A final victory for Shepherd

Saturday, March 20, 1993 – Morgan Shepherd wins his fourth career race in NASCAR’s premier series, capturing the weather-delayed Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing, Shepherd stretched his final tank of fuel 68 laps en route to the victory.

Ernie Irvan, also stretching fuel, finished second, 23 seconds behind the winner.

The victory was Shepherd’s third at Atlanta, and the final one of his Cup career. He was 51 years old at the time of his win.

A flat tire, the result of running over debris, nearly cost Shepherd the victory – instead it helped seal the win. A stop for tires and fuel on lap 260 was his final trip to the pits for the remainder of the race.

A fierce winter snowstorm forced officials to postpone the race, which had been originally scheduled for Sunday, March 14.

Flock announces departure from NASCAR

Friday, March 19, 1954 – Former series champion Tim Flock (1952) announces that he is leaving NASCAR with the intention of competing in the following year’s Indianapolis 500. The announcement comes just three races into the season’s 37-race schedule and on the heels of a disqualification by NASCAR for Flock’s win on the Daytona Beach & Road Course one month earlier.

Flock, a 17-race winner at the time, had won more NASCAR premier series races than only two other drivers – Herb Thomas (40) and Lee Petty (18). His Daytona victory had come in his only start that season – he skipped races at West Palm Beach, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla.

Flock broke from NASCAR after he was stripped of his Daytona win. Driving an Oldsmobile 88 for team owner Ernest Woods, Flock set a track record with his 90.4 mph average for the 160-mile race. However, NASCAR officials ruled that the carburetor in his car had been altered, stripped Flock of the win and awarded it to Petty, the runner-up.

“This Flock boy never saw the car ‘til he came to Daytona Beach to drive it for me,” Woods said in a statement issued after the NASCAR ruling. “He is absolved of all blame.”

Flock didn’t make it to Indy, however. Before the NASCAR season ended, he had returned to the series. He would win a second NASCAR championship in 1955 and end his career with 39 victories.

Points leader Martin takes a break

Sunday, March 18, 2007 – After scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the first four races, including a near-victory in the season-opening Daytona 500, NASCAR Cup Series points leader Mark Martin steps out of his No. 01 Chevrolet for a two-race “break.”

Martin, who spent the bulk of his NASCAR career driving for team owner Jack Roush, moved to Ginn Racing for the 2007 season with the understanding that he would not run a full 36-race schedule. After finishes of second, fifth, fifth and 10th in the first four races, Martin was the points leader. And he was also out of the car for the next two races.

Regan Smith stepped to run seven races in Martin’s absence while Aric Almirola drove for the team in five events.

Martin made 24 starts for the season. He scored 11 top-10s and finished 27th in points.

A memorable debut for Wallace

Sunday, March 16, 1980 – In his first NASCAR premier series start, Rusty Wallace scores a surprising runner-up finish to Dale Earnhardt in the Atlanta 500. The St. Louis native, piloting the No. 16 Chevrolet for team owner Roger Penske, had qualified seventh in the 41-car field.

The 1-2 finish was the first of 16 for Earnhardt and Wallace; Wallace finished second to Earnhardt seven times during their careers while Earnhardt was runner-up to Wallace on nine occasions.

Wallace made one more start for Penske in 1980 before the team owner pulled out of NASCAR and did not return for nearly a decade. The Atlanta win was the second career victory for Earnhardt.

Petty’s wins are exactly that – wins

So we’ve moved on from trying to compare Kyle Busch’s soon-to-be 200 wins across three different series with Richard Petty’s 200 NASCAR premier series wins to this: many of Richard Petty’s victories shouldn’t count because they took place in shorter races often against shorter fields.

Really?

Someone did a lot of research to reach that conclusion. That’s too bad. Because at the end of the day, Petty remains the only driver with 200 career victories in NASCAR’s top series. They came on tracks of all shapes and sizes, against big fields and small fields, on dirt and asphalt, but when you add them all up you get the same thing – 200.

When was the last time any Cup team HAD to compete 3-4 times during the same week because that’s how the races fell on the schedule?

Do today’s drivers and teams have anywhere near the concern about parts breakage? Engines blowing? That Petty won as often as he did when drivers were more likely to fall out of a race due to something on the car breaking speaks volumes. Parts failures didn’t discriminate when it came to race length so why should we?

Today’s drivers race with power steering, disc brakes and radial tires. For much of his career, Petty and his fellow drivers competed without power steering, used drum brakes and bias-ply tires.

I wouldn’t want to drive across town without power steering, much less race without it.

Win under those conditions in a 100-mile race or a 500-mile race and tell me the two shouldn’t be considered equal.

Faulting Petty for winning a 100-lap race against a field of 24 is like faulting Busch for winning a fuel-mileage race. “Well, he didn’t really beat anyone, he just outlasted them.” Really?

Do we even want to mention the differences in everything BUT driving in the race? You know, like the crew having to transport the car across the country to the next race, set the car up at the track, pit the car on race day, then haul the car all the way back across the country to get home, unload and get ready for the next race? The same crew mind you. And often volunteers at that.

Not a couple of fellas hired to drive, and only drive, the transporter to and from the track. Separate mechanics to set up the car. A separate pit crew that does nothing but pit the car.

Hell, if Petty had those “luxuries” during his prime, he might have won 300 times.

Of course, someone would probably find fault with that, too.

Late Model mayhem and a near riot

Thursday, March 15, 1956 – NASCAR fined points leader Bob Welborn and Herb Thomas, second in the standings, $250 each for unsportsmanlike conduct following a 150-lap Late Model race at Fayetteville Raceway on March 11. Both drivers were also required to post $250 bonds to assure their compliance with all NASCAR rules for the balance of the year.

A series of on-track altercations throughout the race got out of hand after Welborn was knocked out of the lead in the final laps by Thomas. Fans, upset over the contact, attempted to accost Thomas in the pits after the race. Reports indicated fans also broke windows out of the Thomas car. Local police had to climb atop Thomas’ entry while he was still behind the wheel to hold irate fans at bay with dry fire extinguishers.

NASCAR’s Bill France Sr. suspended the two drivers until an investigation into the incident could be completed.

Driver Gwyn Staley grabbed the lead with three laps remaining and won the race. 

Early exit for Busch in NHRA debut

Sunday, March 14, 2010 – Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, makes his NHRA drag racing debut, competing in the Super Gas division at the Gator Nationals in Gainesville, Fla. Busch fell in the first round of eliminations when his 1970 Dodge Challenger stumbled off the starting line. He was beaten by Wes Neely. The drag racing effort came during an off-weekend for NASCAR’s Cup Series.

A year after his drag racing debut, Busch returned to Gainesville and the Gator Nationals, this time to compete in Pro Stock. He qualified his yellow, Shell-sponsored Dodge 12th in the 16-car field but once again suffered a first-round defeat, this time to Erica Enders. Busch made a respectable 6.541-second pass in his first Pro elimination effort but Enders, who had a better reaction time off the starting line, posted a winning time of 6.538 seconds.

• Busch has been quite the crossover competitor during his racing career. Not only did he compete in NHRA drag racing, in 2014 he became the fourth NASCAR driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon had previously accomplished the double-duty feat. Busch finished an impressive sixth at Indy.

Stewart one of six new Hall nominees

Three-time NASCAR premier series champion Tony Stewart is one of six new nominees to be considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for 2020.

Stewart won titles in 2002, ’05 while competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He added a third championship, in 2011, while competing as an owner/driver with Stewart-Haas Racing.

The Columbus, Ind., native retired from NASCAR competition following the 2016 season although he continues to race in sprint cars. He won 49 Monster Energy Cup Series races, 11 Xfinity Series races and two Gander Outdoors Truck Series races.

Twenty nominees were announced Wednesday from which five will be selected for induction. Joining Stewart as first-time nominees are drivers Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Jim Paschal, Marvin Panch and mechanic Red Vogt.

Ard won back-to-back Busch (now Xfinity) Series championships in 1983-84, capturing 18 of his 22 career wins along the way. His career was cut short due to injury after only 92 starts in the series.

Neil Bonnett enjoyed a successful career behind the wheel and in the television booth where he worked as an analyst for TNN during the cable network’s coverage of NASCAR.

A member of the Alabama Gang, Bonnett won 18 times in Cup and finished a career-best second in the standings in 1985. He was killed in a crash during practice for the 1994 Daytona 500.

Paschal earned 25 wins, including nine with Petty Enterprises, in a career that spanned more than two decades. Paschal competed in the very first NASCAR Strictly Stock race, held at Charlotte (N.C.) Speedway in June, 1949.

Marvin Panch, a native of Oakland, Calif., won 17 times and had 95 top-five finishes in 216 career starts in NASCAR’s top series. He won the 1961 Daytona 500 while driving for noted owner/mechanic Smokey Yunick; the bulk of his wins, eight, came while driving for the Wood Brothers.

Vogt was one of NASCAR’s first crew chief/mechanics, preparing entries for owner Raymond Parks and winning with drivers Red Byron, Fonty Flock, Slick Smith and Fireball Roberts.

The six join returning nominees Buddy Baker, Red Farmer, Ray Fox, Harry Gant, Joe Gibbs, John Holman, Harry Hyde, Bobby Labonte, Hershel McGriff, Ralph Moody, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd, Mike Stafanik and Waddell Wilson.

Dropped from the list of nominees is championship-winning crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine.

Returning Nominees for the Landmark Award, presented for outstanding contributions to NASCAR, are Alvin Hawkins and Ralph Seagraves; new on the list are Edsel Ford II, Mike Helton and Dr. Joe Mattioli.

Two former nominees, Barney Hall and Janet Guthrie, are not on the 2020 list.

The five inductees for the Class of 2020, as well as the Landmark Award recipient, will be chosen May 22.

Appeals Panel upholds Hendrick penalties

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 – A three-member National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld penalties assessed against Jimmie Johnson, driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet, and crew chief Chad Knaus for violations uncovered during opening-day inspection at Daytona International Speedway. Those penalties consisted of a $100,000 fine and six-race suspension for Knaus; a six-race suspension for car chief Ron Malek; the loss of 25 championship driver points for Johnson; and the loss of 25 championship owner points for team owner Jeff Gordon.

Knaus was penalized for what NASCAR officials deemed “unapproved body modifications,” illegally modified sheet metal located between the roof and window areas of the team’s car. Knaus said that the vehicle had not been through the inspection process when NASCAR officials deemed it illegal.

HMS officials filed for a final appeal before Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook. On March 20, Middlebrook ruled in favor of the No. 48 team, rescinding the loss of driver/owner points as well as the six-race suspensions of Knaus and Malek. He did not, however, alter the $100,000 fine levied against Knaus.

Maybe he’s the best we’ve seen

Kyle Busch is going to win his 200th race in NASCAR’s top three series before long and it will be compared to Richard Petty winning 200 times and some folks will say it’s blasphemy and others will say you can’t compare the two and still others will try anyway.

This isn’t a comparison of the King’s 200 wins and Busch’s soon-to-be 200 wins.

Richard Petty won 200 times in ONE series and if Busch was to win 200 times in only the Monster Energy Cup Series or only the Xfinity Series or only the Gander Outdoors Truck Series … well then you’ve really got yourself a story.

But that won’t happen.

If this isn’t a comparison of wins then what is it?

It’s this: Kyle Busch might be the most talented race car driver anyone has ever seen in NASCAR.

Whoa! Stop right there!

Better than Petty, who won seven championships and seven Daytona 500s and, as mentioned earlier, 200 races? Petty won on dirt and asphalt and some surfaces that were a little bit of both.

Better than Dale Earnhardt, another seven-time champ who won 76 races and was one of the most feared drivers of his era?

What about Jimmie Johnson, just the third driver to win seven titles? He’s at 83 career wins and those include Daytona 500s and Southern 500s and Brickyard 400s and Coca-Cola 600s.

David Pearson and Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip … all winners of multiple championships.

Better than those folks? In their prime?

Busch is 33 and just hitting his prime and he’s already won five times this year. He swept both races at ISM Raceway this past weekend (Cup and Xfinity) and won two of three the previous week in Las Vegas (Xfinity and Truck).

For the record, he now has 52 Cup wins, a series record 94 Xfinity Series wins and a series record 53 Truck Series wins.

He has only one championship and it would be easy to say it’s the current format that’s to blame – a driver and team can win 35 of 36 races and finish fourth in points based on that one final, season-ending race. How many drivers have won multiple titles since the format was introduced in 2014? None, that’s how many.

On the other hand, a truly superior competitor should be able to rise to the occasion regardless of the situation.

Maybe it’s too soon to call him the best or put him in that conversation until we see what the future holds.

Again, this isn’t about comparing one driver’s numbers with another driver’s numbers. It’s about the singular accomplishments of Busch, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota in the Cup Series.

Busch is competitive in every single series he enters – whether it’s Cup or Xfinity or the Trucks. Not just competitive though. He wins. A lot.

He also makes those around him better, whether it’s his teammates at JGR or his own drivers at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

All great drivers share that trait – they make those competing against them excel.

Save the “he should pick a series and stick to it” rants. There’s absolutely no reason Busch should not be able to compete in any series he chooses when it’s allowed. NASCAR has placed limits on how many races folks in Cup can run in other series and it may or may not be fair. But that hasn’t stopped Busch from racing in those series or winning in those series when he can.

Is he beating up on no-name competition? If you consider current and former series champions “no-name” competition, then maybe so. I don’t know. I get the impression his competition takes that particular comparison as a slight.

Busch does not have an “unfair advantage” unless you consider being blessed with tremendous talent an unfair advantage.

Would those drivers mentioned previously have more wins had they had the opportunity to compete in other series as well? Maybe. Who knows? Earnhardt won 21 times in what’s now the Xfinity Series while folks such as Gordon and Johnson and Stewart didn’t spend an awful lot of time there.

But again, this isn’t about comparing his wins to anyone else’s wins. It’s about what Busch has accomplished so far, what lies ahead and where exactly it will all leave him when he calls it a career.

Is Busch the best? I guess it depends on one’s criteria. What makes a driver “the best” in his arena? Is it championships won? Total wins?

Or something less tangible?

Busch is closing in on 200 victories and it isn’t the same as Petty’s accomplishment but it’s still pretty darn impressive.

And for that he should be appreciated. Race fans likely won’t see such an accomplishment again.