Kasey Kahne’s win at Infineon Raceway a couple of weeks ago put Richard Petty back into victory lane for the first time in 10 years. Since Richard got out from behind the wheel of his famous #43, the wins have come few and far between but it sure wasn’t always like that.
Richard sits on top of the alltime win list in the Sprint Cup Series with 200 trips to victory lane, but it was his last trip that may have been the most special of all. It was one of those hot and humid days back in the summer of 1984 that only Daytona could provide as the perfect backdrop for everything that would play out that afternoon.
Richard was no longer driving for the family-run Petty Enterprises, instead he was driving a car prepared by record producer Mike Curb with crew chief Buddy Parrot. The engine used for the historic win came from DiGard racing and was actually built by Robert Yates.
President Ronald Reagan gave the order to “start the engines” from Air Force One while on his way to the Florida track but landed and was in the press box before the checkered flag waved. It was the first time ever that a President had attended a NASCAR race and as it turned out it would be Richard’s last trip to victory lane as a driver.
Immediately after taking the final checkered flag of his career, Richard went directly to the press box where he met the President. Soon afterward, he made his way down to victory lane that was by then a wet victory lane as the heavens opened up soon after the last lap. President Reagan must have sensed that this wasn’t just another day at the races as he also made his way to the infield after the race and joined the drivers for a picnic featuring Kentucky Fried Chicken.
This Saturday night’s running of the Coca Zero 400 will be the 25th anniversary of Petty’s historic 200th win and the speedway will be using Petty to promote both the race and to bring back to life one of the great moments in not only the history of the speedway but also the sport. One nice touch has Petty leading the field during the warm-up laps in a replica No. 43 of the car that he used to win the race.
PIT NOTES: Daytona’s traditional Fourth of July race date is not the official halfway point of the season but the standings after Saturday night will give a clear picture of what drivers are safe in their efforts to make the Chase and those that will have to race for every point possible over the next eight races. After Daytona the schedule dives into the grueling summer stretch of races that can be particularly tough on both drivers and equipment. Highlighted during this eight-race stretch are the only stops of the year at Chicagoland Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen International. Pocono, Michigan, Bristol and Richmond will host their second race of the season as well as Atlanta that for the first time ever will have the honor of hosting a Labor Day event.
SILLY SEASON: Usually it’s the future of a handful of drivers that kicks off the sport’s annual rite of passage known as the ‘Silly Season,’ but this year it seems to be more about the future of the manufacturers in the sport. Driver and sponsorship changes for the following year always grab headlines during this time of the season, but the economic problems of our country have come down hard on the four manufacturers in the sport. Toyota has been rumored to follow Ford, General Motors and Dodge by withdrawing its financial support of the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series in 2010. Toyota also may have to make some decisions on what teams it will be keeping next year in the Cup Series. Red Bull Racing’s contract is up with Toyota after this season and as of right now it’s not a done deal that the two will stay together. Red Bull is probably the only team in the sport that doesn’t have to worry about manufacturer support next season. The team is owned by an Austrian billionaire who can bankroll the team out of his own pocket. Chevrolet seems to be the direction the team is headed if it doesn’t resign with Toyota.
Race Preview — Event: Coke Zero 400. Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval, 31 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: July 4, 8:15 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kyle Busch.