NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Casual Questions From “Hardcore” Fans & Vice Versa

Another solid batch, guys and gals. The diversity of questions is just outstanding, so keep ’em rolling in, Thus far you all have absolutely topped yourselves from where we were at this point last season.

And before we start, I just have to say that if Chubby Checker and his painted-on jeans, denim jacket and shoddy lip-sync job ever show at a pre-race concert again, I’m outta here. I love racing, but my stomach just won’t stand for that.

Q: Do you know why NASCAR can’t build a few more pit stalls and allow more cars to race on a 2.5-mile track? With its “Super Bowl” status, and kicking off the season, why not let Bill Elliott and the Wood Brothers, Ken Schrader and others in the race? Now these teams face race No. 2 with zero points and the dreaded go-or-go-home status the rest of the season. NASCAR is not very bright. – Ray Miller

A: Basically, because 43 is the max number. That’s the set-in-stone rule. We don’t have too many of those these days, so let’s not give NASCAR any ideas, OK?

The Daytona 500 is the race of the season. Do you want it to erode into a charity case? That’s what it becomes if NASCAR starts allowing free passes (and save the bogus Top-35 argument; I don’t agree with it either, but it’s certainly not charity). Plus, isn’t the Great American Race rooted in competition? If the sanctioning body allows teams and/or drivers a free pass based on popularity, what credibility this sport has left is totally gone.

Sorry Ray – I couldn’t disagree with you more on this, but I still love ya, man.

Q: I seem to remember from watching races with my dad when I was younger that the bodies on the cars, at least, had to be “stock,” and the templates that fit the racecar bodies would also fit the street model. That changed long before the CoT and the common template, so what gives? Why did NASCAR ease up on the stock body? – BillT99

A: Wow. Sorting through the whys, whens and hows of the stock car losing its “stock” could fill a three-part feature. So in the interest of time, space and my sanity, let me boil it down to this:

In the late 1960s, Ford and Chysler built the first vehicles to be used specifically on the Grand National circuit. In response, NASCAR mandated that at least 500 production vehicles be produced to meet the definition of a “stock” car; think Plymouth Superbird or Ford Torino.

Shortly thereafter, in the early ’70s, many of the manufacturers pulled out of the sport and those minimum production quotas were rendered meaningless. NASCAR then mandated that a tubular chassis (as opposed to factory-based frames) be installed for safety, so while the bodies may have still been “stock” the beast within was anything but. By the late ’70s/early ’80s the bodies had evolved into custom hangs that were done, for the most part, in-house.

NASCAR allowed the innovations to continue because the product rolling off the Detroit assembly lines were no longer fit (or able) to meet the ever-expanding technical and safety templates mandated by the sanctioning body. So in a nutshell Bill, that’s why and how we got where we are.

Q: Hi Matt! Can you tell me how many times (and by which driver) the No. 26 car has made it into Victory Lane? There seems to be some difference of reports on this. Thanks!!! – Vanessa T. Lee

A: Sure Vanessa. I’m a car number history buff, so this one was fun.

The first Grand National race in which a car numbered 26 was entered was the 1950 Southern 500. Yep, that would be the inaugural running of the Southern 500. A guy named Dick Linder drove it from a starting position of 62nd (plenty of extra pit stalls that day, Ray.) to 13th. Not bad.

I’ve come to realize through your question that the 26 is a pretty storied number. It’s not 43 or 11, but check out some of these names: Curtis Turner drove a No. 26 Holman-Moody Ford to the number’s first win. It came at the legendary Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta. ‘Pops’ drove the same car to another win five days later in Charlotte.

Fred Lorenzen (one win) was the next to win with 26, followed by Bobby Isaac (one). Junior Johnson took over from there, guiding his self-owned No. 26 Ford to 12 wins in ’65. Junior actually won 13 races that season, but ran the first three with the No. 27.

Darel Dieringer won a single event in 1967 and, although the number was still in use, did not visit Victory Lane again for 21 years when Ricky Rudd won in ’88 and again in ’89 in Kenny Bernstein’s Quaker State Buick. Brett Bodine took the wheel in 1990 and won at Wilkesboro, his only career Cup win. (Do you remember the Quaker State commercial they ran for the following three seasons using footage of that win? Talk about getting some mileage out of a victory)…

And of course, Mr. McMurray most recently drove Jack Roush’s No 26 IRWIN Ford to last season’s Pepsi 400 victory at Daytona. That adds up to 21 wins for the No. 26 in 912 starts since 1950. Check out these names that drove the 26 but never recorded a win in it:

David Pearson, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Earl Brooks, Wendell Scott and Butch Lindley. When Bernstein owned it in the ’90s, Joe Ruttman, Morgan Shepherd and Hut Stricklin (among others) wheeled it. And lest we not forget the Travis Carter-owned Ford that housed Jimmy Spencer, Joe Nemechek and Todd Bodine. Johnny Benson, I didn’t forget you either.

Sadly, I must also mention that Tiny Lund lost his life driving AJ King’s No. 26 Dodge at Talladega in 1975.

Thanks for history lesson, Vanessa. Good times.

Q: Matt, I was reading your answer regarding NASCAR’s punishment of Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch and their (NASCAR’s) “double-talk” highlights exactly why I have been AND will always be just a casual observer. I grew up in a hotbed of NASCAR racing and my family was in front of the TV every Sunday as well as keeping up with off the track goings-on. I never could get into it because of all of the inconsistencies. When will NASCAR see the error in their ways and could they be one major “ruling” away from the ultimate downfall of the sport? Basically, can they lose a major faction of their fanbase due to them “playing god”? Kind of ironic a casual observer is surfing Frontstretch, huh? – Paydirt55

A: Well first off, thanks for reading. We welcome the hardcores and the casuals alike. There should be something for everyone around here and I think the “suits” have adequately seen to that.

As for your question: I’m sure that for every fan there is a breaking point. However, that point is unique to each individual. That’s why it would be hard for me to believe that one, almighty act by NASCAR could alienate a massive number of fans to the point that, let’s say, one-third of the fanbase stage a mass exodus.

Unless of course, NASCAR did something off-the-charts crazy like radically change the point system, dump the series’ title sponsor and institute a common car, all while abandoning the fans that helped the sport rise to prominence in the first place.

Oh wait, They already did that. And even some of the casual fans, like Paydirt here, are still around.

Give it a few laps to see if the CoT will help Fontana’s Fourth Annual February Parade this weekend. If we get to midway and all you can think of is how exciting The Rock’s events were, feel free to turn the channel. Or drink heavily. By the way, cars numbered 26 have a 22.4-place finish at California.

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