A first for Earnhardt Jr.

Sunday, April 2, 2000 – Third generation racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his first career win in the NASCAR Cup Series with his victory in the DirecTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The win came in just his 12th career start at the Cup level. Earnhardt Jr. finished nearly six seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Burton.

Prior to his move to Cup, Earnhardt Jr. was a two-time champion in what is known today as the NASCAR XFINITY Series. His father, Dale Earnhardt, won in his 16th career start and won seven Cup championships before his death in Feb., 2001. Grandfather Ralph Earnhardt was a multi-time track champion in the Carolinas and made 51 starts in the premier series during his racing career.

Although he had two victories that season, Earnhardt Jr. was beaten out by Matt Kenseth for Rookie of the Year honors.

Earnhardt Jr. retired from full-time competition at the close of 2017 with 26 victories, 149 top-five and 149 top-10 finishes in 631 starts. He was named the series’ most popular driver for 15 consecutive seasons.

Texas Postscript

NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said Monday morning that the sanctioning body may revert back to single-car qualifying for some events after problems cropped up at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday.  

“If we have to go back to single-car (qualifying) … we’ll do that,” O’Donnell said during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR’s “The Morning Drive” program. “It won’t be popular, probably, with some of the owners but unfortunately we’re getting put in this position.”

Group qualifying had not been an issue until the 2019 rules package debuted with its less horsepower and more downforce on larger tracks (1.5-miles and above). The package allows teams to draft on the bigger tracks, which in turn makes being the first car out a disadvantage.

As a result, drivers have sat in their cars on pit road, waiting until the last possible moment before attempting a qualifying lap. At Auto Club Speedway, none of the 12 drivers in the final round posted an official lap. At Texas, there were other issues as well although each of the 12 in the final round were able to post at least one lap before time expired.

“I think it’s ridiculous, candidly,” O’Donnell said. “I know the drivers did not like this qualifying (format) that we were going to do before the season so part of you says, ‘Are we (teams) doing this on purpose … to get rid of it?’ I know it can be done.”

O Donnell went on to say that NASCAR will “react to it.”

“We’ll make the right call and we’ll get it right,” he said. “We don’t want to see cars sitting on pit road for eight minutes. That’s not NASCAR racing and we’ll make the fix there.”

NASCAR already uses a single-car qualifying format at Daytona and Talladega, the series two largest venues.

O’Donnell is executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR.

NASCAR officials took six cars from teams, two from each manufacturer, to take to the wind tunnel for aerodynamic evaluation following Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

That’s not surprising. It’s a normal part of the process as officials with the sanctioning body seek a better understanding of how the aero numbers between the three groups match up.

What was something of a surprise was the cars that were selected. Or those that weren’t.

NASCAR selected the No. 1 of Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing) and the No. 24 of William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports) from the Chevrolet camp and that’s about as good of a representation as you’ll get from those folks these days.

Toyota entries taken, however were the No. 19 of Martin Truex Jr., and the No. 20 of Erik Jones. Neither the No. 18 of Kyle Busch, which has two wins this season and could have won a third time Sunday, nor the No. 11 of Hamlin, which did win Sunday and now also has two victories this year, was chosen.

All four cars race out of the Joe Gibbs Racing shop but clearly the 18 and the 11 have been a cut above the others.

Ford entries chose were the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) and the No. 21 of Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing).

That neither the No. 2 of Brad Keselowski nor 22 of Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was chosen for Ford representation was also puzzling. Even the 12 of teammate Ryan Blaney.

Keselowski and Logano account for the three victories not claimed by Busch or Hamlin this season.

Hamlin’s 33rd career victory tied him with two individuals – Fireball Roberts at No. 23 on the all-time NASCAR win list and Tony Stewart at No. 2 on the JGR win list. Stewart won a pair of Cup titles as well before departing; Hamlin is still seeking his first.

That Hamlin already has two victories says as much about crew chief Chris Gabehart, who replaced Mike Wheeler on top of the pit box for the No. 11 team this season, as it does Hamlin. Gabehart won nine times in the Xfinity Series with drivers Hamlin, Erik Jones and Ryan Preece.

The fifth-place finish for Jimmie Johnson Sunday was his first top-five since last year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. The seven-time series champion started on the pole and led 60 laps.

Kyle Busch didn’t complete the weekend sweep but the JGR racer did win two of three, capturing Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race and Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race. It was his 95th Xfinity Series win and 55th in the Truck series.

NASCAR teams head to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for Saturday’s Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Food City 500. The rules package will be the same as that used at Martinsville two weeks ago – 750 horsepower and no aero ducts on the front of the cars.

Only seven active drivers – Kyle and Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Johnson, Logano, Harvick and Hamlin – have won one or more Cup races at BMS. That’s from a list of 22 current competitors with one or more wins in the series.

Kyle Busch has won two of the last three at BMS while Kyle Larson finished second in both Cup races last season. Larson also led 200 laps in the spring race.

Kulwicki among four killed in crash

Thursday, April 1, 1993 – Defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki was one of four persons aboard a private plane that crashed while en route to Tri-Cities Airport in Blountville, Tenn. There were no survivors. Others aboard the Merlin twin-engine plane were pilot Charlie Campbell; Mark Brooks, son of Hooters of America CEO Robert Brooks; and Dan Duncan, director of sports marketing for the Hooters restaurant chain.

Kulwicki’s No. 7 NASCAR Cup team was sponsored by Hooters and the group had departed Knoxville earlier that evening after Kulwicki wrapped up a sponsor appearance. They were traveling to Bristol for the upcoming weekend’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation, probably cause of the fatal crash was failure of the pilot to follow proper procedures for icing conditions.

Kulwicki had five wins in 208 career starts in the Cup Series. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2019.

Johncock ‘wins’ Atlanta pole

Saturday, March 31, 1973 – Gordon Johncock is awarded the pole for the Atlanta 500 after rain washes out qualifying for the third consecutive day. The Michigan native, piloting the No. 28 Chevrolet for owner Hoss Ellington, had posted the fastest speed on Friday in qualifying before rain forced officials to postpone the remainder of the round.

The determination of the starting lineup drew the ire of many competitors as two different “systems” were employed to fill out the 40-car grid. The names of 17 drivers, determined by NASCAR officials to have the fastest cars, were placed in a hat and drawn individually to set positions 1-17. The remaining drivers’ names were then placed in a hat and drawn to fill positions 18-40.

It was the only pole of Johncock’s NASCAR career, but it isn’t listed as official because time trials were never completed. Johncock, one of several open-wheel racers to also run a limited schedule in NASCAR, made 21 starts in NASCAR’s premier series with a best finish of fourth twice (the Charlotte fall race and July race at Daytona).

Johncock finished 11th at Atlanta. He would go on to win the Indianapolis 500 twice, in 1973 and ’82, and was the USAC series champion in ’76.

NASCAR King dines with King of Jordan

Tuesday, March 30, 1976 – Richard Petty, a six-time champion in NASCAR’s premier series, attended a State dinner at the White House where he dined with King Hussein of Jordan as well as President Gerald Ford.

“Richard was getting real hungry and had to go to the White House to get a little bit to eat off the government,” Lee Petty, Richard’s father, told the media.

The defending series champion, Richard Petty had one win in ’76 at the time of his visit and was among those favored for the upcoming weekend’s race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, where he had 13 career victories.

Also attending the State dinner were heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and jockey Willie Shoemaker.

Trickle and a win for the aged

Saturday, March 29, 1997 – Short-track standout Dick Trickle became the oldest winner in the NASCAR Busch Grand National (now XFINITY) Series when he captured the Galaxy Foods 300 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Trickle was 55 years, five months and three days old. He passed defending series champion Randy LaJoie with 22 laps remaining for the final lead change of the race.

The victory was the first in the series for the Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., native. It came in his 51st start.

A little more than a year after the victory, Trickle would break his own record, winning the Dura-Lube 200 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway at 56 years, 10 months and nine days. It was his final victory in the series.

Trickle, the 1989 Cup series rookie of the year, remains the oldest driver to win a race in one of NASCAR’s national series (Cup, XFINITY and Truck). Harry Gant holds the record in Cup, winning at 52 years, seven months and six days; Joe Ruttman’s win at Pikes Peak in 2001 earned him the title of oldest winner in the Truck Series – he was 56 years, six months and 22 days at the time.

Silver Fox to fill seat for departing Allison

Friday, March 28, 1980 – David Pearson, winner of 104 NASCAR premier series races and two championships, is named to replace Donnie Allison as driver of the No. 1 Hoss Ellington entry just five races into the season. The amicable split left Allison hoping to find a ride with a team competing full-time on the circuit. The Ellington organization was expected to compete in no more than a dozen races, a schedule Pearson finds attractive.

Pearson made nine starts with the Hawaiian Tropic-sponsored team in ’80. He won in his first start with the team, capturing the Rebel 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. It was his 105th and final win in NASCAR’s top series. He also finished second at Daytona that July and second when the series returned to Darlington for the annual Southern 500.

Allison drove for the Ellington organization from 1977 through ’80. He made just three starts in his final season with the team, finishing seventh (Daytona), fifth (Rockingham) and 26th (Atlanta). Four of his 10 career wins came while driving for the team.

For Speed, victory comes at Darlington

Sunday, March 27, 1988 – Lake Speed snapped a 163-race winless streak in the NASCAR premier series when he captured the TranSouth 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The 40-year-old from Jackson, Miss., led 178 of the race’s 367 laps, including the final 48.

Speed raced for several different owners during his Cup career, but his victory came at a time he was competing as an owner/driver. His No. 83 Oldsmobile finished 19 seconds ahead of runner-up Alan Kulwicki.

Prior to his victory, Speed’s best result had been a pair of runner-up finishes, in the 1985 Daytona 500 and ’88 Goodwrench 500 at Rockingham, N.C.

Davey Allison, Bill Elliott and Sterling Marlin completed the top five. Only the top three cars finished on the lead lap.

Speed made 238 more NASCAR starts after his victory but was never able to repeat the feat and return to victory lane. Considered by many one of the series’ most underrated drivers, Speed finished with 16 top-five and 75 top-10 finishes in 402 career premier series starts.

Sweeping changes for NASCAR schedule

A change in the championship venue, a two-fer weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and big moves for the playoff races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series highlight sweeping changes announced by officials with the sanctioning body on Tuesday.

The 23 venues are the same – those might or might not change next year with the end of the five-year contracts between NASCAR and the individual race tracks. But the order in which they fall on the schedule has undergone a major shift.

The 2020 title-determining race, dubbed the Championship 4, previously contested at Homestead-Miami Speedway will now be held at the newly renovated ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

The date of the event, Nov. 8, is also a change with the season officially ending a week earlier.

The Arizona facility, one of 12 NASCAR-sanctioned tracks owned by International Speedway Corp., recently underwent a $172 million renovation.

Homestead will host its lone Cup race March 22.

Cut-off races for the 16-team, 10-race playoffs have also shifted –Darlington will now open the playoffs on Sept. 6 while Bristol’s night race moves to Sept. 19 for the final race of the opening round. Charlotte Motor Speedway will now host the final race of the Round of Eight on its Roval (Oct. 11); and the final race of the third round will now be at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Nov. 1.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said that “fans and the industry as a whole have been vocal about the desire for sweeping changes … and the 2020 slate is a reflection of our efforts to execute against that feedback.”

Meanwhile, Pocono Raceway will hold both of its annual MENCS races on the same weekend – Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28. The 2.5-mile venue has typically had about a five-week window in between its two Cup events.

Other notable movement in the schedule will include:

Daytona will continue to host the season-opening Daytona 500, but the second race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, held in conjunction with the July 4th holiday weekend since 1959, will move to Saturday, Aug. 29 and serve as the final regular-season event.

Atlanta Motor Speedway gets a later date and potential weather break with a move to March 15; Martinsville’s first Cup race will be held on Saturday, May 9, the day before Mother’s Day, and will be contested under the lights; Indianapolis Motor Speedway replaces Daytona as the July 4th holiday weekend race.

The 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Schedule:

Sunday, Feb. 9 – The Clash (Daytona)

Thur., Feb. 13 – Duel at Daytona

Sun., Feb. 16 – Daytona International Speedway

Sun., Feb. 23 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sun., March 1 – Auto Club Speedway

Sun., March 8 – ISM Raceway

Sun., March 15 – Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sun., March 22 – Homestead-Miami Speedway

Sun., March 29 – Texas Motor Speedway

Sun., April 5 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Sun., April 19 – Richmond Raceway

Sun., April 26 – Talladega Superspeedway

Sun., May 3 – Dover International Speedway

Sat., May 9 – Martinsville Speedway

Sat., May 16 – All-Star Race, Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sun., May 24 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sun., May 31 – Kansas Speedway

Sun., June 7 – Michigan International Speedway

Sun., June 14 – Sonoma Raceway

Sun., June 21 – Chicagoland Speedway

Sat., June 27 – Pocono Raceway

Sun., June 28 – Pocono Raceway

Sun., July 5 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Sat., July 11 – Kentucky Speedway

Sun., July 19 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sun., Aug. 9 – Michigan International Speedway

Sun., Aug. 16 – Watkins Glen International

Sun., Aug. 23 – Dover International Speedway

Sat., Aug. 29 – Daytona International Speedway

PLAYOFFS

Opening Round

Sun., Sept. 6 – Darlington Raceway

Sat., Sept. 12 – Richmond Raceway

Sat., Sept. 19 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Second Round

Sun., Sept. 27 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sun., Oct. 4 – Talladega Superspeedway

Sun., Oct. 11 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Third Round

Sun., Oct. 18 – Kansas Speedway

Sun., Oct. 25 – Texas Motor Speedway

Sun., Nov. 1 – Martinsville Speedway

CHAMPIONSHIP

Sun., Nov. 8 – ISM Raceway

A first, and last, for Burdick

Sunday, March 26, 1961 – Bob Burdick, a 24-year-old youngster from Omaha, Neb., outlasted a field of racing’s top drivers to capture the Atlanta 500 for his first NASCAR premier series victory. Burdick, racing for his family-owned team, led 44 laps.

• Defending series champion Rex White finished second while Ralph Earnhardt placed third. Only 13 of the 46 drivers were running at the finish of the 334-lap race.

• Burdick made just 15 career starts at NASCAR’s top level, between 1959 and 1962. He called the Atlanta race a “must-win,” in order for his team to have the finances to continue to compete.

• Two years earlier Burdick had scored an impressive runner-up finish in the legendary Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

• Burdick made just four more starts following the Atlanta victory. His final start came in the 1962 Daytona 500 where he finished 35th, falling out due to a broken crankshaft.