Sabates’ team unloads protest car at Dover

Friday, May 31, 1996 – Kyle Petty and his SABCO Racing teammates unloaded with a new, and yet familiar, paint scheme at Dover International Speedway as the No. 42 Pontiac was painted all black instead of its usual blue and red with yellow piping. The change for the Miller 500 was ordered by team owner Felix Sabates, who was incensed over a multi-lap penalty accessed to the team during the previous week’s running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Petty had been held in the penalty box for five laps at Charlotte following contact with Ted Musgrave during a restart that ignited a multicar crash on the frontstretch. Sabates’ argument with a NASCAR official, which took place on pit road during the caution, resulted in Petty being held two addition laps.

The black color scheme was intentionally painted to look like that used by Richard Childress Racing for its No. 3 Chevrolet with driver Dale Earnhardt.

Sabates said Earnhardt had made similar contact with another driver earlier that season only to have NASCAR officials rule the contact “a racing incident” with no penalty.

In addition to the paint scheme, the phrase “Todo es justo en amor y carreras,” was painted just behind and below the driver’s side window opening. The English translation is ‘Everything is fair in love and careers.’ The team’s pit crew also wore black uniforms at Dover.

The paint schemes might have been somewhat similar at Dover, but the finishing results were not: Earnhardt finished third while Petty placed 18th in what was officially listed as the No. 42 Coors Light Protest Pontiac.

Rules package passes Charlotte test

Wrapping up Sunday’s 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

A four-wide pass for the lead on the backstretch with less than five laps remaining is something you don’t see very often in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, at Charlotte Motor Speedway or anywhere else for that matter.

But that’s what happened during Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 when Martin Truex Jr. jumped to the inside of Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and David Ragan on the backstretch to grab the lead and eventually the win.

It was that kind of race. It was entertaining, pretty much from start to finish.

And that’s a big deal.

There’s been a lot of talk about how bad the racing has been in NASCAR, what officials should be doing to make it better and why the sport isn’t as popular as it was at one time.

But Sunday’s race at CMS showed that the 2019 rules package, developed specifically for the 1.5-mile tracks on the Cup schedule, is moving the series in the right direction.

It’s not the entire answer and honestly, with teams continuing to develop setups and finding new ways to improve performance, there never will be a “perfect” set of rules.

The ’19 package has provided better racing though, and that’s not just based on the Charlotte race. Go back a couple of weeks to Kansas, another 1.5-mile track. A good, competitive race. The mile-and-a-half at Texas? Not a lot of lead changes there, but it was an improvement with lots of movement throughout the field.

It’s not a perfect package for every layout, perhaps not even for every 1.5-mile track, but with teams still learning how to work within the box, it’s definitely an improvement.

“It’s still difficult in traffic,” Truex Jr., said after winning for the third time this season. “They drive awful in traffic, to be honest, and I don’t know how we fix that.”

Maybe, though, there’s nothing that needs fixing for a change. Based on Sunday’s race, I’d say there are a fair amount of folks who feel that way, too.

When Truex Jr., won the race for the second time Sunday evening, he joined a talented group of drivers who have multiple victories in the crown jewel event.

A talented group but a growing one as well. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex Jr., became the 14th driver to win at least twice in the series’ longest event.

Three-time series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Darrell Waltrip holds the most 600 wins, scoring five during his career. Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports) has four while Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon Buddy Baker, David Pearson and Kasey Kahne won the 600 on three occasions.

Two-time winners include Richard Petty, Fred Lorenzen, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Neil Bonnett and Jim Paschal.

Truex Jr., is the third driver to win three times this year, joining JGR teammate Kyle Busch and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski. Combined with Denny Hamlin’s two victories, JGR drivers have won eight of this year’s 13 points races.

Career win No. 22 for Truex Jr., places him in a three-way tie with Hall of Famer Terry Labonte and Team Penske driver Joey Logano at No. 35 on NASCAR’s all-time win list. Next up with 23 career wins is Ricky Rudd.

Crew chief Cole Pearn now has 20 Cup wins after 156 races and a little less than four and a half seasons with Truex Jr. That’s similar to the success of Ray Evernham, who got to 20 wins with Jeff Gordon in little more than four seasons and 124 starts. Chad Knaus reached 20 wins with Jimmie Johnson in barely four years.

It took Dale Inman less than three full seasons to accumulate 20 wins with Richard Petty in the early 1960s, hitting win No. 20 in their 105th start together.

According to seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, “There were three or four big items that were different on our car this week than we’ve been running all year long, so we’re very happy about that.”

Johnson finished eighth Sunday and called it “a good night.” Although he led no laps, he ran anywhere from eighth to 15th much of the race and was inside the top 10 after falling back as far as 17th early in the final stage.

“We’re just trying to go from good to great and that isn’t easy,” Johnson said.

All four Hendrick cars finished in the top 10 – Chase Elliott led 43 laps and finished fourth while Alex Bowman, Johnson and pole winner William Byron finished seventh through ninth, respectively.

It’s the first time this season the organization has had all four teams finish inside the top 10 and the third consecutive race at least three have managed the feat.

Pearson finds success with Masoni ride

Sunday, May 28, 1961 – Future Hall of Fame driver David Pearson scores his first win in NASCAR’s premier series when he captured the World 600 – while driving on three tires and a rim. Pearson’s No. 3 Pontiac, owned by Daytona Beach, Fla.-businessman John Masoni, had a three-lap lead on Fireball Roberts when the right-rear tire trouble surfaced. He nursed the car around the 1.5-mile track for the final lap and a half, with a shower of sparks coming off the rim.

Pearson, 26, had won Rookie of the Year honors the previous year, driving his own entry in 22 of 44 races. For ’61, he took the ride with Masoni and chief mechanic Ray Fox. The 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was one of three wins for Pearson and the team that season.

Richard Kagle of Green Belt, Md., lost his left leg when his No. 2 Ford was pierced by the guard rail during a crash. The metal severed his leg below the knee. Kagle, who was transported to a local hospital, was making his 25th start in the series.

Coca-Cola 600 notes

CONCORD, N.C. – In case you were wondering:

The race winner was the only driver on the lead lap at the end of three of the first five Coca-Cola 600 races (originally known as the World 600). Joe Lee Johnson, winner of the inaugural event in 1960, finished four laps ahead of runner-up Johnny Beauchamp. It’s happened eight times overall. The final time took place in 1987 when Kyle Petty had a one-lap advantage on runner-up Morgan Shepherd.

In 14 of the first 25 World 600s, the raced ended with only two cars on the lead lap. Not sure if that was the case in other races of the era but it sure happened a lot in the 600.

• David Reutimann scored the rain-shortened victory in 2009 that saw 26 cars finish on the lead lap. That remains the most for the annual Memorial holiday weekend race.

• Last year’s race, won by Kyle Busch, ended with nine cars on the lead lap.

Allison blisters Coke 600 field

Sunday, May 26, 1991 – Davey Allison spanked the field at Charlotte Motor Speedway, rolling to an easy victory in the NASCAR Cup Series’ longest points event, the Coca-Cola 600. The official margin of victory over runner-up Ken Schrader was a deceptive 1.28 seconds – the race for the checkered flag wasn’t that close. Allison’s No. 28 Ford led 263 of the race’s 400 laps.

The win was the ninth of Allison’s career and his first in the 600, long considered one of NASCAR’s “crown jewel” events.

Allison became the third member from his family to win the event – his father Bobby won the race in 1971, ’81 and ’84; uncle Donnie Allison won the 1970 edition.

The Robert Yates Racing team had to change the engine in the car 90 minutes before the start of the race because of an issue with exhaust valve stem seals.

Allison’s feat was so impressive (it came on the heels of a dominating performance the week before in the series’ all-star race) it led Richard Childress Racing driver Dale Earnhardt to question the legality of the race engine. “Ain’t no way you can outrun an illegal car,” Earnhardt quipped after finishing third.

The race was the debut of new team owner Flossie Johnson. The wife of team owner Junior Johnson had taken on the new role after her husband was suspended and fined for an oversized engine in the previous week’s all-star race. Johnson was originally suspended 12 weeks for the infraction, however it was reduced to four upon appeal.

Tommy Ellis, filling in for the injured Geoff Bodine in the re-numbered No. 97 fielded by Mrs. Johnson, finished 16th.

A first for Petty and for Earnhardt

Sunday, May 25, 1975 – Richard Petty, a winner on nearly every track he’d set foot on, earned his first at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout when he captured the annual World 600 before an announced crowd of 90,000. Petty finished a lap ahead of runner-up Cale Yarborough and four laps in front of third-place David Pearson.

The victory was No. 170 for Petty; he did have a previous win at CMS, in 1961, although it was a World 600 qualifying race (67 laps; 100 miles) that counted toward a driver’s career win total at the time.

The race was the first career start in the series for future seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. The 24-year-old finished 22nd in the No. 8 Dodge fielded by car owner Ed Negre. It was Earnhardt’s only start of the season.

1970 series champion Bobby Isaac made just his second start of the season and finished 35th in the No. 63 Chevrolet of Norris Reed.

Darel Dieringer, 48, returned to competition after a layoff of more than six years. Dieringer, a seven-time winner in the series, made one start in 1969 – finishing 25th at Macon, Ga., then came back to run four races in ’75.

Tragedy overshadows Paschal win at CMS

Sunday, May 24, 1964 – Jim Paschal drove his No. 14 Petty Enterprises Plymouth to his 19th career victory, but the World 600 was marred by a multicar crash that left NASCAR idol Glen “Fireball” Roberts hospitalized with burns over much of his body. Roberts was caught up in an incident that also involved Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett. When his No. 22 Ford hit the wall, back end first, it ruptured the fuel tank and flipped over. Jarrett helped free Roberts from the burning car.

Roberts was NASCAR’s first true superstar, talented, successful and popular. Reports at the time said the Florida native was preparing to step away from competition and work with a popular beer company even though he himself did not drink.

At the time of his injuries, Roberts had 33 wins in NASCAR’s premier series, including victories in the Southern 500 and Daytona 500.

Roberts, burned over 75 percent of his body, passed away 39 days after the accident from pneumonia and blood poisoning.

Paschal finished four laps ahead of teammate Richard Petty. It was one of only two career wins on a track larger than one mile for the North Carolina native.

Checkered flag a first in Cup for Waltrip

Saturday, May 18, 1996 – Michael Waltrip, winless in 309 NASCAR premier series points races, finally made it to victory lane – in a race that paid no points. Waltrip motored past a tangling Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte eight laps from the finish of the Winston Select All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to score the surprising victory.

Waltrip, driving the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing, was the final driver to advance out of the Winston Open, a 50-lap qualifier that saw the top five finishers advance to the Winston Select. He became the first driver to win the All-Star race after advancing out of the qualifying race.

Waltrip wasn’t exactly a stranger to the winner’s circle in NASCAR – he had seven Busch (now XFINITY) Series wins prior to his win in the All-Star race.

Rusty Wallace, Earnhardt, Mark Martin and Labonte rounded out the top five.

Waltrip earned $211,200 for the victory.

’87 Winston: One for the ages

Sunday, May 17, 1987 – Dale Earnhardt skated past a spinning Bill Elliott and Geoff Bodine, survived a high-speed run through the front stretch grass and held off a late charge from Terry Labonte to capture the annual Winston All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was his first win in the non-points, for-winners-only event and earned him $200,000.

There were several instances of contact between Earnhardt and Elliott during the final segment, including what has been referred to as Earnhardt’s “Pass in the Grass,” with both drivers claiming the other was at fault. There was contact after the race as well as Elliott tagged Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet on the cool-down lap.

The race marked the return of Tim Richmond, a seven-time race winner the previous season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had been sidelined for the season’s first nine races due to illness; he would not compete in a points race until the series ran at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway later that summer.

Elliott, the pole winner (170.827 mph), collected $110,150 for winning the first two segments and his 14th-place finish.

The annual all-star race, which debuted in 1985, was still in its infancy; it returned to Charlotte Motor Speedway after a one-year stop at Atlanta in ’86 and has been held at CMS every year since.

Eligible drivers were those who had won one or more of the previous 20 Winston Cup points events. The race format called for segments of 75, 50 and 10 laps.

Johnson: Midseason move key to season

Jimmie Johnson’s 2019 paint scheme for the May 26th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson says he’s a patient person, but he admits it’s getting tougher as the weeks roll on and the months begin to stack up and when you stop to catch your breath you suddenly realize an entire third of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has come and gone.

“Over my career I’ve been able to … just let things work themselves out,” Johnson, 43, said Tuesday during a paint scheme unveil of his No. 48 Chevrolet for the May 26th Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“There are two factors leading to my impatience now. One is I haven’t won in a couple of years and two is, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in a couple of years. My contract’s up in 2020 and I’ll have to evaluate what I want to do after that.”

It’s an honest conversation but an unusual one just the same.

The backdrop behind Johnson is impressive and when you look over his shoulder you see his name again and again and again.

Listed on the wall inside the Hendrick Motorsports team center are the races and winner’s names of every HMS points victory in NASCAR’s Cup Series. All 253 of them.

Legendary races at legendary tracks are separated from the others. The Daytona 500, Darlington’s Southern 500, Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 and The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Eighty-three of the victories belong to the El Cajon, Calif., native, including a dozen of those “crown jewel” races.

But we’re not taking about NASCAR’s grand slam at the moment. We’re talking about last Saturday night’s race at Kansas. And not winning. And why Johnson isn’t and what he and his team are doing about it.

The season is hustling by and the sport’s only active seven-time champion finished sixth at Kanas just days ago. It’s been 71 races since his last victory.

For much of his career, a sixth-place finish would hardly seem noteworthy for Johnson. But the fact that it’s his second-best result of the 12 races run thus far says much.

“It’s flying by quick and we haven’t been in contention to win a race yet this year,” he said. “We’ve got to fix that.

“If I’m not in contention to win a race, there’s no chance of winning a championship. For me, right now this middle portion of the season is the key for me to get things where they need to be so we can win races and ultimately win a championship.”

His Hendrick teammates are making headway and garnering attention – Chase Elliott won at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last month to secure a spot in the playoffs and Alex Bowman is riding a career-best string of three consecutive runner-up finishes.

Meanwhile Johnson and William Byron have shown some improvement but less speed and consistency.

As for Kansas, Johnson said his team knew as soon as the No. 48 was unloaded “that we were down on speed to our teammates.”

“We made some (decisions) to race better and try not to pay attention about single-car speed a lot like you would see at a restrictor-plate track,” he said.

“So Friday we’re trying not to overreact, we’re just hoping that it would race better. Then when I got in the race, the first half of the race was so bad for us, I was like ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ We didn’t have the raw speed and didn’t have the better car in traffic.

“I have to give Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) a ton of credit. Once (I voiced) my displeasure in the car, he made some killer decisions. Our pit stops were awesome on pit road, those guys rallied around, we had a great second half of the race and finished sixth.

“We know what’s making speed within our company. We just need to figure out how to put those pieces into our car … with our philosophy.”

Johnson will be going after a fifth win in the Cup series all-star race, slated for Saturday night at CMS, as well as fifth win in the 600.

“Winning on either weekend would be really special and significant for us on the 48 car,” he said. “My All-Star wins mean a ton to me and obviously that big cash prize that’s out there (the winner’s purse is $1 million) is very tempting.

“The 600 is such a test of driver and machine, strategy … the challenge we have to face I guess ultimately in the 600 is just insane. Those victories mean a ton to me. It’s hard to believe I’ve won as many as I have.”

As part of the NASCAR Salutes initiative held in conjunction with the race, Johnson will carry the name of Army Sgt. Richard Donlan on his during the Coca-Cola 600.

The announcement was part of Tuesday’s paint scheme reveal for the All-sponsored Chevrolet.

“It’s just such an honor,” Johnson said. “Times like this put it all in perspective. … Our sport just does an amazing job of being active and involved. I’m one of 40 lucky drivers that get to carry a name on the car and to honor that fallen soldier.”