Sunday, September 3, 2017

NASCAR dream season: Advance Auto Parts Clash


NASCAR's season of dreams begins, as always, at Daytona International Speedway.  Built in 1959, it has proclaimed itself the "World Center of Racing."  Each February, stock car drivers return to chase glory in the season's most important events.

The first of these events is the Advance Auto Parts Clash.  In 1979, the track began this race to honor the previous year's pole sitters.  In recent years, past race winners and prior winners of Daytona 500 poles not otherwise qualified have also been eligible.

For this version, the past Daytona 500 pole sitters were not invited to help limit the field.  Those in the first two categories totaled 23; however, Richard Petty did not compete due to the #43 car not carrying pole award sponsor's logo, since it was that of Coors Brewing Company, which sponsors the pole contest award.  (I have heard stories that Petty did this as a promise to his mother, Lynda.  In any event, this only applied to the old Petty Enterprises, and not to the current Richard Petty Motorsports created in 2010 by a merger with a team owned by Ray Evernham.)  Petty, however, would have joined the Fox NASCAR broadcast as a guest analyst; Mike Joy was also joined by Phil Parsons and Doug Richert, filling in for returned drivers Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon.

The starting lineup was determined by random draw, then the finishing order came from the drivers' career records, as retrieved from the individual race pages at racing-reference.info.  Ties were broken by best remaining finish for each driver.  So how would that have played out on the race track?
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Dale Earnhardt, the biggest winner in the history of the season-opening exhibition, won the Advance Auto Parts Clash.  He took the lead from Jeff Gordon with 11 laps to go, making the decisive pass by going three-wide and cutting through the middle.  Davey Allison, who had one of the strongest cars at the start of the race, was involved in a five-car accident shortly after the resumption of the race after the break.  Terry Labonte restarted the race at the front of the field as he and crew chief Gary DeHart stretched the fuel run, and led a group of cars to pit during the break.  Jeff Burton's car would not re-fire after the break, resulting in his next-to-last-place finish.  During the cool-down lap, Gordon bumped his car into that of Dale Earnhardt Jr., in apparent retaliation for Earnhardt Jr. forcing Gordon wide and nearly crashing earlier.  Ironically, the two were teammates from 2008 to '15, and Gordon filled in for Earnhardt Jr. for eight races in 2016 when Dale Jr. was forced to sit them out due to a concussion.

Full-field rundown
  1. Dale Earnhardt
  2. Tony Stewart
  3. Dale Jarrett
  4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Neil Bonnett
  7. Darrell Waltrip
  8. Bill Elliott
  9. Rusty Wallace
  10. Mark Martin
  11. Terry Labonte
  12. Buddy Baker
  13. Jimmie Johnson
  14. Bobby Allison
  15. Matt Kenseth
  16. Kurt Busch
  17. Davey Allison
  18. Cale Yarborough
  19. Bobby Labonte
  20. David Pearson
  21. Jeff Burton
  22. Dave Marcis

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