green flag as part of a green-white-checkered finish, Morgan Shepherd crashed into the inside wall on the frontstretch, bringing out the caution and effectively ending the race.

It gave Kenseth the win, his only Xfinity victory in 15 starts in 2009.

Also on this date:

1955: Tim Flock completed a marathon of running in two races in two states on back-to-back days. After finishing second in a 100-mile race at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway, Flock took the private plane of team owner Carl Kiekhaefer and flew to Arizona. At Fairgrounds Raceway in Phoenix, Flock started second and led all 100 laps on the 1-mile dirt track to claim the win over Marvin Panch. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning,” Panch was able to compete in the race due to receiving a weekend pass from the U.S. Army. After competing in the following weekend’s race in Tucson, he wouldn’t race again until July.

1976: Cale Yarborough led all but 22 laps to win the Music City 420 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. An 18-year-old Sterling Marlin made his first of 748 Cup Series starts. He started last and fell out after 55 laps due to an oil pump failure.

1982: Darrell Waltrip led all but one of 420 laps to win at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. It was his fifth win in the first 10 races.

1993: Ward Burton led 227 of 300 laps to beat Bobby Labonte in a Xfinity Series race at Martinsville. It was his only national NASCAR victory in his home state of Virginia.

2004: Martin Truex Jr. led 123 laps and won the Xfinity Series race at Gateway International Raceway. He was joined by two other “Juniors” in the top five. Ron Hornaday Jr. placed second and Bobby Hamilton Jr. finished fourth.

 

May 1 in NASCAR: Greg Biffle beats oil, heat and gas problems for Xfinity win

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Greg Biffle didn’t anticipate having to pit with 10 laps to go in the May 1, 2004 Busch (Xfinity) Series race at Auto Club Speedway, but he did so while running second to his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth.

“I saw the fuel pressure jump around a bit,” Biffle said according to The Associated Press. “The last two Busch Series races here, I could have won, but I ran out of gas or had to pit for gas and nobody else did. It was a flashback.”

The potential fuel pressure issue piled on to problems his No. 60 team had during the 150-lap race.

The team had to add 3 1/2 quarts of oil to the car throughout the event due to a mystery oil pressure problem.

Then with 50 laps to go, Biffle’s cooling system malfunctioned. The race was being held in 90-degree heat.

“It was like somebody flipped a switch and I had a hair dryer in my face,” Biffle said.

Biffle executed a fast pit stop on Lap 140 for his splash of gas, but returned to the track in eighth place, nearly a lap behind Kenesth.

But over the next few laps every driver in front of him had to pit for fuel.

Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick each stalled as they tried exiting their pit boxes after their stops.

“That explains it, I didn’t know how I got so far ahead of those guys,” Biffle said.

Biffle took the lead with three laps to go and cruised to the checkered flag for his second win of the year.

Also on this date:

1955: Buck Baker won a 133-lap race at the Charlotte Speedway dirt track. During the race, Herb Thomas was in a violent wreck on Lap 41 that saw him thrown from his car, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.” Thomas was taken to the hospital with a fractured leg, bruises, a concussion, a lacerated arm and shoulder injuries.

1964: LeeRoy Yarbrough capitalized on Jimmy Pardue’s mechanical failures to claim his first of 14 career Grand National wins in a race at Savannah (Georgia) Speedway.

1983: Richard Petty edged Benny Parsons by a couple of car lengths to win at Talladega for his 197th Cup Series win. Phil Parsons, making his second career start, was involved in a horrific 11-car crash on Lap 71 where he flipped multiple times in Turns 1-2, including landing on the back of Ricky Rudd’s car. After being pulled from his car by photographers located near the crash, Parsons was taken to the hospital with a broken shoulder blade.

1988: Five years after his violent wreck, Phil Parsons led 52 of 188 laps to score his only career Cup Series win out of 203 starts.

1993: Ward Burton led twice for 259 of 300 laps to win a Xfinity Series race at Orange County (N.C.) Speedway.

April 18 in NASCAR: John Andretti’s spectacular Martinsville drive

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No greater authority than Richard Petty, a winner at Martinsville Speedway a record 15 times himself, put the seal of approval on John Andretti’s stirring Cup win at the historic half-mile track on April 18, 1999.

“It looked like the good old times,” Petty said.

Andretti overcame an early spin that put him a lap down and charged past Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton in the final laps to win. Andretti completed a sweep for Petty Enterprises that weekend after Jimmy Hensley won the Truck race for the team the day before. Andretti’s win marked the first Cup victory for Petty Enterprises at Martinsville in 20 years.

Andretti started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap and began working his way through the field.

A key moment came when the field pitted on Lap 383 of the 500-lap race. Andretti entered 11th and exited fourth after taking two tires. He trailed only Gordon, Mark Martin and Burton.

“I’d been begging for (two tires) all day because I wanted track position, and I wanted to get up there and fight,” Andretti said that day.

Said Gordon afterward: “I’m sure he didn’t take two tires at the end. There’s no way.”

Andretti was third with 50 laps to go, trailing only Gordon and Burton. Andretti passed Gordon for second with 12 laps to go. That left only Andretti’s close friend, Burton, for the win. Andretti charged while ignoring a vibration with the car.

Andretti ran underneath Burton on Lap 494 and they ran side by side for much of two laps before Andretti got by.

“I’ll never forget coming around and taking the checkered flag at Martinsville,” Andretti said that day.

Andretti died Jan. 30 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 56.

Also on this date:

1954: Herb Thomas won at Hillsboro, North Carolina, one of a series-high 12 victories he scored that season.

1960: Glen Wood led all 200 laps to score the victory at Bowman Gray Stadium, marking the first win for Wood Brothers Racing in what would become the Cup Series.

1970: Richard Petty led the final 349 laps to win the Gwyn Staley 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. He was the only driver to complete all 400 laps.

1982: Dale Earnhardt scored the first of his nine career wins at Darlington Raceway.

2009: Mark Martin won at Phoenix, tallying his third victory in the first eight races of the season. He went on to win five times and finish second in the points.

‘No blood, sweat or tears’ in iRacing, but there still are tempers

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It was going to happen at some point.

With four laps left to the scheduled distance in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a virtual Texas Motor Speedway, Timmy Hill performed a bump-and-run on William Byron that led to Hill’s win in the race.

It left Byron, an experienced iRacing driver like Hill, “pissed off” for about three hours after the event. Through the first two events of the Pro Invitational, Byron had led the most laps in both and failed to win.

“I was so mad,” Byron said on this week’s episode of the “Door Bumper Clear” podcast. “Everyone was like, ‘You’re taking it too serious!’ I’m like, ‘Everybody’s taking it serious, we’re racing.’ After about three hours of sitting on the couch, I was ‘Ok, I’m fine now.’ We’ll see what happens.”

Adding to Hill’s winning move, one that even temporarily angered a competitor, was the race that it preceded: Bristol Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox and FS1).

Yes, the next digital track the Pro Invitational iRacing Series will visit is the half-mile track in “Thunder Valley.”

The track that, in real life, caused Ward Burton to throw his heel guards at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car in 2002.

The track that saw Tony Stewart heave his helmet in anger at Matt Kenseth’s car in 2012.

That Bristol.

With all that in mind, could fans see Byron attempt to execute some revenge against Hill, like Daniel Suarez tried to do against Ty Dillon last weekend?

“The damage model would kill my front end just like it would at Watkins Glen (where Byron tried to retaliate against Kyle Busch last year),” Byron said on “Door Bumper Clear.” “So I’m going to avoid that. I also got a little advice, don’t do it so obvious that (you) do it like Suarez did, where they kick you out of the race. I got to be careful about it. If (Hill’s) holding me up, I guess we’ll take care of it, I don’t know, we’ll see. He always races good.”

After his win, Hill said “(Byron will) probably still be mad probably for the next coming weeks. Even though this is iRacing, it is virtual, the feelings are real.”

Bubba Wallace thinks the tempers of drivers will “for sure” flare up as the digital series continues and competition ramps up.

“At the end of the day, we’re all competitors,” Wallace said Tuesday in a teleconference. “It’s funny, I can sit there and try to become third perspective for a second while I’m driving, and be like ‘Man, we’re taking it super serious’. But at the end of the day, I hope the next time we interact with somebody in real life, that’s not going to carry over. It would be like ‘Hey man, you wrecked me on iRacing’. But it’s like, ‘Cool bro, you had a reset button. Did you get hurt? Did it cost you any money?’. No, so at the end of the day, it’s a video game and there’s no blood, sweat or tears.”

Wallace did acknowledge that those who compete on iRacing “do put a lot of time into it” and that to have “somebody wreck you out or cost you a race is frustrating.”

While there might not be “blood, sweat or tears” in an iRacing event held on the high-banks of Bristol, Wallace explained it will have its share of challenges for competitors.

“Bristol is going to be tough,” Wallace said. “You can kind of get away with it in real life … you hit the wall, you’re cutting a tire quick. But (in iRacing), it depends on where you hit with the car, it really affects your performance pretty bad. So, it’s going to be tough. There are going to be a lot of close quarters racing. The guys on the bottom may have a little bit of an advantage because it’s so easy to get in contact. … There’s definitely going to have to be a lot of give and take.”