NASCAR had 25 years to contemplate adding 25 drivers to its 50 greatest, listed initially in 1998. The first grouping nodded primarily to those drivers who were essential to building the sport of stock car racing, without whom NASCAR’s popularity might not be engaged at its current level.
Paying homage to those that built NASCAR’s Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series, together with the modified drivers who wrestled the big cars on dirt – something NASCAR has returned to in its eighth decade – and on pavement, the series hasn’t eliminated many drivers that were instrumental in bringing success to the sanctioning organization.
There are families included on this list, from the Allisons (Bobby and Davey), three generations of Earnhardt: Ralph, Dale and Dale Jr., Bill and Chase Elliott, the Busch Brothers – Kurt and Kyle – and the father/son duo of Ned and Dale Jarrett. Brothers Bobby and Terry Labonte are on the initial list, as are Richard and his father Lee Petty, who won the very first Daytona 500.
There are so many accolades to celebrate in 75 years of racing, and NASCAR is using this opportunity to spread the joy across its full-year 2023 calendar. It just feels like this spring is the apogee of the celebration, with the announcement of the 25 added outstanding drivers (https://www.racingjunk.com/news/nascar-announces-75-greatest-drivers-for-75th-anniversary/) and last weekend’s throwback race at Darlington, the track too tough to tame and home of the Darlington Stripe. Many teams and drivers used old-time wraps on their Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota entries to highlight the Cup Series’ past even as they attempt to write its future.
The record will show William Byron’s No. 24 Chevy Camaro ZL1 as the winner of last weekend’s race in Darlington, his third of the season, with top 75 drivers Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott scored second and third; as usual, there were disagreements in the pits afterwards… only one driver can win and there’s any number of disappointed racers behind the victor.
This weekend many of those accorded entry into the top 75 of all time will be at North Wilkesboro, another long-time venue in NASCAR Land, for the All-Star Race the evening of May 21st after the NASCAR Open earlier in the evening.
That specialty event occurs before NASCAR returns to Charlotte, NC for its Coca-Cola 600 on the night before Memorial Day. Next year, of course, 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champ Kyle Larson is going to attempt the double of racing in both the 108th Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. You know he wants to – and could – win both, something no other driver has done since John Andretti first made his attempt in 1994.
If the objective is to celebrate the past by employing the racing present and its future, NASCAR is doing a great job with its many different functions this year. What will be next in this celebration? Stay tuned.
By Anne Proffit