Hello, race fans, and welcome back to Turning Back the Clock, where I look back at classic races from the track that the Sprint Cup Series will be racing at each week. This week, the Sprint Cup Series is at Martinsville Speedway, the infamous little “paper clip” shaped .526 mile oval and the lone remaining track on the circuit from the very first season of what is now Sprint Cup in 1949.
I’ll admit that I may have pre-empted myself with one of the Trivia questions here in the Newsletter earlier this week, but this week’s selection for Turning Back the Clock is the 1999 Goody’s Body Pain 500. This was a race of firsts and lasts. In regards to “firsts,” Martinsville Speedway underwent some renovations following the 1998 NAPA AutoCare 500. These renovations resulted in Martinsville having one pit road instead of front and back pit roads. We’ll get to the “lasts” a little later.
The race started under cloudy skies, although no rain would fall during the event. Pole sitter Tony Stewart quickly fell back through the field, never to contend on this day. Later in the event, he ran into the back of John Andretti and spun (along with Michael Waltrip) on the backstretch. Outside pole sitter Mark Martin assumed command briefly before Rusty Wallace took over. This set a tone. The vast majority of the race was dominated by Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton, with Martin tagging along as well. Those four drivers combined to lead all but 13 laps of the 500 laps.
Early on, there was a typical Martinsville-style wreck involving Kenny Wallace, Steve Park and Jeremy Mayfield that caused the first yellow of the day. The incident can be seen off in the distance here. Everyone continued, but Mayfield lost a lap in the pits.
On Lap 48, a seemingly minor incident took place that under most circumstances, would barely register a blip on the radar. John Andretti and Ward Burton were battling for the 20th position when Burton tapped the rear of Andretti’s STP Pontiac exiting turn 2. Andretti spun onto the apron in front of the new pit out. Today, there is a good sporting chance that this relatively harmless spin would draw the caution. However, NASCAR decided not to throw the yellow. As a result, Andretti dropped a lap to leader Jeff Burton while trying to get back going.
There were a couple of fairly quick cautions right after this that provided Andretti a chance to get back onto the lead lap, but he was unable to do so. On Lap 62, Ward Burton spun out in turns 3 and 4, drawing the third caution. Andretti ran over the curb in a failed attempt to get back on the lead lap here. Then, the fourth caution came out for a multi-car crash on the backstretch involving the aforementioned Mayfield and the No. 98 of the then-unsponsored Rick Mast (this was six weeks or so before Universal took up the primary sponsorship in June), among others.
After this wreck, there was a 100 lap green flag run. It was here that Andretti began to make his move. On Lap 134, Andretti, then in 26th, ran down leader Jeff Gordon and overtook him on the backstretch to get back on the lead lap. Gordon admittedly didn’t put up much of a fight, but that is not all that important. From there, Andretti, who had a very quick Pontiac at this time, began picking off cars one at a time. By the time the next caution flew, Andretti was up to the Top 15. It was here where he stayed until the tenth and final caution flew for a spin in Turn 1 on Lap 381 involving the No. 97 of Chad Little, who was spun out by the No. 30 Jimmy Dean Pontiac of Derrike Cope.
This sent everyone to pit road for final stops. It was at this point that a two tire strategy was chosen for the No. 43. This moved him up from 11th to fourth for the final run to the finish. After a brief setback early in the run, Andretti’s car came to life over the final run, dispatching the aforementioned Big Four slowly, but surely. With less than ten laps to go, Andretti reached leader Jeff Burton. What ensued was an excellent duel for the victory in and amongst lapped vehicles who hurriedly got out of the way. Andretti took the lead for good with just four laps to go and held on to take the victory.
Jeff Burton finished second, just a shade over a second behind Andretti. Jeff Gordon was third, followed by Mike Skinner in a strong fourth. Mark Martin rounded out the Top 5. Kenny Wallace, always strong at the time on short tracks, finished sixth in his Square D-sponsored No. 55, followed by his older brother Rusty, who faded a little late in the going. Dale Jarrett was eighth, followed by Ken Schrader and Andretti’s teammate Kyle Petty rounded out the Top 10. The only other lead lap finishers were Rich Bickle in the No. 45 10-10-345 Lucky Dog Pontiac in 11th (For those of you wondering, 10-10-345 was a service operated by AT&T at the time that, when dialed before the number, would save money on long distance phone calls. They used a bulldog in commercials, hence the “Lucky Dog.”). Darrell Waltrip, driving the No. 66 Big K/Route 66 Jeans Ford, rounded out the lead lap in 12th.
After the race, Andretti was all smiles. In subsequent post-Victory Lane interviews, he gave thanks to those drivers that moved out of the way of him and Burton. He also pledged that if he had the chance, he would help those drivers in the draft at Talladega the next week. Unfortunately, as it turned out, quite a few of those drivers simply weren’t competitive in the DieHard 500.
This was Petty Enterprises’ 268th and final victory in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series. In addition, it was the second, and most recent Cup Series victory for John Andretti. After this race, Andretti continued on to earn one more Top 5 finish that season (third at Sears Point in June) and finished the year with ten Top 10 finishes. However, ten DNF’s effectively derailed Andretti’s season and held him to 17th in points.
This race was effectively the peak of Andretti’s career in the Cup Series. After 1999, he dropped off to 23rd in points the next season with only two top 10 finishes. By 2001, Andretti and the No. 43 team had dropped all the way to 31st in points, and failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. Granted, the team was more or less not the best internally by this point due to the fallout from Adam Petty’s death, but it was still a substantial fall off in a short time.
1999 was also the last full season for STP as a primary sponsor. For 2000, the team started out the season with a dual primary sponsorship between STP and Cheerios, which had moved over from the former No. 26 for Roush Racing. This resulted in a scheme with “Petty Blue” on the front and a darker shade of blue towards the back with a yellow rear bumper. At the Pepsi 400 in Daytona, STP stickers came off of the No. 43 for the first time since the beginning of 1972, to be replaced by the full colors of Cheerios (although General Mills did agree to keep Petty Blue as a color on the car, in addition to Cheerios yellow).
Where Are They Today?
John Andretti: Andretti has taken a step back from driving in the past year or so in order to help his son Jarret’s burgeoning career. Both Andretti’s drove for Yellow Dragon Racing in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. For 2013, Jarret is focusing on USAC competition.
Jeff Burton: Still full-time in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 31. He’s currently 24th in points.
Jeff Gordon: Still full-time in the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports. At the time of this race, he had 44 career wins and three championships. Now, Gordon has 87, along with four titles.
Mike Skinner: Skinner hasn’t raced full-time in the Cup Series since he was fired from Morgan-McClure Motorsports in 2003. Since then, he’s spent most of his time in the Camping World Truck Series. Most recently, he has been driving for low-dollar start-and-park Cup teams (Germain Racing’s No. 60, Hamilton-Means Racing’s No. 52).
Mark Martin: Currently driving a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing in their No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. He’ll drive at Martinsville in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota in place of the injured Denny Hamlin.
Kenny Wallace: Hasn’t raced full-time in Cup since 2007 with Furniture Row Motorsports. Will race a limited schedule in the Nationwide Series in a second entry for RAB Racing with Brack Maggard. In addition, Wallace is an on-air personality for SPEED (soon to become FOX Sports 1) and races dirt late models in his spare time.
Rusty Wallace: Retired from the Cup Series in 2005 with 55 career victories and the 1989 Championship. Currently serves as an on-air analyst (typically in the Pit Studio) for NASCAR on ESPN. 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee.
Dale Jarrett: Retired from the Cup Series in 2008 with 32 career victories and the 1999 Championship. Currently serves as a booth analyst for NASCAR on ESPN.
Ken Schrader: Currently races part-time in the Cup Series for FAS Lane Racing. Owns Ken Schrader Racing, which fields cars in multiple series (ARCA Racing Series, K&N Pro Series East, etc.). Also races all over the country on various short tracks.
Kyle Petty: Effectively forced into retirement following the merger of Petty Enterprises and Gillett-Evernham Motorsports at the end of 2008 which formed Richard Petty Motorsports. Currently serves as an on-air analyst for SPEED and TNT.
Rich Bickle: Was fired out of the No. 45 that year after the Southern 500 at Darlington and only made ten more starts in the Cup Series afterwards for four different teams. Eventually returned to the short tracks of the Midwest, where he races late models.
Darrell Waltrip: This race tied with the Brickyard 400 for his best finish in 2000. Waltrip retired at the end of the season. Shortly afterwards, he joined NASCAR on FOX as a booth analyst, where he is now in his 13th season.
I hope you enjoyed this look back to the past. We’re sure to have a great race this weekend at Martinsville.
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