Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Matt McLaughlin · Friday February 1, 2008
Editor’s Note: With the 50th running of the Daytona 500 just days away, we’re proud to present Frontstretch Senior Writer Matt McLaughlin’s “History Of Daytona” series. Starting today through Speedweeks Pole Day on Sunday, February 10th, McLaughlin will profile all 49 Daytona 500s – and whether it’s Pearson and Petty spinning through the grass or Dale Earnhardt finally getting the monkey off his back, he’ll have you feeling as if you’re back in the middle of the action all over again.
In today’s series debut, McLaughlin retells the story of how the Great American Race came to be, leading up to its debut in 1959.
To those drivers slated to run in the very first Daytona 500, their first glimpse of the brand new speedway must have been awe inspiring. When Bill France Sr. first proposed a two-and-a-half mile race course with high banked corners, more than a few people scoffed that it would never be built, and some even said it couldn’t be built. There had been such long delays in getting the speedway approved and built that a newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, once labeled France’s proposed race track the “Pipe Dream Speedway”. But there it sat, two-and-a-half miles of fresh black top shimmering in the midwinter Florida sun, with banked corners higher than the tallest buildings in the towns some of the drivers racing on it had grown up in. For a group used to running on short dirt and asphalt ovals, the awe must have been tempered with a bit of fear as well. As Jimmy Thompson, a driver of that era, put it, “There have been other tracks that separated the men from the boys. This is the track that’s going to separate the brave from the weak when the boys are gone.”
Bill France had first proposed the Daytona Speedway during the annual beach/road course race in 1954, and was confident enough in his ability to get the track built he told the drivers there they would be racing on the speedway the very next year. In reality, it took a lot longer than that. France’s reasoning was sound: far from the sleepy little beach community that he had arrived in from Washington, Daytona Beach was developing rapidly into a major beach resort. With the increased tourism and construction, the days of the old course on the beach and the public highway were numbered. Only a dedicated racing facility could keep alive the tradition of racing in Daytona Beach.
Too bad not everyone liked the racing. Far from paving the way for him, some politicians threw up all sorts of zoning obstacles and objections, and bankers scoffed openly at the idea of building such a track. Finally, a Racing and Recreation Committee was formed, headed by France’s former boss from the Buick/Cadillac agency where he had been employed, J. Saxton Lloyd. The commission bought land for the project and gave France a 99-year lease on the facility. No other public moneys were forthcoming, though, so to raise money to build the track France sold 300,000 shares of stock at a dollar a share, spent every dime he had, re-mortgaged his home, and borrowed $600,000 from oil millionaire Clint Murchison. When that money ran out, he even began selling tickets to a race at a facility that hadn’t even been built yet to raise additional money to complete his project. But somehow, the track did get built, and the racing community gathered in Daytona Beach in February of 1959 for the first ever Speedweeks, with the crown jewel, the Daytona 500, slated to run on February 22, 1959.
Posted awards for that first “500 Miles Sweepstakes Race” were $62,760, with an additional $5,000 bonus to the winner if he drove a 1959 model car. France wanted shiny new cars, not battle scarred veterans out there for his big race. Besides the Grand National hardtops, the Convertible division cars were also eligible to compete in that Daytona 500, which is where the “sweepstakes” part of the race’s name came from. Trying to give the race an international flavor, France also offered a 500 dollar bonus to the highest finisher in a Jaguar…but there were no takers.
As an example of the cost of racing in those days, Holman and Moody, later to become the kingpin of Ford factory racing, bought eight spanking new and race-prepped Thunderbirds to the track for drivers wishing to buy a car to race. The T-birds included all the allowable safety equipment of the day, two-point roll bars, seat and shoulder belts, the Ford “Severe duty” suspension and spindles, a tachometer hose clamped to the steering column, a 22 gallon gas tank, a blueprinted 430 cubic inch engine, and an asbestos floor mat, used to keep the driver’s feet cool and in the event of a fire. Of course, buying one of those cars was a rich man’s way into the race; each one cost a princely $5,500. On the cheaper side of the coin, Lee Petty paid $2,500 for his 1959 Oldsmobile and worked on it in the family shop with his sons Richard and Maurice.
Then, as now, there were a full slate of races set to run…not just the 500. France, after all, had to sell a lot of tickets to start paying back his loans. The first event on the schedule was held February 7th, 1959, with qualifying for the qualifying race that would precede the Daytona 500. Only 13 cars showed up and 6 did not pass tech. Of the remaining seven cars, Fireball Roberts in a ’59 Pontiac was the fastest, averaging 140.581 miles per hour. It was approximately 24 miles per faster than the pole speed at Darlington a track which had been the circuit’s fastest to that point in history.
Also part of the festivities that week was an attempt by Marshall Teague to break the world closed course speedway record at Daytona. Marshall attempted the feat in an Indy car of the day, modified with crude aerodynamic body work to form a canopy over the driver and enclose the tires. On the very first day of testing, the team was within 5 miles per hour of the record of 177.038 MPH and confident with a little fine tuning and higher gears they could shatter the record easily. Also running that day was an Indy car, sent to drum up a little attention for the Indy car type race planned to be run at Daytona on the Fourth of July later that year. Unfortunately, Teague’s plans met with disaster the morning of February 11th. While he was working his way up to speed, the car lifted off the ground and headed down the banking. When it struck the infield apron, the car launched into a series of five violent flips traveling well over a quarter mile. The car disintegrated and Teague, still strapped in his seat by his harnesses, was thrown 150 feet beyond the wreck. By the time the rescue crew arrived, they found Teague was already dead. He was the first man to lose his life at the new Daytona Speedway.
There were four rounds of qualifying for the Daytona 500, and the fastest time was set by Cotton Owens in another ’59 Pontiac, who blistered the new asphalt at 143.198 MPH. Remember, these were production 1959 cars, longer than most of today's pickups, complete with huge tail fins and a half ton of chrome trim present and accounted for. To be honest, they were simply circus wagons, traveling well over two miles a minute.
The first head-to-head race on the Daytona Speedway on February 20th was a 100-mile qualifying race for the convertibles, which incidentally competed with the roofs down. It turned out to be a remarkably close race, with Shorty Rollins in a ’58 Ford beating Marvin Panch by inches to the checkers. Third place went to a young man piloting a ’57 Oldsmobile by the name of Richard Petty.
Later that day, 38 hardtops lined up for their qualifying race (there was only one that year) with Fireball Roberts on the pole. Right from the outset, Fritz Wilson, in one of the store bought Holman and Moody T-Birds took off like a rocket; but it was Bob Welborn in a ’59 Chevy that had the strongest horse. Both drivers found out some peculiar things during the race. For one thing, with a nearly 100 cubic inch advantage in displacement the Ford should have been faster, but its awkward aerodynamics slowed it down. But Wilson found by tucking right on Welborn’s rear bumper, he could travel along faster than he had qualified. They didn’t have a name for it yet, but Wilson had inadvertently discovered what would become the black art of winning at Daytona, drafting. Fireball Roberts, who became drafting’s first master was watching the curious phenomenon carefully. Welborn tried to describe what he had been doing for Wilson as “breaking wind”… a name that fortunately didn’t stick.Much as the Busch race is run on the Saturday before the Daytona 500 now, there was a sportsman class race on Saturday the 21st. The legendary chassis builder, Banjo Matthews, won that event. Junior Johnson had been flagged in fourth place, but was disqualified when it was found his fuel tank was way oversized. It was not the last time Junior would get caught bending NASCAR’s rules. Later that day, there was a 25-lap consolation race for cars that had yet to qualify for the 500, an event that would decide starting positions 41-59. Jack Smith would sneak into the 500 by winning that race, moving on to eventually finish seventh in the 500 itself.
With all the preliminaries out of the way, it was finally time for the first Daytona 500. Naysayers predicted no cars would finish the race; they claimed no car could take that sort of beating. They were certain there would be terrible accidents, and the race would be boring with one car leaving the field laps and laps behind. Hopefully, those naysayers still bought tickets to see the spectacle.
41,291 people attended the first Daytona 500 that day. 59 cars sat on pit road ready for battle, the morning sun gleaming off of enough chrome to plate the Statue of Liberty twice over, and more tail fins than the Iraqi Air Force left littered over the desert during the Gulf War. Among the unusual vehicles set to compete that day were a ’58 Edsel convertible driven by Paul Bass and a 59 Studebaker entered by Harold Smith. There was no flag stand in those days so the starter waved the green flag from the apron along pit road and dove for cover as 59 bellowing cars headed for turn one three and four wide. Ken Marriott holds the dubious distinctions of being the first driver to drop out of the race and the first man to finish last in the Daytona 500 when he popped an engine on the very first lap. Pole sitter Bob Welborn holds the honor of leading the first lap of the first Daytona 500, and he treated the fans to a spirited battle with “Tiger” Tom Pistone, who led the second and third laps, all while wearing a life preserver due to his fear of drowning in Lake Lloyd. Richard Petty, the King of Stock Car Racing and Grand Pumbah of the Daytona 500, didn’t fare so well that first year; he lost an engine on the 8th lap and wound up 57th. Fireball Roberts passed the lead duo and took a comfortable lead before he lost a fuel pump and dropped out of the race early. Jack Smith, who had only made the event in the consolation race, was left to uphold the Pontiac brand’s honor, and he did so convincingly in the middle stages of the race until several tire problems dropped him out of contention. Attrition took its toll on the machines, but remarkably there were none of the high speed wrecks people had feared, and the first Daytona 500 was run without a single caution flag.
Late in the event, two contenders rose to the top of the heap on a lap by themselves: Lee Petty in his “Styling by Stevie Wonder” Oldsmobile, and Johnny Beauchamp in his “ Buck Rogers” Thunderbird. The two cars seemed evenly matched, and the crowd was on their feet as the two drivers swapped the lead eight times in the final 127 laps, running door handle to door handle at 140 miles per hour. Coming out of turn four on the final lap, the two cars were side-by-side heading for the checkers, and as they took the flag, no one in the stands was sure who had won. After 500 miles of flat out racing, the separation between the two cars was a matter of a foot or so.
From where Bill France sat, he thought Beauchamp had won, and the Ford driver was instructed to take it his car to Victory Lane. Meanwhile, Lee Petty angrily insisted he had won, and a group of reporters who had been right at the Start/Finish line backed up his contention. There were no photo finish cameras in those days, although in the confusion of that afternoon Bill France decided there would be before the next race. Sensing controversy, even while Beauchamp was celebrating in Victory Lane France was appealing to the press to submit any photos they had of the finish, terming the outcome of the race “unofficial”. The batch of pictures NASCAR received inevitably proved inconclusive. Some were taken a little before the finish line, and some taken a little beyond it. It was clear that Beauchamp had been closing hard on Petty before the finish line, and was in fact past him a few feet beyond, but not whether he had beat him to the line was a whole other matter. Finally, newsreel footage was obtained of the finish from the Hearst organization. (Hearst as in Randolph and Rosebud, not the shifter folks.) In those days, newsreel films still showed before a feature movie in the theaters, and Hearst executives had thought the movie house audience might find the 500-mile race at the novel new track exciting. Little did they know. After reviewing the film, it was clear that Petty had indeed won the first Daytona 500, so three days after the fact he was awarded the victory. The average speed for the caution-free event was 135.521 miles per hour. To put that in perspective, many cautions marred the 1988 Daytona 500, and the average speed was only 137.531 miles per hour. Drivers have been returning to Daytona Beach for the February classic every year ever since. It will cost a bit more than $5,500 to buy a competitive car, but it remains to be seen if the finish will be as exciting as it was in the days of tail-finned and chrome dinosaurs.
1959 AFTERMATH – An Indy car style race was run at Daytona April 4th of 1959. George Amick took the pole at a mind boggling (for the time) 176.887 miles per hour, just short of the closed course speed record. Jim Rathman won the event, but while Amick was battling it out for third place he lost control of his car, slammed the wall, flipped over and skidded 900 feet upside down. He became the second driver to lose his life at Daytona. That race was the first of a scheduled doubleheader, and the second race did indeed run, though it was shortened from 100 laps to 50, an event Rathman won to complete the Daytona sweep. After that weekend of tragedy, the Indy cars would never run at Daytona again. A scheduled Indy car race set for July Fourth was canceled, so Bill France hastily arranged a 250-mile Grand National race to take its place. The event was dubbed the “Firecracker 250” in honor of the country's birthday, an event which has developed into the modern-day Pepsi 400. During that first Firecracker race, Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherly discovered running “in the draft” they could leave the rest of the field in their wake. Fireball won the first Firecracker as a result, and as for the draft, well as they say, the rest is history.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!