Day 1: Gant leads pack on 20th charity ride
Our daily diary starts with a chat with the popular former Cup driver
Where have you gone, Mr. September?
Just months before, the seemingly timeless Nolan Ryan had twirled his seventh no-hitter at the age of 44. Tennis star Jimmy Connors was days into an unlikely, age-defying run into the U.S. Open semifinals at 39. In 1991, the sports world's well had been primed for feats that defied both logic and the limits of advancing years. The NASCAR world was no different. The time was right for 51-year-old Harry Gant . By the 1991 season, the veteran driver already possessed a handful of nicknames to choose from: -- "Hard-Luck Harry ," a label he finally shook by collecting his first premier-series win (1982, Martinsville) after finishing second a heart-wrenching 10 times. -- "The Bandit," a nod to Gant's longtime sponsorship from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco's Skoal brand. -- "Handsome Harry ," his best-known alias, which owed to the matinee-idol good looks that followed him into grandfatherhood. But 25 years ago this month, Harold Phil Gant earned another affectionate handle for his most notable accomplishment in stock-car racing's big leagues -- a history-making, four-race win streak at age 51 that transformed him into "Mr. September." Gant's string of dominance began at Darlington Raceway , the historic South Carolina track that hosts its second NASCAR throwback festival this weekend, culminating with Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.) Gant , now 76, plans to be in attendance for pre-race appearances. Other drivers with Hall of Fame credentials have amassed wins in fours since the dawn of NASCAR's modern era in 1971, but other factors beyond his age make Gant's performance a singular achievement. Gant also won twice in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series during that magical September, leaving him a streak of six straight national series triumphs. He won all four premier-series races with the same car -- a Leo Jackson-owned No. 33 Oldsmobile Cutlass -- and same engine at all four tracks. "We'll probably run it until we wreck it," Gant said back then. The car was involved in two crashes during the four-race romp, but never lost its winning edge. The phrase "better with age" was Harry Gant defined. He won eight Winston Cup races after the age of 50, a run that made his Skoal Bandit banner a frequent flyer just underneath the American flag at the Alexander County courthouse in his hometown of Taylorsville, North Carolina. Gant still calls the town of nearly 2,100 residents home. Though he hung up his driving gloves after the 1994 season, he's far from the formal interpretation of retirement. From sunup to sundown, Gant can be found either raising cattle and raking pastureland on his 300-acre farm or mowing neighboring solar farms with his grandson. Taking time out to recall the details of his extraordinary record? When his daughter, 55-year-old Debbie Pollard, answers the phone in Gant's nondescript Taylorsville office, she says he's simply far too busy. Maybe when the grass stops growing later into October, she says, pointing out a small window to chat this weekend in Darlington. "That might be a good place to catch him," Pollard says. Twenty-five years ago today at Darlington, no one could. In the three magical weeks that followed, Gant's No. 33 was just as uncatchable. In the spirit of celebrating NASCAR's throwback history this weekend, NASCAR.com takes a race-by-race look at Gant's stunning surge to four wins in a row -- and the chance for a fifth that barely slipped away.
1987 Winston: Where Are They Now?
RELATED: Elliott will 'never forget' Earnhardt move The starting grid for the 1987 Winston All-Star Race looked a lot like an exhibit befitting the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This was The All-Star Race for the ages. Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott all competed. Greats such as Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant , Ricky Rudd, Buddy Baker, and Benny Parsons were on the 20-driver starting grid, too. A young Davey Allison and a new Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine lined up alongside these iconic names. The fast and famed Tim Richmond was on the grid, too, in what was his final season of NASCAR competition. And don't forget about Kyle Petty, Bobby Hillin Jr. and Greg Sacks. The only driver on that famed All-Star lineup still NASCAR racing today is Morgan Shepherd, who drove a car fielded by drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein -- and his seventh-place finish that day in his first All-Star Race remains his best showing. That starting lineup was a true convergence of NASCAR's best -- sentimental favorites, crusty veterans, future Hall of Famers and young stars out to make their big names. It had personality. It had top-line credentials. In only its third running, the 1987 race showed exactly the pizzazz that would help forge the All-Star Race into the can't-miss annual event that will be on full display Saturday in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . For all its historical allure, amazingly in that famed 1987 race only four drivers even led a lap -- the winner Earnhardt (10), the day's dominant driver Elliott (121), Bodine (3) and Kyle Petty (1). The great seven-time Cup champ Richard Petty crashed with the late superstar Neil Bonnett on Lap 66. As dominant and successful as Petty was, it's easy to forget he never won an All-Star Race. Among the most memorable aspects of this race will undoubtedly be the day's winner Earnhardt's "Pass in the Grass" of Elliott. It wasn't actually a pass at all, but Earnhardt maneuvering to hold onto his late race lead over Elliott in the day's most dominant car. It was the first of three All-Star wins for Earnhardt. And the gritty, hard-nosed final laps racing launched this -- then still young -- event into a bona fide can't-miss rite of spring. The above photo itself has become quite a piece of NASCAR lore. When this group of 20 drivers came together for this indelible image, these are the numbers they would leave behind: 812 premier series victories, 26 premier series championships, 11 All-Star Race wins ... and one urban legend.
Ron Bouchard passes away at age 67
RELATED: Bouchard's standout Modified career Ron Bouchard, winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 and the premier series' rookie of the year that same season, passed away Thursday. He was 67. A family friend and close pal of my fathers Ron Bouchard passed away today. My thoughts and prayers go to his family. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) December 10, 2015 NASCAR made a statement on Thursday regarding the news, "Ron Bouchard's passion for racing was evident from his very early years in NASCAR. Competition fueled Ron, whether racing modifieds at short tracks across the Northeast or winning rookie of the year honors in NASCAR's premier series. He loved this sport, and made an indelible mark on it, one that won’t soon be forgotten. "NASCAR extends its condolences to the friends and family of Ron Bouchard, a true racer." A native of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Bouchard pulled off one of NASCAR's most stunning victories when he shot from third to first on the final lap at Talladega (then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway), passing Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his lone premier series victory. The win came in his 11th career start. He was driving the Jack Beebe-owned Race Hill Farm No. 47 Buick, with crew chief Bob Johnson. Bouchard had taken over the ride earlier in the season following the departure of driver Harry Gant . Bouchard became the 13th different winner in the 13-year history of the summer race at the 2.66-mile track. "Coming off the fourth turn … I was behind Waltrip and Terry when Terry decided to pass Darrell on the outside," Bouchard told reporters following his Talladega victory. "When he moved up, Darrell moved up to get in front of him. When I saw that, I just shot down to the inside … and moved up fast." A standout Modified driver, Bouchard won track championships at Stafford Springs, Thompson and Seekonk speedways before moving up to what was then known as NASCAR's Grand National division. He made 160 starts at NASCAR’s top level, finishing a career-best eighth in points in '82. In addition to his one win, Bouchard scored 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He won the series' rookie title in a class that included Morgan Shepherd , Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman. Seven years later, his brother Ken Bouchard captured the series rookie of the year award as well.
Darlington Raceway wins NMPA Myers Brothers Award
LAS VEGAS -- Darlington Raceway moved forward by going back in 2015. NASCAR's first paved superspeedway paid homage to stock car racing's past when it launched a "throwback" program for this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 , and the move proved to be one of the most talked about, most popular events of the year. So much so that the program has earned the track the National Motorsports Press Association's 2015 Myers Brothers Award. The award was announced Thursday during the annual NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers luncheon at the Wynn Las Vegas. Presented annually by the NMPA, the Myers Brothers Award is named in honor of former NASCAR competitors Billy and Bobby Myers. Its' purpose is to recognize individuals and/or groups who have provided outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing. Others receiving votes for this year's award were four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and 2015 Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch . Darlington Raceway has hosted one or more NASCAR premier series events since 1950. The Southern 500, which returned to its long-held Labor Day weekend date this past season, is considered one of the series' "crown jewel" events. RELATED: Best throwback images " See all the Darlington paint schemes More than 30 cars in this year's 43-car field featured throwback schemes, honoring everything from long-time sponsors to drivers and popular paint schemes from the early 1970s. Several teams got in the act by wearing crew uniforms similar to those worn at the time; concession stand fare included items that were offered at the time and tickets in some sections were even priced similar to that specific time period. Even television partner NBC got in the act, bringing back former announcers Ken Squier and two-time champion Ned Jarrett to call a portion of the race from the broadcast booth. Jarrett’s son, Dale -- a former series champion as well -- joined his father in the booth, marking the first time the two had called a race together. RELATED: Legends in the booth " How Darlington idea came together Track President Chip Wile said at the time that the throwback program is "a five-year platform; this isn't a one-year deal. "We felt like if we could get eight or 10 teams on board to really showcase what we're trying to accomplish, we felt like in 2016 we could get more, in 2017 we would get more and so on," he said. "But the response that we've gotten from everyone in the industry has been incredible." Myers Brothers Award Winners 2015, Darlington Raceway ; 2014, Dale Earnhardt Jr .; 2013, Tony Stewart ; 2012, Jeff Gordon ; 2011, Drs. Joseph & Rose Mattioli; 2010, Jim Hunter; 2009, Barney Hall; 2008, Thomas Taylor Warren; 2007, Bill France Jr.; 2006, Benny Parsons; 2005, Rusty Wallace; 2004, Kyle and Patti Petty; 2003, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 2002, Mike Helton; 2001, Dale Earnhardt; 2000, Kyle Petty; 1999, Junie Donlavey; 1998, T. Wayne Robertson; 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1996, Rick Hendrick; 1995, TNN: The Nashville Network; 1994, Brickyard 400/ Indianapolis Motor Speedway ; 1993, Goody’s Manufacturing Co.; 1992, Richard and Lynda Petty; 1991, Harry Gant ; 1990; Dick Beaty; 1989, Bill France Jr.; 1988 Richmond International Raceway ; 1987, ESPN; 1986, Hayride 500; 1985, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1984, Charlotte Motor Speedway ; 1983, CBS-TV; 1982, Motor Racing Network; 1981, Junior Johnson; 1980, STP & Champion Spark Plug Co.; 1979, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1978, Busch Beer; 1977, First National City Travelers Checks; 1976, Junior Johnson; 1975, Bill France Sr.; 1974, H. Clay Earles; 1973, Wood Brothers; 1972, Winston Cigarettes; 1971, Richard Petty; 1970, Richard Howard; 1969, David Pearson; 1968, Wood Brothers; 1967, Richard Petty; 1966, Norris Friel; 1965, Ned Jarrett; 1964, Richard Petty; 1963, Marvin Panch; 1962, Hank Schoolfield; 1961, Ned Jarrett; 1960, Russ Catlin; 1959, Lee Petty; 1958, Bob Colvin.
Cain: Busch keeps pedal down after comeback, championship
RELATED: Photos of Kyle's 36 Cup Series victories Kyle Busch showed up in the Texas Motor Speedway media center in the early Sunday morning hours donning the new cowboy hat he had received in Victory Lane a few moments earlier and smiling like a guy who hasn't lost a race in weeks. He is that guy. Busch will arrive in Bristol, Tennessee, this week on a four-race winning streak that includes Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup wins two weeks ago in Martinsville, Va. and an XFINITY Series and Sprint Cup sweep on the Texas high banks this past weekend. He is the first driver since Harry Gant in 1991 to sweep national series events in back-to-back weekends. It's a record ninth time that Busch has swept a race weekend. As Busch joined his Joe Gibbs Racing team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Adam Stevens to answer questions from the media at Texas, he straightened his hat and sat up high in his chair, looking every bit as comfortable in this very familiar position as you might expect. In prefacing my question to Busch, I rattled off some incredible statistics given to the media earlier that night to put Busch's latest victory in perspective. This was his 18th top-five and 22nd top-10 finish in the 32 races since he returned from serious leg and foot injuries suffered in Daytona last season. Because the information was given minutes before Busch took the checkered flag, the win tally didn't reflect the TMS win. Busch's first response was to correct my victory total, "that's seven wins," he said grinning -- almost playful in being eager to set the record straight. And even that correct number is most likely upwardly fleeting. Busch's win at Texas ties him with Matt Kenseth for third-most all-time (36) among active drivers and at a mere 30 years old, Busch will be approaching the retiring Tony Stewart 's 48-win total before long. WATCH: Did Kyle think he could win without a caution? "I think that it's just a part of everyone coming together," Busch said. "It's not just me, it's not just (wife) Samantha, but it's (crew chief) Adam Stevens, it's Coach (Joe) Gibbs, it's the organization and everyone rallying around us. It's my medical team, everyone that helped me, getting me healthy and forcing me to do the therapies and things like that and getting up in the morning and going and trying to get better faster. "I think things are clicking. Things are jelling. It's all worked real well and it's been exciting to have the success that we've had as of late and let's just keep it going." Busch's body of work since his serious injury is among the top efforts he's had in a 12-year full-time Sprint Cup career -- a substantial run that began when Busch was only 18 years old. His title run last year remains among the most amazing in Cup history considering the severity of the injuries and that he missed half a season. He returned to claim the 2015 Sprint Cup championship trophy after winning four out of five races a month after his return from a broken leg and foot suffered in the 2015 season-opening XFINITY Series race in Daytona Beach, Florida. He recorded six top-five finishes in the final 10 races and won the Homestead-Miami finale where he hoisted that championship trophy high. It's entirely possible that Busch extends this impressive streak at Bristol Motor Speedway . Busch has won five times in the Sprint Cup car at Bristol and has 13 top-10 runs in 21 starts. But he's gone eight whole Bristol races without a victory, the longest streak between premier series wins there. He has eight XFINITY Series titles at the half-mile bullring, including four of the last five races. The exception in that span was a "paltry" runner-up finish in the fall of 2014. He has an incredible 18 top-10 runs in 22 XFINITY starts there. And, he has four victories in the Camping World Truck Series races there and finished a near-miss second place last year after winning the pole position. "You're got to have all the pieces of the puzzle put together, but I think more importantly we've got good cars [and] the crew chiefs are just doing a really good job right now," Busch said. "I feel like the (Toyota Racing Development) guys are on top of their game as well. We've got everything going for us. The cars are good, the engines are good and crew chiefs are smart. Again, whole puzzle." Another thing about the hat Busch wore after the race -- it was white. For a guy who typically receives "the guy in the black hat" treatment from the crowd, there was a lot of irony in that. He's a dad now and wants to be a good example for his nearly 1-year old son, Brexton. And when Busch gets booed from the grandstands during driver introductions these days, it's increasingly because he's "winning too much." After the Texas winner's press conference, Gibbs, Stevens and Busch got up to re-join the celebration. As Busch rose to push his chair under the table, he leaned over to catch my attention and reiterated with a smile, "Remember, that was seven [wins]." Yes. And, with the way Busch and his team are performing, it won't be the total for long. MORE: Start Busch this weekend? Get fantasy advice
Four consecutive wins rare but achievable for Logano
RELATED: Logano's chances, other Chase drivers, at Martinsville MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Joey Logano , riding a clean sweep of the Eliminator Round of this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup , will attempt to become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson to win four consecutive races in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series when the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 gets underway Sunday at Martinsville Speedway . He'll begin that quest from a prime position, having won his sixth Coors Light Pole Award pole of the season on Friday. Logano, who was fifth fastest in the opening round and fastest overall in the second and third rounds, also won the pole here in the spring event. Four wins in a row might be a tall order, but it is not an impossible task. Johnson wheeled his way to four straight during the 2007 Chase, a decade after teammate Jeff Gordon went 4-0 during the summer of '98. It happened as early as 1964 when driver Billy Wade won four in a row while teamed with Hall of Fame team owner Bud Moore. Twelve drivers have enjoyed such a run of success, with only David Pearson, the Silver Fox, and Richard Petty, the King, doing so twice. Two drivers on the list, Dale Earnhardt and Harry Gant , scored their fourth wins here at Martinsville. "Our ultimate goal is to win the championship, and if we can win four in a row, great," Logano said Friday prior to practice at the .526-mile track. "We've been on an amazing roll here lately, which has been pretty spectacular." Logano, 25, won the season-opening Daytona 500 , then didn't win again until Watkins Glen in August. Before the month had ended, however, he was back in Victory Lane at Bristol. He had finishes of sixth, third and 10th in the opening round of the Chase to advance into the Contender Round. The Team Penske driver has not been beaten since, winning at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega and setting himself up to add his name to an impressive NASCAR list. "This race track has been another good ... track for us," said Logano, who has finishes of fourth, fifth and third in his last three Martinsville races. "We haven't won here yet (he finished second in '10) but it's been a good track for us the last few times we've been here. We've qualified well and ran up front here in the spring, just didn't quite have the car good enough to win." Fellow driver Kyle Busch nearly pulled off the four-win trick earlier this year, winning at Kentucky, Loudon and Indianapolis. In his attempt at four straight, he finished 21st at Pocono. "It's definitely a zone," Gordon, a four-time series champion, said earlier this week. "I'm pretty sure that Joey probably said, 'I didn't anticipate going to Talladega and winning at Talladega.' Sometimes when you're in that zone, you're fighting hard to win ... you have the car to be able to win it, the team to win it. WATCH: Gordon's competitive fire burns "You go to another one, you don't think you have it, you're still finding your way into Victory Lane. Next thing you know, you feel like you can win every race. "It's amazing how hard it is to get yourself to that level of confidence. When you get there, it can carry you for a long way." The potential fallout from on-track contact/conduct -- Logano and Matt Kenseth ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) seem to have a budding feud after incidents at Kansas and Talladega -- isn't a concern, Logano said, although the tight confines of Martinsville make it a choice stop for settling differences on the race track. "We're focused in on winning the race," he said. "That's what we can control. We can't control anybody else's thinking or what's in their mind. "We have to think about how we advance and how we win this weekend, in particular. That's what we've been focused on all week. We're not going to change that."
Kyle Busch wins NMPA Driver of the Year Award
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch , who rallied from injuries sustained in a season-opening crash to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, has been named the 2015 recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award. Busch, 30, suffered a broken right leg and left foot in a crash during the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway last February. After missing the season’s first 11 points races, the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota returned with a vengeance. He won four of five races, including three straight, during the summer to qualify for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup . In the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Busch beat 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick to win the race and earn his first Sprint Cup championship. In addition to Homestead, Busch also scored wins at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Kentucky Speedway , New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway . It was his first Brickyard 400 title and the fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing . He finished the season with 12 top-five and 16 top-10 results. "I just want to thank the National Motorsports Press Association for voting me as the Richard Petty Driver of the Year," said Busch. "Last year was the most challenging, yet rewarding year of my career. While this honor has my name on it, I don't think it would have possible without the hard work and dedication from everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing , Toyota and TRD. "On the personal side, I can't thank the doctors and everyone at OrthoCarolina enough for helping me get back into racing shape, but also my wife Samantha and my entire family for all they did to get me back on my feet. Just looking at the list of past winners, it’s a tremendous honor to have my name mentioned along with many other great champions of our sport." In addition to his Sprint Cup success, Busch, a team owner in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, also scored six wins in the XFINITY Series and two in the Truck Series. Others receiving votes were Jeff Gordon ( Hendrick Motorsports ), Joey Logano ( Team Penske ), Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ). Busch was presented the award Jan. 17 during the NMPA's annual convention in Concord, N.C. The Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award has been presented each year since 1969 and is determined by a vote of the NMPA membership. It is named in honor of Petty, a seven-time champion and the all-time win leader in NASCAR with 200 career premier series victories. Richard Petty Driver of the Year Recipients 2015, Kyle Busch ; 2014, Kevin Harvick ; 2013, Jimmie Johnson ; 2012, Brad Keselowski ; 2011, Tony Stewart ; 2010, Jimmie Johnson ; 2009, Jimmie Johnson ; 2008, Carl Edwards ; 2007, Jimmie Johnson ; 2006, Jimmie Johnson ; 2005, Tony Stewart ; 2004, Jimmie Johnson ; 2003, Ryan Newman ; 2002, Tony Stewart ; 2001, Kevin Harvick ; 2000, Bobby Labonte ; 1999, Dale Jarrett; 1998, Jeff Gordon ; 1997, Dale Jarrett; 1996, Terry Labonte ; 1995, Jeff Gordon ; 1994, Dale Earnhardt; 1993, Rusty Wallace; 1992, Davey Allison; 1991, Harry Gant ; 1990, Dale Earnhardt; 1989, Mark Martin ; 1988, Rusty Wallace; 1987, Dale Earnhardt; 1986, Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt; 1985, Bill Elliott ; 1984, Terry Labonte ; 1983, Bobby Allison; 1982, Darrell Waltrip; 1981, Darrell Waltrip; 1980, Dale Earnhardt; 1979, Cale Yarborough; 1978, Cale Yarborough; 1977, Cale Yarborough; 1976, Darrell Waltrip; 1975, Richard Petty; 1974, Richard Petty; 1973, David Pearson; 1972, Bobby Allison; 1971, Bobby Allison; 1970, Bobby Isaac; 1969, LeeRoy Yarbrough.
Kyle Busch extends streak, corrals Texas win
RELATED: Full race results " Updated driver standings STORE: Shop for winning driver gear FORT WORTH, Texas -- Opportunistic Kyle Busch sped away from the rest of the field after a restart with 33 laps left in Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and collected his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. What's more, Busch won his fourth straight NASCAR national series race, having swept last week's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Martinsville Speedway and having won Friday night's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas. "It's pretty darn good, I'll tell you that," Busch said of his streak -- and life. "I've got a great wife, a great son and I'm having a blast, living the dream." Quite simply, the prodigious numbers continue to pile up for the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Busch posted his 36th victory of his Sprint Cup career and his second at Texas, having also swept the spring weekend at the 1.5-mile speedway in 2013. Busch is the second driver to sweep consecutive NASCAR weekends. Harry Gant accomplished the feat in 1991, winning both the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup races on consecutive weekends at Richmond and Dover. With the victory, Busch also virtually secured a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , as he will look to defend the title he won last year. "Our car was really, really fast, especially entry and center of the corner, and as the night progressed, I think the track actually came to us a little bit," said Busch, who took over the series lead by six points over fourth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson . "Our car got a lot better, and (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) made some great adjustments all night long. "We fought it in the beginning. We weren't very good …" Just good enough to win at the end. Dale Earnhardt Jr . came home second after passing eventual third-place finisher Joey Logano for the runner-up spot with eight laps left. Johnson ran fourth, despite a succession of pit road issues, the first of which involved contact with Busch's Toyota during the first pit stops of the race on Lap 30. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott scored a career-best fifth-place finish, one spot ahead of Martin Truex Jr ., who led a race-high 141 laps but lost ground on old tires during the final 33-lap green-flag run. "It hurts a little bit, but we'll just take the positives and move on," said Truex, who was the clear class of the field until divergent pit strategies proved his undoing. Truex and Austin Dillon stayed out on old tires under caution on Lap 290 while all other lead-lap cars came to pit road for fresh tires. Though Truex maintained his lead, the move was disastrous for Dillon, who dropped back rapidly after the restart on Lap 293 and washed up the track racing off Turn 2 in close quarters with Denny Hamlin . Dillon's Chevrolet slid up into the path of Jimmie Johnson , who was unable to avoid contact. Dillon was turned sharply into the outside wall and bounced across the track into oncoming traffic. The resulting 13-car accident damaged all three Richard Childress Racing cars and scrambled the field for the decisive restart on Lap 302. RELATED: Thirteen-car wreck claims all three RCR cars Busch rocketed to the outside at the drop of the green flag, and cleared Logano through Turns 3 and 4 as Truex faded on old rubber. "The restart was going to be key," Busch said. "If I could just get out in front of him, I knew I could protect the rest of the race. They had a good restart, but we got a better one, and I just had to get up on his door. He chose the inside and the inside has been winning the race all night long, but this time, on the last restart, (the outside) finally prevailed for us." Polesitter Carl Edwards led 124 laps but returned to pit road with a loose wheel after a restart on Lap 222 and spent nearly 70 circuits one lap down before working his way back to seventh at the finish. Kasey Kahne , Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10. MORE: All of Kyle's Cup wins
What if Darlington race included throwback drivers?
RELATED: Darlington throwback paint schemes Darlington's throwback theme for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 already is a hit with racers and fans alike, bringing out the creativity in the industry with special paint schemes and providing opportunities to honor great racers who have gone before. But what if along with those throwback paint schemes, like Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s Valvoline No. 88 nod to Cale Yarborough and Clint Bowyer 's No. 15 salute to recently passed Buddy Baker, we could actually bring back the NASCAR legends themselves for this one race. Who would you pick? Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman could fill the whole 43-car field with legendary race car drivers. He won seven premier series championships with Richard Petty and an eighth with Terry Labonte , competing against some of the most storied personalities in the sport. "Damn, I've seen 'em all. I don't know …" Inman said of trying to choose just one driver to place in a throwback ride. "Earnhardt Sr. was good there you know." Bowyer, too, wished Earnhardt Sr. could join the field at the 2015 Southern 500. "Obviously for me it would be Earnhardt for me because we lost him, you know. That's first and foremost. Anyone you ever lost is who you'd want to bring back." But Bowyer said bringing back the man with the most wins (47) and most poles (47) at Darlington, David Pearson, would be the ultimate measuring stick for today's Sprint Cup drivers. "Pearson … man, what a character and just a genuine badass and an aggressive and successful racer. Anytime you have someone who's successful in the sport you make a living in, you want to be able to see what he had, what he's made of and see how you stack up." Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing , fondly remembers those days with Pearson driving the No. 21 Purolator Mercury. Pearson drove for the Woods Brothers from 1972-79 and won seven times at "The Lady in Black" during that span with two runner-up finishes. "That was his place," Wood said of Pearson's dominance at the South Carolina track. "The hotter the better for David. He liked it HOT, so we'd have to run in the daytime for him." RELATED: Drivers, officials, fans pumped for throwback weekend Inman attributed some of Pearson's success at the track also called "Too Tough To Tame" to his ability to take care of his equipment. This was extra difficult, as Inman recalled, because the track promoter sometimes would put bear's grease on the track between Saturday's practice and Monday's race. Blue laws prevented NASCAR from running on Sundays in South Carolina then. "Pearson just had a knack for taking care of the car. He always had a good car too," Inman said. "At least most of the time. For Darlington we put bars under the fenders. You knew you were gonna hit the wall, so we just put bars in and just bolted them to the right side. But the guard rail wasn't smooth like it is now. And they'll wear the sides out this time with the low downforce package." Aside from the drivers who racked up at the track, including Richard Petty and Buck Baker, Inman said Parnelli Jones' performance at Darlington had lasting impact on the racing there. "Parnelli Jones came out here in maybe 1956 or 57 was the first one to really use the high bank to what it is now. I remember him just sliding up to the fence. He didn't finish, of course." Jones crashed at Darlington in both 1956 and 1957. He finished 50th in a field of 70 cars in 1956 in the No. 1 Torrance Motors Ford and 34th in the No. 11 Ford owned by Oscar Maples in 1957. In 1958, Jones did finish the Southern 500 running, coming in 18th in a field of 48 cars during his last race there. The list of great performances at Darlington is nothing short of epic. Just the list of winners sends any racing fan on a long ride down memory lane: Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen, Bobby Allison, Fonty Flock, Neil Bonnett, Benny Parsons, Harry Gant . How would they stack up against Jeff Gordon , the active driver with the most wins at Darlington (seven)? "Herb Thomas and Buck Baker were both really good," Inman added to the list. "But Herb had it as good as anyone in those old Hudson Hornets that Marshall Teague built, and I think he won in a Chevrolet, too." Now that would be an entirely different kind of throwback idea. Run at Darlington again in restored Chevrolets, Fords, Hornets, Plymouths, Pontiacs and Dodges.