Another first for Gordon

Sunday, June 22, 1997 – Jeff Gordon helped usher in another era of NASCAR competition in Southern California, winning the inaugural California 500 at California Speedway. It marked the seventh win of the season in just 15 starts for the 25-year-old phenom and one-time series champion.

The first-ever race at the 2-mile Roger Penske-owned facility ended in a fuel mileage battle with Gordon barely having enough to finish the race and drive to victory lane. Mark Martin was forced to stop for fuel while leading after passing Gordon with 17 laps remaining. Gordon beat teammate Terry Labonte to the finish line by 1.074 seconds.

Gordon was the first driver to win at three different tracks when they became part of the NASCAR premier series schedule: he was the first to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in ’94, the first to win at California and four years later the first to win when the series visited Kansas Speedway.

While the series had been competing in northern California at Sonoma Raceway since 1989, racing had been absent from southern California for almost a decade following the closing of Riverside International Raceway in ’88. Ontario Motor Speedway, located much closer, had been shuttered in 1980.

The first race at California Speedway, which was built on the grounds of the old Kaiser steel mill, drew an estimated crowd of 89,000.

Labonte, Ricky Rudd, Ted Musgrave and Jimmy Spencer completed the top five.

Joe Nemechek won the first NASCAR premier series pole at the speedway. Three drivers – Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace and Billy Standridge – failed to qualify.  

Driver Robby Gordon, still dealing with burns suffered in an Indy 500 crash, hit the wall during qualifying at California and failed to receive clearance from doctors to continue competing. The SABCO Racing driver was replaced for the race by Greg Sacks.

Rexford’s lone win in championship season

May 30, 1950 – Bill Rexford won for the first and only time in a NASCAR premier series event when he captured the Poor Man’s 150 at Canfield (Ohio) Speedway. The victory came in Rexford’s eighth start in the series. He was piloting the No. 60 Oldsmobile of owner Julian Buesink.

Rexford would go on to win the championship in 1950 although he never won another NASCAR race. He was the first driver to win the title while winning only once during that season. Ned Jarrett (1961), Benny Parsons (’73) and Matt Kenseth (’03) also claimed championships during one-win seasons.

Lee Petty was stripped of 809 points earned during the first half of the season by NASCAR president William France, costing him a shot at the title. Petty had competed in non-NASCAR sanctioned events during a break in the summer schedule. NASCAR also penalized defending series champion Red Byron for a similar infraction.

The race’s name, the Poor Man’s 150, came about as it was run on the same day as the more popular, and more lucrative, Indianapolis 500.

Elliott sizzles at Talladega with record lap

Friday, April 30, 1987 – Bill Elliott didn’t go as fast as many had predicted but the Dawsonville, Ga. native still managed to win the pole with the fastest qualifying lap ever run in NASCAR. Elliott toured the 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 44.998 seconds for an average speed of 212.809 mph to break his own track qualifying record set the previous year (212.229 mph).

The Winston 500 pole was Elliott’s third of the season and his fifth consecutive pole at the Alabama track.

Temperatures in the 90-degree range slowed qualifying speeds – most expected Elliott to run as fast as 215 had conditions been cooler. In testing earlier that year, Elliott had run an unofficial fast lap of 214.206 mph,

Bobby Allison and Davey Allison qualified second and third, respectively, while Darrell Waltrip (fourth) and Dale Earnhardt (fifth) completed the top five.

Thirty-two years after his accomplishment, Elliott’s pole winning speed remains the fastest official qualifying lap ever turned in NASCAR.

A Pearson victory and a controversy

Sunday, April 29, 1973 – The Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway was your typical exciting short-track race, ending with David Pearson in victory lane following a lengthy late-race duel with Cale Yarborough. The pair battled for the top spot for more than 50 laps before Yarborough spun his No. 11 Chevrolet, leaving Pearson to sail away in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. But it was a caution on lap 374 of the 500-lap race that left Yarborough and team manager Junior Johnson feeling robbed.

NASCAR officials threw the caution flag to allow an ambulance to exit the track and transport a heart attack victim to a local hospital. Pearson, two laps down earlier in the race, got back on the lead lap when the yellow appeared and after Yarborough had pitted under green moments earlier. Johnson said teams weren’t told the yellow was going to come out and the move “cost us that race.”

The victory was Pearson’s first at Martinsville, one of 11 victories in only 16 starts that season for the Spartanburg, S.C. native.

Yarborough, who led 314 laps, managed to finish second in spite of his late-race spin. Bobby Isaac, Buddy Baker and Cecil Gordon completed the top five.

That’s a lot of lead changes

Sunday, April 17, 2011 – Jimmie Johnson passed Jeff Gordon for the 88th lead change, tying a series record, on the final lap of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. There had also been 88 lead changes the previous year at Talladega.

Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick finished first through fifth. It was Johnson’s 54th career victory in NASCAR’s premier series.

There were five lead changes in the final five laps of the 188-lap race with Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Edwards, Gordon and Johnson moving to the point.

Twenty-six of the 43 drivers in the starting lineup led at least one lap. Bowyer led the most at 38.

At 2.66 miles, Talladega is the longest track on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

A pole and a punch for Bodine

Friday, April 16, 1993 – Brett Bodine sped to the fourth pole of his career, taking the top spot for the First Union 400 NASCAR Cup race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. Moments later, he was involved in an altercation with fellow driver Ricky Rudd in the garage.

Rudd was angry about to contact between the two drivers two weeks earlier at Bristol Motor Speedway. Bodine said he told Rudd he didn’t want to discuss that incident until Rudd had seen a replay. Rudd, he said, told him his pole run was “nice,” but that he would be “in the fence” in the race.

“We’re not children,” Bodine said. “… If you can’t control your emotions any better than that out of the race car you don’t belong in a race car.”

NASCAR officials met with the two drivers the following day but took no action.

Bodine’s older brother, Geoff, qualified on the outside of the front row for the North Wilkesboro race.

Running the numbers after Richmond

Where to begin? Another win by a Joe Gibbs Racing team?

That’s six in the season’s first nine races as Martin Truex Jr. joins teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin in the win column.

Maybe as NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series heads into its first break, the story isn’t how good JGR has been out of the gate but how others have struggled.

Chevrolet teams are now 0-for-9 and that will continue to be an issue. Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 marked the first time all season that a Chevrolet driver failed to lead at least one lap. The last time that happened was last fall’s stop at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway).

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch has been the most consistent of Chevy drivers, finishing inside the top 10 on six occasions.

Ford has a stellar lineup but thus far only Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have struck pay dirt, winning the three races that JGR somehow overlooked.

Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t been invisible – Kevin Harvick is fourth in points, Clint Bowyer seemed in contention for wins at Bristol and Richmond while Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez are 11th and 12th in points, respectively. But there’s nothing in the win column yet.

Saturday’s win was No. 20 for Truex, tying him with Speedy Thompson for 41st overall on the NASCAR Cup win list. Thompson’s last victory came at Richmond in 1960.

There are more Richmond tie-ins: Jeremy Mayfield, Carl Edwards and now Truex all won at Richmond with the No. 19. The first of Mayfield’s two victories in the No. 19 (for Evernham Motorsports) came at Richmond in ’04; it was the final race of the “regular” season and catapulted the driver into that year’s Chase.

Truex is the fourth different driver to win a Cup race using the No. 19. The others were John Rostek (Arizona State Fairgrounds in 1960), Mayfield and Edwards.

He is the 10th driver to win a Cup race with JGR, joining Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Hamlin, Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Logano and Edwards.

Besides being the sixth Cup win for Toyota this year, it was win No. 130 for the automaker since it began fielding Cup teams in ’07. Overall, Toyota now has a combined 468 wins in Cup, Xfinity (154) and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series (184).

Kyle Busch picked up his fifth stage win of ’19 at Richmond and the 25th of his career; Logano won a stage for the fourth time this season. Neither total includes final stage (race) wins. Combined with bonus points for race wins, Busch has already earned 20 playoff points.

On Friday, Harvick ended the run of eight different pole winners to start the season. The SHR driver also started out front at Las Vegas.

Got me to wondering who might be in the midst of longest dry spell when it comes to poles. First thought was Ryan Newman, who won poles frequently earlier in his career and has 51 to his credit.

Now competing for Roush Fenway Racing, Newman’s last pole came in 2013.

That’s not the longest among active drivers though.

Clint Bowyer’s last pole came in 2007. It’s one of two for the SHR racer, it came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Bowyer went on to win the race.

Noted in the points standings after nine races: The top two in points are unchanged from this time last season – Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. Fourth and fifth are the same as well – Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. So four of the top five are 2018 all over again. What are the odds of that being the case?

Likewise for Aric Almirola (11th) and Austin Dillon (14th).

Several others in the top 16 are within a position or two of their points position a year ago – Truex and Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

An Xfinity note: Tyler Reddick won the Xfinity championship last year with JR Motorsports and while he hasn’t won a race yet since switching to Richard Childress Racing, Reddick is your points leader through eight races. Says something about the driver and the team.

Christopher Bell (2), Cole Custer (2) and Michael Annett are your series regulars in victory lane so far and they’re second, third and seventh in points.

And along those lines … was reminded last week that the success for Cup teams winning this year shouldn’t come as a surprise since rules packages have slowly made Cup entries more similar to their Xfinity brethren (or so we’ve been told). And which teams have been dominant in Xfinity in recent years?

NASCAR takes a break for the Easter holiday this weekend; next up will be Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Cup and Xfinity teams April 27-28. The Truck Series will be back on track at Dover (Del.) International Speedway May 3.

Schrader first to establish NASCAR mark

Saturday, April 15, 1995 – NASCAR competitor Ken Schrader became the first driver to register wins in all three of NASCAR’s national series when he claimed the Craftsman 200 Truck Series race at Saugus (Calif.) Speedway. The Fenton, Mo., native had earned his first Cup win in 1988 and won in the Busch (now XFINITY) Series the following season.

Schrader had to overcome a penalty for rough driving early in the 200-lap race; he eventually moved to the front when leader Butch Miller and Joe Ruttman tangled.

At the start of the 2019 NASCAR season, 28 drivers had won at least one race in all three series, the most recent being Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon.

NASCAR adds Indy to ’94 Cup schedule

Wed., April 14, 1993 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials announce the legendary track will host a 400-mile race for NASCAR’s premier series Aug. 6, 1994. It will mark the first time any type of racing other than the annual Indianapolis 500 for open-wheel entries has been contested on the 2.5-mile speedway.

Nine NASCAR teams had tested at Indy the previous year (1993) as NASCAR and Indy officials considered the move.

The inaugural Brickyard 400 was scheduled for 400 miles to avoid overshadowing the 500 and to fit into a 3-hour time slot for broadcast purposes. It was scheduled as a Saturday event, leaving Sunday as a potential rain date should one be required.

Pearson’s final win comes at Darlington

Sunday, April 13, 1980 – No rust was evident for David Pearson as the Silver Fox from Spartanburg, S.C., made a triumphant return to NASCAR’s premier series, winning the CRC Chemicals Rebel 300 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. It was the three-time champion’s first start in the series since winning the Southern 500 Labor Day classic on the same track the previous year.

The victory was No. 105 for Pearson, driver of the No. 1 Hoss Ellington-owned Chevrolet, and was his last in NASCAR’s top series. He was the second driver to top 100 victories and currently remains second on the all-time win list behind Richard Petty (200 wins). He ended his racing career with a Darlington track record 10 victories.

The race was stopped after 258 of the 367 scheduled laps had been completed due to darkness. Earlier, the race had been delayed for 2 hr., 18 min., because of rain. Pearson led a race-high 99 circuits around the 1.366-mile track.

Pole winner Benny Parsons, Harry Gant, Darrell Waltrip and Dick Brooks completed the top five.