NASCAR launches Strictly Stock series

Sunday, June 19, 1949 – After one season of sanctioning Modified races around the country, NASCAR launches its Strictly Stock series. The inaugural 200-lap event was contested at Charlotte (N.C.) Speedway, a three-quarter mile dirt track. Local racer Glenn Dunaway was flagged the winner, however he was later disqualified for having altered rear springs on his ’47 Ford. As a result, the series’ first victory was awarded to Kansas native Jim Roper.

Roper, who completed only 197 of the race’s 200 laps, had learned of the inaugural event when he saw it mentioned in the nationally syndicated comic strip Smilin’ Jack.

Attendance for the race was estimated at 13,000.

Nine different makes of automobiles were featured.

The 33-car lineup was set via qualifying. Bob Flock was the series’ first pole winner.

Six future NASCAR Hall of Fame members competed in the race: Red Byron, Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, Buck Baker, Lee Petty and Herb Thomas.

Roper made only one more start in the series, finishing 15th later that year at Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, N.C.

The race was the first of eight for the inaugural season; the track hosted 12 races in what is now the Cup series as well as three convertible series events.

Admission was $2 (infield), $3 (grandstand) and $4 (reserved grandstand).

Labonte wins again, Waltrip fined

Sunday, June 18, 1995 – Three weeks after winning for the first time in the NASCAR premier series, Bobby Labonte returns to the winner’s circle with a victory in the Miller Genuine Draft 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the No. 18 Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing beat runner-up Jeff Gordon by 0.27 second.

Labonte is one of 12 drivers who won in their third start following their first career victory. He had earned win No. 1 the previous month when he captured the Coca-Cola 600.

It was the fourth career victory for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization.

Gordon had passed Labonte for the lead with just 17 laps remaining in the 200-lap affair. Labonte regained the lead for the final time four laps later.

Rusty Wallace, John Andretti and Morgan Shepherd completed the top five.

A battle for position in the closing laps spilled over onto pit road following the race when Michael Waltrip punched fellow driver Lake Speed while Speed was still inside his car. A day after the incident, NASCAR fined Waltrip $10,000. Speed finished 11th in the race, Waltrip 12th. “He’s 6-3, 210 pounds,” Speed said the following day during a break in testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I didn’t even lower my visor let alone take off my helmet.” Waltrip, while accepting the NASCAR decision to levy a fine, said he felt “this fine is a little steep for what I did.”

Geoff Bodine was fined $5,000 by NASCAR for ignoring a black flag after hitting the wall with less than 10 laps remaining. NASCAR officials stopped scoring the owner/driver with three laps remaining.

Long before pickups, they raced semis

Sunday, June 17, 1979 – While NASCAR’s premier series was in Michigan, the trucks were racing in Atlanta. The big rigs, that is. Atlanta International Raceway, later to become Atlanta Motor Speedway, hosted the first Bobtail Champion 200 race for semis. Mike Adams of Seneca, S.C., picked up the inaugural victory when the first- and second-place entries suffered misfortune inside the final five laps of the 132-lap race.

The series, which went through several owners and evolutions during the next decade, was originally run by the American Truck Racing Association.

Estimated attendance for the race was 18,500.

Actual race footage from the Atlanta event was used in the opening for the movie “Smokey and the Bandit II.”

The day after the race, ATRA officials announced their organization would begin sanctioning short-track stock car races in the southeast. The group was headed up by former NASCAR employee Pete Keller.

NASCAR would eventually add its’ own truck series beginning in 1995.

Donnie gets first, Allisons 1-2 at the Rock

Sunday, June 16, 1968 – Donnie Allison, making just his 29th start in NASCAR’s premier series, collected his first career victory when he survived the heat and attrition that plagued the Carolina 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, N.C. The 28-year-old, driving the No. 27 Ford fielded by Banjo Matthews, finished with a two-lap lead over older brother Bobby Allison. Only 14 of the 44 cars that started the 500-mile race were running at the finish.

James Hylton, Richard Brickhouse and Roy Tyner finished third through fifth. It was the first NASCAR start for Brickhouse.

Dave Marcis posted his first career top-10 finish with his 10th-place run.

Track temps were in excess of 140 degrees during the race. Richard Petty fell out due to mechanical woes but eventually returned to the race in relief of Darel Dieringer. Buck Baker gave up his wheel for a relief driver and Charlie Glotzbach was replaced by Paul Goldsmith.

According to at least one report, Petty briefly passed out when dousing himself with a water hose after climbing out of his car. He recovered and went on to replace Dieringer.

The race was originally scheduled for March 10th but was rescheduled due to rain,

It was the first race in which NASCAR required teams to start the race on the same tires on which they had qualified. Previously teams would qualify with softer compound tires which were faster for a shorter period of time, then switch to a harder compound for the race.

Elliott ends skid with MIS victory

Sunday, June 15, 1986 – Bill Elliott, winner of 11 races the previous season, scores his first NASCAR Cup Series win of ’86 with a victory in the Miller American 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The victory ended a 14-race skid for the Dawsonville, Ga.-based racer. Elliott made the winning pass with five laps remaining when he overtook Harry Gant. It was the 16th win of his career and fourth on the 2-mile MIS layout.

Gant, the runner-up, was racing a week after sustaining injuries in the waning laps at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Also injured in the Pocono crash was veteran independent driver Buddy Arrington.

Rick Baldwin, driving in place of Arrington at MIS, was critically injured when his entry slammed into the wall while attempting to qualify. Baldwin remained in a coma for 11 years before passing in 1997.

Richard Petty was honored in pre-race for making what was said to be his 1,000th career start in the Cup Series. Daughters Lisa, Rebecca and Sharon gave the command to start engines twice – first for their father and then for the remainder of the field. However, Petty actually reached the milestone start three weeks later when the series visited Daytona International Speedway. The mistake was due to Petty being credited with a non-points start in 1959.

Petty wins, loses after father’s protest

Sunday, June 14, 1959 – Richard Petty’s first victory in NASCAR’s premier series lasted approximately one hour. That’s how long it took for his father Lee to protest the final results and for officials to rule in the elder Petty’s favor, giving Lee the win at Lakewood Speedway and dropping his once-again winless son into second place.

Richard Petty, competing in a convertible, was making his 17th start in the series and his second start at Lakewood, a 1-mile dirt oval located outside Atlanta.

It was career win No. 42 for Lee Petty, who would go on to capture a third series championship that season. “I lapped Richard twice when he was in the pits,” Lee Petty told reporters afterward. “He’s my boy and I’d love to see him win a race, but when he wins one I want him to earn it.”

Rumors suggested Lee Petty convinced officials of the scoring error in order to collect a bonus for winning with a current-year model car. Lee was driving a ’59 Plymouth, Richard a ’57 Oldsmobile.

The 150-mile race was stopped briefly after 50 laps when dust from the track made visibility nearly impossible. According to reports, fans were so angered by the delay they tossed rocks at the pace car before the race could resume.

Track conditions forced NASCAR to cancel qualifying and instead had drivers draw for starting positions. That move also angered fans and was just one reason track promoter Carl Queen issued an apology afterward.

The race was the 11th and final for NASCAR’s premier series at the facility.

Trailing Lee and Richard Petty across the finish line in third through fifth were Buck Baker, Curtis Turner and Tom Pistone.

Keller’s second win is first for Jaguar

Sunday, June 13, 1954 – Al Keller’s second and final win in the NASCAR premier series was a first for a foreign manufacturer as the New York native piloted a Jaguar to the victory at Linden (N.J.) Airport. Joe Eubanks (Hudson) finished second and was the only other driver on the lead lap. It was the second NASCAR event to allow foreign-made cars.

Keller made just 29 starts in NASCAR, eventually working his way into open-wheel competition. His first victory on the stock-car circuit had come months earlier, at Oglethorpe Speedway in Savannah, Ga. He drove a ’54 Hudson to the win in that race.

Foreign-built cars had also competed in 1953 at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway; Dick Allwine’s sixth-place finish in a Jaguar was tops for a foreign entry until Keller’s win.

The 50-lap race, which took place on a 2-mile layout, is considered NASCAR’s first contested on a road course.

Attendance was listed at 5,000 for the first and only race to be held at the airport venue.

Keller’s car was owned by prominent big band leader Paul Whiteman. Junior Johnson (’54, 55) and Gwyn Staley (’54) also made starts in Whiteman-owned entries.

Twenty-one of the 43 cars in the starting lineup were foreign-built: 12 Jaguars, two Austin Healeys, five MGs, one Porsche and one Morgan.

Keller competed for several seasons in open wheel and made six starts in the Indianapolis 500 with a best finish of fifth in 1961.

Keller was 41 when he died from injuries sustained in a crash during the Bobby Ball Memorial race in November of ’61 at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Ariz.

Wallace shuts down Riverside with victory

Sunday, June 12, 1988 – Rusty Wallace will forever be the last driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race at Riverside International Raceway as he outran Terry Labonte, Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt in a four-lap shootout to capture the Budweiser 400, the final NASCAR race to be held at the 2.62-mile road course. The track, which hosted its first NASCAR premier series race in 1958, was closed and a shopping mall was eventually built on the site.

It was the fifth career win for Wallace, driver of the Raymond Beadle-owned Blue Max Racing Pontiac, and the first of six he would score in ’88. It was also his third road course win and second in a row at Riverside.

A NASCAR error nearly cost Wallace the victory – when the caution flag appeared for a spin by Ken Schrader with eight laps remaining, the pace car mistakenly picked up the leaders before they had a chance to race back to the start/finish line (allowed at that time). Wallace and Rudd slowed; Earnhardt and Phil Parsons shot by both drivers and the pace car and rushed back to the line. Officials realized the error and corrected it by placing Earnhardt and Parsons behind Wallace and Rudd before the final restart with four laps remaining.

There was a 25-minute red flag period after driver Ruben Garcia crashed through a guard rail, chain fence and cement wall, finally coming to rest just short of a seating area for spectators. Neither Garcia nor any fans were injured in the incident.

NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick qualified 13th and finished 15th. Hendrick pitted during the race’s second caution and turned the driving duties over to road-course specialist Elliot Forbes-Robinson. It was Hendrick’s second, and final, Cup start.

Officials announced a crowd of more than 75,000 for the final race at the southern California road course.

While Wallace holds the mark as the final NASCAR race winner, Rudd holds the qualifying record, having set the mark of 118.484 mph during qualifying for the final race.

Morgan Shepherd filled in for Harry Gant in the Mach 1 Racing Chevrolet owned by movie director and stuntman Hal Needham. Gant was recovering from a broken leg sustained in a crash during the Coca-Cola 600.

Parsons adds road course win to resume

Sunday, June 11, 1978 – Benny Parsons, who won a Daytona 500 in 1972 and a premier series championship in ’73, finally won on a road course when he outlasted the competition to capture the NAPA 400 at Riverside International Raceway. The win came in Parsons’ 17th attempt at the 2.62-mile layout.

Parsons, 36, drove his L.G. DeWitt-owned Monte Carlo to the front, passing Bobby Allison with 16 laps remaining in the 95-lap affair. It was his third win of the year, coming on the heels of victories at Richmond, Va. and Darlington, S.C.

Parsons’ pit crew was the same group pitting the No. 11 Oldsmobile fielded by Junior Johnson and driven by Cale Yarborough. Parsons asked for the help in an effort to save money by not bringing additional crewmen on the trip.

Yarborough, the No. 2 qualifier, led 47 laps, most of anyone. However, he was penalized 30 seconds by NASCAR for improper pitting – he used an illegal shortcut to get to pit road after suffering a flat tire.

Runner-up Richard Petty saw his winless streak reach 28 races at Riverside. The six-time series champion had not won since the July Daytona race of the previous season.

Hershel McGriff won a sportsman/modified combo race, the Warner W. Hodgdon 200, contested earlier that day at Riverside. McGriff then came back to finish 17th in the Cup event.

What to make of Biffle’s Texas victory

Waiting on a Monday race and wondering what to make of Greg Biffle’s win in the Truck Series race at Texas on Friday night …

Obviously, Biffle hasn’t forgotten how to win races – no surprise there since he has won multiple races across all three NASCAR national series and championships in Xfinity and Truck series.

When he stepped away from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of the 2016 season, Biffle had won 19 times in the Cup series, 20 times in the Xfinity Series and 16 times in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. The championships came in 2000 in Truck and ’02 in Xfinity.

The idea that the Vancouver, Wash., native could become the first driver to win championships in all three series was not farfetched but it didn’t happen.

Biffle is now 49 and if you’ve followed NASCAR for any length of time you ought to know that age isn’t a factor when it comes to competitiveness.

It had been more than two years since his last NASCAR start, though, and that probably said more than the fact he’s nearly 50. It would have come as no surprise had he appeared a bit rusty behind the wheel.

Still, he won Friday’s 400 at Texas Motor Speedway and winning any race is no easy feat. It was a race of attrition and a race of survival and Biffle wasn’t dominant but in a race that featured 13 cautions, dominance wasn’t required.

As good as Biffle remains, however, Friday night’s victory would seem to say more about the KBM equipment at his disposal. Kyle Busch Motorsports puts together winning trucks. The organization has extremely capable talent beyond those folks sitting in the driver’s seat.

Biffle is the 11th different driver to win for KBM since 2010 – all but Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson are currently competing or have competed at the Cup level.

Busch himself won five times in five starts this year with the same team but is it farfetched for the owner/driver to expect similar results from drivers with far less experience? And we’re no longer talking about Biffle here.

Busch is Busch and Todd Gilliland is not. And Harrison Burton is not. Gilliland and Burton drive for KBM. Gilliland is 19 and Burton is 18 and together they’ve made fewer than 60 starts in the series.

Busch has nearly as many wins (56).

Busch has previously indicated that drivers in his trucks are expected to contend and to win.

Days before the Texas stop, KBM announced crew chief moves that included putting Wes Ward in charge of the No. 4 truck driven by Gilliland at Texas.

Gilliland, Friday night’s pole winner, led 31 laps but wound up 27th after getting into the wall. He has one top-five and four top-10 finishes this year and is ninth in points.

Burton finished fifth; it was his third top five and fifth top 10. He’s eighth in points.

It’s difficult to judge a driver’s ability when competing in average equipment. But that’s not the case here.

Maybe those are unrealistic expectations for anyone else but not for Busch.

And Biffle’s quick success no doubt only strengthened the team owner’s contention.