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Neil Bonnett through the years
Neil Bonnett would have been 70 years old today. We take a look back at his NASCAR premier series career.
Meet Jason Hedlesky, Carl Edwards' spotter
RELATED: Meet Denny Hamlin's spotter, Chris Lambert Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spotters. Jason Hedlesky, Spotter for Carl Edwards , No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota How and when did you get started as a spotter? I grew up (in Clinton, Michigan) and my dad brought me to Michigan Speedway for the first time when I was 8 years old. Before that, I knew I wanted to be a race car driver. When he brought me here … I walked up to the fence at the start/finish line and I want to say it was Neil Bonnett in the Wood Brothers car, he just came flying by me. I stepped back about five feet, it scared me at first, but it was the most awesome thing in the world. That just confirmed it. I stayed focused on my goals and tried to eventually make it as a driver. I succeeded to some extent -- getting my start with Mr. (Junie) Donlavey and had raced locally at Flat Rock and Toledo. Getting my start with Mr. Donlavey in 1998, I drove for him, did a little bit of everything, team manager and spotted for the team as well. In '04, Mr. Donlavey was retiring and I wanted to keep driving. I didn't really want another management job or a real job. I wanted to concentrate on driving. Carl needed a spotter. He was driving a truck for Jack (Roush, team owner) and I started spotting for him. We just became ... he's like one of my brothers. What, if any, other duties do you have with the team? That's it. For the last 13 years with Carl, I've just been the spotter. At Roush I did some test driving, a little bit. I filled in for him on the XFINITY side in I want to say '08. I did a couple of practice sessions when he was off with the Cup car. Do you spot only in Sprint Cup or other series as well? I work with Matt Crafton in the Truck Series. I've been with him probably five years now. We've won the two championships together. I've got a great relationship with him as well; he's a great friend of mine. It's just a great team to work with. Junior Joiner, the crew chief, Duke (Thorson, team owner), they're awesome. As much as this is home with Carl and everything else and being with them for 13 years, I feel the same way over there at ThorSport. How long have you been working with Carl? Since 2004 with Carl, I think that was his second year in Trucks, and then that year he started (at Michigan) in the Cup car, the '99 car. There was a timeframe when Bobby Hudson would come in just for Sunday only and do the races with Carl because he was already doing that 99 car. So I would do the Truck full-time and the Cup practice. Bobby would be here just to do the Sunday stuff. Then it gradually evolved into me doing everything Carl did. We ran seven straight years of XFINTY Series and Sprint Cup full-time. Do you remember the first race you worked as spotter? It goes way back to Toledo Speedway. I helped a guy with a Super Late Model. Toledo is a half-mile race track with a quarter-mile track on the inside. Chuck Roumell, I grew up working on his cars. He gave me a shot to help with the race cars and his brother was spotting. ... For some reason, one 100-lap Iceman feature at Toledo, he couldn't do it, so they just threw the radio at me. At that time, you'd stand on top of the tool box and just spin around in a circle; you really didn't do the inside/outside type of stuff that we do today. You'd let them know if there was a wreck; you'd give them information but that was about it. I think it might have been about '97. Chuck ran some ARCA races at Michigan and places like that and I spotted for him there. What is the most bizarre thing you've ever seen on the spotters' stand? I've been doing it now almost 20 years just in NASCAR, and every time you think you've seen it all ... something else crazy happens. ... There have been so many things, like Daytona when Juan Pablo Montoya broke that part and hit that jet dryer. That was crazy from our vantage point. We're watching the race track burn in Turn 3 and thinking we're never going to go back racing. The race track has to be destroyed. And we ended up going back to racing. I'd say the jet dryer thing and thankfully everyone was OK. What has been your most memorable experience as a spotter? We've had a lot with Carl. He's such a special driver. ... It stunk how it turned out, but one of the coolest things we were a part of was that championship run at Homestead with Tony (Stewart). That was a heck of a race. You just saw two spectacular race car drivers and they were right on the edge. They were an inch from the wall down there. I talked to Carl afterward; obviously we were all so disappointed. We thought that was our championship. To this day we still think we should have won that championship. But Tony just got us. I called Carl after that and said I was worried about him scraping the wall. He said, "I was never going to hit the wall; I knew I couldn't." But he was running a half-inch from it. Me driving and realizing how hard that is to do that at his speed, that's why those guys are the best. You realize that after you watch guys like him and Tony. To be a part of that, to watch the skill they had -- those guys were running as hard as any human being could ever drive a race car. ... That was pretty cool. ... That thing there was just a spectacular race, they put on a spectacular show. The cream rose to the top. What is the most difficult part of your job? As much as we like traveling, I think the toughest part is being away from my wife and kids. Getting through all the practices and trying to stay focused. The races are fun, that's what you're here for. Staying focused all day up on the spotters' stand ... when you've got Truck and XFINITY and Cup. That part is tough, but the travel, all the long days and being away from your family. Your favorite track to work and why? Michigan, of course, because it's home. But I love to spot a race at Bristol. Our vantage point, it's a half mile. You're looking down and you don't have to turn your head. You can see everything right there in front of you. And the action happens so quick. It's probably my favorite. I've enjoyed the racing at Michigan. It's a big, wide race track. ... I've enjoyed draft, the fact that you have to lift in the corners, the fact that a guy can still beat you down in the corners. What is one thing the average fan might not realize about your job or what it entails? Probably how difficult it can be. I think if I just took the average person up there ... they don't realize maybe sometimes how little you can see at some of these places. We have great, clear vantage points, but you're still a long way away. You're listening to NASCAR on one channel, you have the crew chief on another channel and you're talking to your driver. There's a lot going on. ... Just the ability to stay focused. It's not easy or Talladega or Daytona or (Michigan); They're three- and four-wide and you're looking through binoculars to make sure you're as precise as possible. Then wrecks are happening in front of that. ... They're kind of far away from you. If you do it for a season you just get used to it. ... I appreciate all the work all those guys do. It's not easy. Bristol is a fishbowl but there's a lot going on. So you have to keep your head in the game.
Dale Jr. watches dad's Monte Carlo take a lap; more from 'Dega trip
RELATED: See Dale Jr.'s day at Talladega Six-time Talladega Superspeedway winner Dale Earnhardt Jr . visited one of his favorite tracks Thursday for an action-packed day of greeting fans, mingling with the Alabama Gang, assisting the track with its landscaping duties and watching his father's No. 2 Chevrolet take a lap around the superspeedway. The Hendrick Motorsports wheelman, sidelined for the rest of the season by concussion-like symptoms, was welcomed by Alabama Gang members Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and short-track legend Red Farmer as an honorary member of the group. The Alabama Gang, with deep roots in stock-car racing's early days, was the nickname earned by a group of notable NASCAR drivers -- the Allisons, Neil Bonnett , and Farmer among them -- with ties to the state. Talladega's back straightaway was named "The Alabama Gang Superstretch" in their honor in the spring of 2014. Although Dale Earnhardt was not a part of the group, he remained great friends with the drivers -- especially Bonnett , a fellow outdoorsman. The group paid tribute to the first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee as Donnie Allison wheeled Earnhardt's famous No. 2 Monte Carlo around the 2.66-mile track. See glimpses from Dale Jr.'s day. We have a VERY special guest with us today surprising some awesome fans! Welcome back to 'Dega, @DaleJr ! pic.twitter.com/ibtEQnnAJ6 — TalladegaSuperspdwy (@TalladegaSuperS) September 29, 2016 . @DaleJr doing some track landscaping and surprising fans at @TalladegaSuperS . #NW88JR pic.twitter.com/ptrIfuXW8y — Nationwide 88 (@nationwide88) September 29, 2016 We have some REALLY cool stuff coming up with @DaleJr and the famed #AlabamaGang ! Keep an eye on Periscope & Facebook Live! pic.twitter.com/fT05pKOgrN — TalladegaSuperspdwy (@TalladegaSuperS) September 29, 2016 Donnie, Bobby and Red welcome @DaleJr as an OFFICIAL Honorary Member of the #AlabamaGang ! pic.twitter.com/JjCPAt99FJ — TalladegaSuperspdwy (@TalladegaSuperS) September 29, 2016 Dale Sr.'s No. 2 Monte Carlo rides again with Donnie Allison at the wheel! #AlabamaGang https://t.co/HeBNAtQWh8 — TalladegaSuperspdwy (@TalladegaSuperS) September 29, 2016 Good times today @TalladegaSuperS promoting the race with the Alabama Gang. Tickets are on sale for the race on October 23rd. pic.twitter.com/vm6OZFTslx — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) September 29, 2016 I remember this old thing. @TalladegaSuperS Hall of Fame. The carpet is teal, I kid you not. Great choice pops. pic.twitter.com/UMn4RAe34L — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) September 29, 2016 How cool to rename the MRN booth @TalladegaSuperS in honor of Barney Hall! pic.twitter.com/7u24pIDUnM — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) September 29, 2016 </p>
Bruce: Throwbacks or not, Darlington chock full of lasting memories
RELATED: Paint schemes, then and now DARLINGTON, S.C. -- What year was it, 1985? The season Bill Elliott captured the Winston Million bonus the very first season it was put up for grabs by then-series sponsor RJ Reynolds? Ol' Bill, who would finish the season with an amazing 11 victories but lose the championship battle to Darrell Waltrip. Recollections of Elliott smiling broadly as "Million Dollar Bills" floated through the air in Victory Lane. That was probably it, the first time I covered a NASCAR premier series race at Darlington Raceway . The backstretch today was the frontstretch then, the big red press box and suites sitting there just outside Turn 1. It provided a grand view, possibly one of the best of any stops on the circuit. Watching the field roar out of the fourth turn, so incredibly close to the wall. Then flying down the frontstretch, hammer down and into Turn 1 to start the process all over again. Just sitting there. Soaking it all in. Overlooking history in the making. More than three decades. Time does fly, I suppose. The track's hugely popular throwback program, now in its second season, rekindles a lot of racing memories. Paint schemes that we haven't seen in years suddenly re-appear, roll out of the garage and in a sense, roll back the calendar. But then again the memories always stir a bit when it comes to Darlington. No throwback program is necessary. Maybe it's because the track is an honest-to-goodness landmark, cut out of the sandy soil by Harold Brasington and opened for business in 1950. It was NASCAR's first paved oval of more than 1 mile in length. Brasington had a vision and wasn't shy about pursuing it. But more than that he was also a kind and caring soul to all of us and I never make the trek down here for a race without thinking about him. The action on the track? Yeah, that stands out, too. But it wasn't always the kind of things you hoped to be writing about -- hard crashes and injuries could, and did, happen other places as well but a couple that occurred here haven't been forgotten. Neil Bonnett's crash in the spring race of 1990 is one of them. The extremely personable Bonnett was one of 10 drivers collected in the Turn 4 incident during that year's spring race. Briefly knocked unconscious, Bonnett was eventually transferred to the local hospital and hours later it was reported that he was suffering from amnesia. More than a decade later, it was Steve Park. The Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver was competing in a Busch (now XFINITY ) Series event when, under caution, his Chevrolet suddenly veered left and into the path of Larry Foyt. The impact was tremendous to have happened under caution. But the sadness of such instances doesn't completely overshadow the good times. Jeff Gordon 's Winston Million victory in 1997, the final year of that format, was the perfect bookend to that program's 13-year run. His battle with Jeff Burton in the closing laps of that race was as memorable as any that have unfolded on the 1.366-mile track. Speaking of Burton, there are recollections of his 1999 Darlington sweep in a pair of rain-shortened races here; toss in Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch bringing the fans to their feet with an absolutely amazing finish in 2003; and Regan Smith rising up with the then-small Furniture Row Racing operation to slay the field, and Carl Edwards in 2011. This year's Bojangles' Southern 500 , scheduled to get underway Sunday (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the 67th running of the legendary classic. I've seen some of the cars and heard many of the stories from several of the men who were there when the legend of Darlington began. For a lot of others, I've been there to witness it firsthand. It's been worth every minute of it.
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.
1987 Winston: Elliott will 'never forget' Earnhardt's all-star move
Editor's note: This week we're looking back at the 1987 Winston All-Star Race, one of the most historic races in NASCAR history. RELATED: The 1987 Winston: Where Are They Now? Nearly 30 years later NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott still says he has never been more frustrated in a race car than he was with the ending of the 1987 running of The Winston All-Star Race. He led a dominating 121 of the 135 laps but came out on the wrong end of a hard-nosed door-to-door battle for the win with the "Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt in the final 10-lap segment. The close-quarter, late-lap racing in The Winston between the season's top two championship contenders famously resulted in Earnhardt's "pass in the grass" -- even though in reality it was much closer to a maintain-in-the-terrain, but it still became racing lore. The race itself is a legitimately legendary story starring Elliott and Earnhardt with perhaps the most famous NASCAR driver lineups of all-time essentially playing supporting roles. Hall of Famers such as Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip raced that day, joining many of the sport's all-time most popular racers such as Neil Bonnett , Geoffrey Bodine and Tim Richmond. As NASCAR prepares for the modern-day version of this event, the Sprint All-Star Race this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway , it's a good stock-car history lesson to relive the 1987 event. Many consider this the most famous All-Star running -- a hard-nosed, win-at-all-costs race that raised the sport's profile and its expectations. In particular, the late-lap duel between Elliott and Earnhardt is considered required folklore for NASCAR fans, as it was the first instance of the All-Star Race having a 10-lap shootout to the finish. Even today Elliott is still miffed about his missed opportunity, he told NASCAR.com "That was probably the maddest I've ever been, but you just have to deal with it and go on,’’ said Elliott, who after being passed by Earnhardt had to pit in the waning laps to change out a flat tire, ultimately finishing 14th.
Full schedule for Pocono and Iowa
RELATED: Find NBCSN in your area " Watch live online at NBCSports.com The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will gather for a doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway while the NASCAR XFINITY Series is at Iowa Speedway this week. Check out the full weekend schedule below. Note: All times are ET MONDAY, AUG. 1: ON TRACK: POCONO -- 12:07:00 p.m. ET : NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pennsylvania 400 (160 laps, 400 miles), NBCSN ( Results ) -- Called on Lap 138 due to weather PRE-RACE SCHEDULE --11:50:00 a.m.: Intro Presentation of Colors: 55th Armored Brigade Combat Team Color Guard PA National Guard --11:50:20 a.m.: Invocation by: Monty Self, MRO --11:51:00 a.m.: National Anthem by: Meghan Wotring (Signed by Amanda Pascoe representing the Western PA School for the Deaf & the Scranton School for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing) -- 11:57:30 a.m. "Drivers, Start Your Engines" by: Major General Roger Teague, Director, Space Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition --11:07:00 a.m.: Green Flag – Pennsylvania 400 (160 laps, 400 miles) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 3 p.m.: (approx.) Post-NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race SUNDAY, JULY 31: ON TRACK: POCONO -- RACE POSTPONED UNTIL 11 a.m. MONDAY: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pennsylvania 400 (160 laps, 400 miles), NBCSN ( Follow live ) FRIDAY, JULY 29: ON TRACK: POCONO -- 11 a.m.-12:25 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series first practice, NBCSN ( Results ) -- 12:30-1:55 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series first practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 3-3:55 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 4:15 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN ( Results ) GARAGECAM ( Watch live ) -- 10:30 a.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- noon: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 9:45 a.m.: Brad Keselowski -- 10 a.m.: Matt Kenseth -- 10:15 a.m.: Daniel Hemric -- 1:30 p.m: Jeff Gordon -- 2 p.m.: Danny Stockman (Crew chief for the No. 27 Sprint Cup team) and Richard Childress Racing Competition Director Dr. Eric Warren -- 2:30 p.m.: Kyle Busch -- 2:45 p.m.: Joey Logano -- 3 p.m.: Kyle Larson -- 5 p.m.: (approx.) Post-NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying ON TRACK: IOWA -- 5-5:50 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series first practice, NBCSN will start coverage at 5:30 p.m. on a delay ( Results ) -- 7-8:20 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN ( Results ) DAILY ROUNDUP -- Keselowski talks safety after Watkins Glen wreck -- Newman plans to stick with RCR in 2017 -- Gordon set for longer sub stint if needed -- At-track photos from Pocono, Iowa -- Truex wins third pole of '16 at Pocono -- Starting lineup for Sunday's main event -- Byron, Nemechek top Friday's Truck Series practices -- Berry ready to make most of Iowa weekend -- Hornish Jr., Koch top XFINITY Series practices at Iowa -- Dillon: I plan 'on being in the Sprint Cup Series next year' SATURDAY, JULY 30: ON TRACK: POCONO -- 9:05 a.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, canceled due to rain ( Starting lineup ) -- 11 a.m.-12:20 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN ( Results ) -- 1 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 (60 laps, 150 miles), FS1 ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 10 a.m.: Aric Almirola -- 3 p.m.: (approx.) Post-NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race ON TRACK: IOWA -- 4:15 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN ( Results ) -- 8 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series US Cellular 250 (250 laps, 218.75 miles), NBCSN ( Results ) DAILY ROUNDUP -- Dale Jr. provides latest update on concussion-like symptoms -- Truex Jr. seeks more magic with dominant 600 car -- Top stories to watch for Sunday's Sprint Cup race -- See the scenes from a busy NASCAR Saturday -- Remembering Neil Bonnett -- Byron wins at Pocono for fifth win of 2016 -- Suarez scores pole for Iowa XFINITY race -- E. Jones takes Iowa race in fuel-mileage duel
First NHMS Cup race was Davey Allison's last
McReynolds remembers driver on anniversary of his passing RELATED: High 5: Remembering Davey Allison As New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th anniversary, FOX NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds, a guest on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, remembered another Magic Mile milestone: the first premier series race at the track, which was the last event for Davey Allison before a helicopter accident claimed his life. After falling 63 points shy of the 1992 NASCAR championship, Allison's No. 28 Robert Yates Racing Ford got off to a slow start, according to McReynolds, who served as its crew chief. "I think we kind of got lazy between the '92 and the '93 season because we ran so well in 1992," McReynolds said. "We didn't work to make ourselves better, and we were struggling when '93 started." The Slick 50 300 at a new New England venue offered an opportunity for the team to turn the corner, and it gave the team reason to be optimistic for the inaugural premier series race. "We finally built a brand new car and went to Loudon, and we were leading that race with 30 laps to go and we had a car that was good on the long run," McReynolds said. "A caution comes out for debris with 30 laps to go. We were in a bit of a box. We had to pit so we pitted, and we ended up finishing third to Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin ." It was the team's first top-five finish in a month and sixth in the first 16 races of the season. An upbeat Allison did something on the way home that surprised his crew chief and fellow Alabama native as the No. 28 team headed to Charlotte and then on to Allison's home in Hueytown, Alabama. "Davey did something that night that I had never seen him do," McReynolds said. "He always flew his own plane. I think it's how he kind of took out his anxiety of the day, but he told his pilot and his dad, Bobby, 'You guys fly the airplane. I'm going to sit in the back with the guys.' "…we sat back there and he was so excited and happy because I think like he felt like we finally had hit on something that we had been missing most of 1993. He told me when we landed in Charlotte, 'You won't be able to get in touch with me tomorrow. I think I'm going to fly up to Talladega to watch David Bonnett , Neil Bonnett's son, test a car.' "I said, 'No problem. I'll call you on Tuesday.' "Well, unfortunately, I never got to make that call because the next day was when he was killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega." Later that season, Ernie Irvan took over the No. 28 ride, driving the car through the first 20 races of the 1994 season before a crash at Michigan International Speedway sidelined him for for more than a year. When Irvan returned to the No. 28 car in 1996, McReynolds was his crew chief, and that July, Irvan and McReynolds went to Victory Lane at Loudon, New Hampshire, for an emotional celebration in honor of the driver's comeback and to commemorate the three-year anniversary of Allison's passing. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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.
Stats advance: Analyzing the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
A stats-based look ahead to the second race of the Sprint Cup season Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Chase Grid standings after Daytona 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia going into the Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 on March ATLANTA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ortho Ford) · Three top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.7 · Average Running Position of 13.9, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 90.8, 11th-best · 237 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,031 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · 3,466 Laps in the Top 15 (66.2%), sixth-most · 539 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), seventh-most Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Kelly Blue Book Chevrolet) · One win, eight top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 12.3 · Average Running Position of 13.0, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 92.7, ninth-best · 227 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 1,119 Green Flag Passes, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.203 mph, eighth-fastest · 3,382 Laps in the Top 15 (64.6%), seventh-most · 535 Quality Passes, eighth-most Carl Edwards (No. 19 ARRIS Toyota) · Three wins, nine top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 14.6 · Average Running Position of 12.4, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 100.1, third-best · Series-high 371 Fastest Laps Run · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.499 mph, second-fastest · 4,038 Laps in the Top 15 (77.1%), third-most · 552 Quality Passes, fifth-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 3M Chevrolet) · Five wins, 16 top fives, 26 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.9 · Average Running Position of 10.2, second-best · Series-best Driver Rating of 106.0 · 296 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.453 mph, fourth-fastest · 4,161 Laps in the Top 15 (79.5%), second-most · Series-high 612 Quality Passes Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · One win, three top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 16.8 · Average Running Position of 12.1, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 97.4, sixth-best · 263 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.463 mph, third-fastest · 3,312 Laps in the Top 15 (67.4%), ninth-most Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's/ Budweiser Chevrolet) · One win, five top fives, nine top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 18.8 · Driver Rating of 90.4, 12th-best · 280 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 949 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.232 mph, seventh-fastest · 3,045 Laps in the Top 15 (58.1%), 12th-most · 470 Quality Passes, 11th-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Three wins, 12 top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 11.5 · Series-best Average Running Position of 9.1 · Driver Rating of 104.9, second-best · 280 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 171.523 mph · Series-high 4,381 Laps in the Top 15 (83.7%) · 582 Quality Passes, third-most Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Nine top fives, 15 top 10s · Average finish of 12.3 · Average Running Position of 12.2, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.9, fifth-best · 201 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most · 1,034 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.339 mph, fifth-fastest · 3,749 Laps in the Top 15 (71.6%), fourth-most · 544 Quality Passes, sixth-most Kyle Larson (No. 42 ENERGIZER Chevrolet) · One top 10 · Average finish of 8.0 · Average Running Position of 11.3, third-best · Driver Rating of 91.1, 10th-best Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Three wins, 10 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 12.7 · Average Running Position of 12.3, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 98.1, fourth-best · 233 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.191 mph, ninth-fastest · 3,353 Laps in the Top 15 (68.3%), eighth-most · 509 Quality Passes, 10th-most The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2015 Top 16 at Atlanta Motor Speedway Rank Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Joey Logano 8 0 0 1 1 0 21.5 71.9 2 Kevin Harvick 24 1 1 5 9 4 18.8 90.4 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 27 2 1 8 12 2 12.3 92.7 4 Denny Hamlin 15 1 1 3 6 2 16.8 97.4 5 Jimmie Johnson 23 0 3 12 14 2 11.5 104.9 6 Casey Mears 19 0 0 0 0 2 22.5 59.1 7 Clint Bowyer 14 0 0 0 5 2 21.1 83 8 Martin Truex Jr. 16 1 0 2 4 4 20.4 90.1 9 Kasey Kahne 18 2 3 7 9 3 18.6 87.2 10 Greg Biffle 20 1 0 3 10 2 15.7 90.8 11 David Gilliland 13 0 0 0 0 2 26.8 56.6 12 Sam Hornish Jr. 7 0 0 0 0 1 27.1 57.9 13 Michael Annett 1 0 0 0 0 0 21 59.2 14 Austin Dillon 2 0 0 0 0 0 21.5 65.1 15 Aric Almirola 4 0 0 0 1 0 20.5 65.8 16 David Ragan 12 0 0 0 1 1 26.5 57.3 * – Based on last 16 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2005 – 2014). Atlanta Motor Speedway Data Season Race #: 2 of 36 (03-01-14) Track Size : 1.54-miles Banking/Turn 1 & 2 : 24 degrees Banking/Turn 3 & 4 : 24 degrees Banking/Frontstretch : 5 degrees Banking/Backstretch : 5 degrees Frontstretch Length : 2,332 feet Backstretch Length : 1,800 feet Race Length : 325 laps / 500.5 miles Top Driver Ratings at Atlanta Jeff Gordon .............................. 106.0 Jimmie Johnson ........................ 104.9 Carl Edwards ............................ 100.1 Tony Stewart ............................... 98.1 Matt Kenseth .............................. 97.9 Denny Hamlin ............................. 97.4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. ....................... 92.7 Kyle Larson. ............................... 91.1 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (16 total) among active drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet 190.398 mph, 29.118 secs. 08-29-14 2014 race winner : Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet 131.514 mph, (03:55:22), 08-31-14 Track qualifying record: Geoffrey Bodine, Ford 197.478 mph, 28.074 secs. 11-15-97 Track race record: Bobby Labonte, Pontiac 159.904 mph, (03:07:48), 11-16-97 Statistical Advance Atlanta Motor Speedway: History · Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta was on July 31, 1960, won by Fireball Roberts from the pole. · The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970. · It was renamed Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990. · The track layout was reversed and the track was re-configured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997. Notebook · There have been 107 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race there in 1960. Until 2010 there have been two races per year except 1961, which had three. This year marks the fourth season with only one event. · 552 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway; 367 in more than one. · Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Atlanta with 65. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 41 starts, followed by Joe Nemechek with 38. · Fireball Roberts won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Atlanta in 1960 with a speed of 133.870 mph. · 48 drivers have Coors Light poles at Atlanta, led by Buddy Baker and Ryan Newman with seven each. · Winning consecutive Coors Light poles has happened eight times at Atlanta, among six drivers. · Ryan Newman holds the record for most consecutive poles at Atlanta with six; spring of 2003 through 2005. · Youngest Atlanta pole winner: Terry Labonte (03/15/1981 – 24 years, 3 months, 27 days). · Oldest Atlanta pole winner: Harry Gant (11/14/1993 – 53 years, 10 months, 4 days). · 43 different NSCS drivers have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt with nine wins. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five. · 11 drivers have posted consecutive wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Marvin Panch (1965 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), David Pearson (1973 sweep), Richard Petty (1974 fall, 1975 spring), Cale Yarborough (1980 fall, 1981 spring), Bill Elliott (1985 sweep; 1992 sweep), Dale Earnhardt (1989 fall, 1990 spring; 1995 fall, 1996 spring), Bobby Labonte (1997 fall, 1998 spring), Jeff Gordon (1998 fall, 1999 spring), Carl Edwards (2005 sweep), Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep) · Youngest Atlanta winner: Kyle Busch (03/09/2008 – 22 years, 10 months, 7 days). · Oldest Atlanta winner: Morgan Shepherd (03/20/1993 – 51 years, 5 months, 8 days). · The Wood Brothers and Hendrick Motorsports have the most wins at Atlanta in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12 each: o Wood Brothers: Cale Yarborough (three), David Pearson (three), Marvin Panch (two), Neil Bonnett (two) A.J. Foyt (one) and Morgan Shepherd (one). o Hendrick Motorsports: Jeff Gordon (five), Jimmie Johnson (three), Darrell Waltrip (one), Jerry Nadeau (one), Kasey Kahne (one) and Ken Schrader (one). o Joe Gibbs Racing has the third most wins at Atlanta with 11. · Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Atlanta; led by Chevrolet with 38 victories; followed by Ford (29), Pontiac (11), Dodge (nine), Mercury (eight), Buick (four), Plymouth (four), Toyota (three) and Oldsmobile (one). · 14 of the 107 (13.1%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kasey Kahne in 2006. · The fifth starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Atlanta Motor Speedway; the most recent was Jeff Gordon in 2011. · 26 of the 107 (24.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the front row: 14 from the pole and 12 from second-place. · 60 of the 107 (56.1%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-five starting position. · 85 of the 107 (79.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Seven of the 107 (6.5%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Atlanta is 39th, by Bobby Labonte in the fall of 2001. · No driver has swept the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway across all three NASCAR national series. Two drivers have won in multiple NASCAR national series in the same weekend at Atlanta: Carl Edwards (2005, NSCS/NNS); (fall 2008, NSCS/NNS) and Kyle Busch (spring 2008, NSCS/NCWTS) · Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson lead the series in runner-up finishes at Atlanta with seven each; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five. · Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Atlanta with 26; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 16. · Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Atlanta with 33; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 26. · Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Atlanta with a 7.409. · Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at 11.522. · Nine of the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Atlanta Motor Speedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in his first appearance (2001). Carl Edwards won in his second appearance (2005). · Denny Hamlin competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway 12 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners. · Among the 10 active NSCS Atlanta winners Denny Hamlin (12) is the only driver to have made 10 or more attempts before his first win. · Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Atlanta without visiting Victory Lane at 38; followed by Matt Kenseth with 26. · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway was the March 11, 2001 race won by Kevin Harvick over Jeff Gordon with a MOV of 0.006 second. · There have been four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): fall of 2007 (325/329); spring of 2010 (325/341), fall of 2012 (325/327) and 2014 (325/335). · Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway five times; most recently the fall of 2010. · One active driver has posted his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (9/01/2013). · Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Jeff Gordon (11/15/1992) and Martin Truex Jr. (10/31/2004). · Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career win at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Kevin Harvick (3/11/2001) and Carl Edwards (3/20/2005). · Cale Yarborough leads all drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Atlanta with 3,283 laps led in 47 starts. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in laps led at Atlanta with 1,297. · Three female drivers have competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Shawna Robinson and Danica Patrick. Driver Starting Position Finishing Position Date Janet Guthrie 34 30 3/20/1977 Janet Guthrie 19 16 11/6/1977 Janet Guthrie 23 10 3/19/1978 Shawna Robinson 31 34 3/10/2002 Danica Patrick 23 29 9/2/2012 Danica Patrick 21 21 9/1/2013 Danica Patrick 27 6 8/31/2014 NASCAR in Georgia · There have been 166 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among 12 different tracks in Georgia. Track Name City NSCS Atlanta Motor Speedway Hampton 107 Augusta International Speedway Augusta 12 Lakewood Speedway Atlanta 11 Savannah Speedway Savannah 10 Middle Georgia Raceway Macon 9 Central City Speedway Macon 7 Valdosta 75 Speedway Valdosta 3 Jeffco Speedway Jefferson 2 Oglethorpe Speedway Savannah 2 Augusta International Raceway Augusta 1 Columbus Speedway Columbus 1 Hayloft Speedway Augusta 1 · 180 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Georgia; 15 have won at least once in one of NASCAR’s national series. · 11 of the 178 have posted at least one victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. · Bill Elliott (five wins) is the only Georgia native to have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. MORE: Driver NSCS NXS NCWTS Bill Elliott 44 1 0 Tim Flock 39 0 0 Jack Smith 21 0 0 Fonty Flock 19 0 0 Bob Flock 4 0 0 Frank Mundy 3 0 0 David Ragan 2 2 0 Gober Sosebee 2 0 0 Harold Kite 1