Nuts for Nationwide · Bryan Davis Keith · Thursday May 24, 2012
Whoever said you can’t go home again obviously didn’t write the NASCAR schedule, as the circuit currently has returned for the first of two weekends spent in the Charlotte area. And the same can be said for Biagi-DenBeste Racing, returning to Nationwide competition after a four-year hiatus. It’s a rare example of a team falling away only to return to the Nationwide Series, and a welcome addition back to the fold.
The most memorable moment for the operation that for years fielded the No. 4 GEICO entry (they’ll be racing the No. 98 this season) came at Daytona, where Mike Wallace capitalized on Jason Leffler’s rampage that knocked out contenders Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the 2004 summer race, the only victory in team history. To commemorate and celebrate the return to the series of a longtime stalwart and a Nationwide independent operation, let’s pause and look back at some of the more memorable performances of teams no longer competing.
June 7, 2003 – PPC Racing’s Last Win
Prior to the Cup driver invasion of 2006-2011, PPC Racing and driver Jeff Green held the record, both on and off the stat sheet, for most dominating run to a Nationwide Series title; in 2000, Green won six races, scored 27 top 10s in 32 races and ended up 616 markers ahead of closest competitor Jason Keller (who ironically was a long-time PPC competitor himself).
But for all the wins and accomplishment, 2003 marked the final season the team would contend for a title. And entering the spring race at Nashville, Scott Riggs went from contender to frontrunner, at least for one rainy weekend just outside the Music City. Weathering a rained-out qualifying session and a number of caution flags, Riggs held off late charges from both rookie David Stremme and veteran David Green to win the Trace Adkins Chrome 300, his second win of the 2003 season and third for PPC Racing.
It was the last time Riggs, Keller and PPC have visited victory lane in a NASCAR touring series. PPC hasn’t raced since the end of the 2006 season.
July 12, 2003 – Ford Dominance from Outside the House of Roush
Another key player in the 2003 title race that saw four drivers battle down to the closing laps at Homestead was one Bobby Hamilton Jr., who turned in one of the most dominant performances in Nationwide Series history when the summer stretch started in Chicago. Despite being edged for the pole by Cup rookie Casey Mears and Johnny Sauter in RCR’s flagship No. 21 (which would go on to win the owner’s crown that year), Hamilton took the point on lap 3, and leading 186 of the next 198 circuits, blew the rest of the field away, nine Cup regulars in the field notwithstanding.
Hamilton would win twice more in the fall to claim a series-leading four trophies in 2003 despite falling short of the championship. One year later returning to Chicago, Hamilton looked to return to that same form despite a winless 2004, winning the pole and leading the first five circuits. It didn’t last long though, as a blown engine sent the No. 25 Rensi Racing team to the garage for good with a 43rd place finish. Hamilton lasted only another month with the team, which released him following his signing with another now-defunct operation, PPI Racing, in the Cup Series. Hamilton and Rensi each would not return to victory lane in their careers, even after reuniting a few years down the road.
Rensi Racing has disappeared ever since start-and-parking the first few weeks of the 2011 season.
July 10, 2004 – Lone Shining Moment for Lone Star Protégé
Mike Wallace was riding high after scoring the Biagi team their only NASCAR victory at Daytona the weekend prior, and came oh so close to making it happen two weekends in a row. Playing fuel strategy to perfection, the No. 4 car exited turn 4 coming to the white flag leading the field…only to run out of gas at the start-finish line. With the field already jumbled courtesy of a long green run to close things out, the torch was passed to one Justin Labonte, who coasted to his first career Nationwide Series win, top 5 and top 10 finish of his career.
Despite partnering up the No. 44 and his Coast Guard sponsorship with the Haas CNC Racing team the following year, Labonte never again scored a top 5 finish, and hasn’t raced at the Nationwide Series level since 2006.
November 13, 2004 – No Takers to “Advertise Here” on a Runner-Up Ride
Despite having run nearly the entire 2004 season with “Advertise Here” decals all over the family-owned No. 46 ride after losing backing from the Civil Air Patrol, Ashton Lewis and team hit their stride heading down the fall stretch, scoring four top 15 results in the five races leading up to the second Darlington event of the year. It was there that driver and team enjoyed their best run ever, leading 11 laps and finishing runner-up to a dominant Jamie McMurray. Coupled with a top 15 at Homestead the following weekend, the last five races of 2004 marked the strongest five race stretch the Lewis Motorsports team put together during their unsponsored season.
Though those efforts landed Lewis a ride in the Rensi camp for a few years, 2004 marked the end of Lewis Motorsports. Lewis the driver hasn’t taken to the track since 2006.
June 17, 2006 – David Topples Goliath…and His Name was David
On any other night, Joe Gibbs Racing’s JJ Yeley would have celebrated a first NASCAR win over two years in the making. But this was one night where the stars perfectly aligned for a team that came completely out of left field. All but unsponsored Clay Andrews Racing, running a partial schedule with a West Series driver named David Gilliland that took a gamble and moved to North Carolina in pursuit of a dream, hit on something despite competing on an aero sensitive intermediate oval. And no matter how hard Yeley pushed, he couldn’t pass the No. 84. No matter how many spots Gilliland’s over-matched pit crew lost during stops, the No. 84 car had the horses to get back up front.
And when all was said and done, Gilliland scored one of the most monumental upsets the series has ever seen. It translated into a ride with Robert Yates Racing for the driver, who’s a Cup regular to this day, but nothing more than a few one-off sponsorships for the CAR team that raced only two more times…ever. Though the team owner would make an announcement that they were working with a young gun and a prospective sponsor, the No. 84 hasn’t been seen since 2006.
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