Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: The 5 Best — & 5 Worst — 2023 Throwback Schemes

Can you believe that NASCAR’s annual throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway is entering its ninth year?

Per tradition, there are so many throwback paint schemes — or if you really want to draw some ire, liveries — that have been unveiled for this great weekend.

As has been customary for the past few years, NASCAR 101 has broken down the best and worst schemes of the weekend.

Although there may not be any schemes this year that rival the greatest throwbacks we’ve ever seen — such as my personal favorite, Kyle Larson‘s Mello Yellow Kyle Petty tribute car (although I’m still waiting for a Delma Cowart throwback myself) — there are still plenty of old designs to go around, both good and not so good.

Want to decide for yourself? Check out every announced scheme here.

First, the best.

5. Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 Ford (Cup)

No. 5 on this list may be a bit controversial as Brad Keselowski‘s scheme does not call back to any particular car or driver. But holy cow, the nostalgia on this thing is just a sight to behold.

Back in the glory days of racing in the 1980s and ’90s, Castrol GTX schemes were everywhere. From Casey Atwood‘s NASCAR Xfinity Series car to sports cars to rally racing and John Force‘s funny car, the bright green, red and white colors were hard to miss, as they will be this weekend.

4. Ty Dillon’s No. 77 Chevrolet (Cup)

Ty Dillon‘s ride this weekend is such an underrated scheme. Few have dared to go all the way back to the early days of the sport, so it is so cool to see Dillon paying tribute to Joe Lee Johnson, the first winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

See also
Here Are the 2023 Darlington Throwback Schemes

The color scheme is right on point and the number font on Dillon’s Chevrolet matches Johnson’s to a T. As was customary in the 1950s and early ’60s, the side of the car wasn’t overwhelmed with branding and logos. It is just a very clean scheme honoring one clean driver.

Hopefully this will inspire more tributes to early pioneers before their histories are lost to the echoes of time.

3. Riley Herbst’s No. 98 Ford (Xfinity)

As a child of the 2000s, I wanted to be Ken Block when I grew up. I mean, what little boy wouldn’t? Getting to perform crazy stunts and drive the coolest vehicles was all in a day’s work for the action sports legend.

It is why Riley Herbst‘s tribute to the Head Hoonigan in Charge is such a sentimental favorite after Block lost his life in an accident in January. Stewart-Haas Racing absolutely nailed it with this touching scheme Block drove in Gymkhana 3.

Considering how Herbst’s sponsor Monster Energy has shied away from throwbacks in the past, it is even more fitting that its throwback honors Block, a longtime brand representative of the energy drink.

2. Josh Berry’s No. 8 Chevrolet (Xfinity)

From the moment that this scheme dropped, I was absolutely enamored. Josh Berry‘s throwback to Hut Stricklin‘s Circuit City car from 1996 is wildly obscure — I mean, it is a Circuit City scheme, after all. Remember the times of walking into the store to finally buy your Walkman?

That seriously has all the makings of a great throwback. For one, it is historically accurate. The same number and number font are present. Tire Pros has changed its script to match the old Circuit City script. Plus, the car just screams 1990s.

The fact that this car doesn’t have a significant history like, say, a Dale Earnhardt or Richard Petty car makes it all the more special, as not many have paid homage to Stricklin.

1. Daniel Suarez’s No. 99 Chevrolet (Cup)

It is almost criminal that the Quaker State No. 26 fielded by Kenny Bernstein that ran for over a decade between the mid-’80s and mid-’90s had never had a throwback until now. Finally! Thank you, Daniel Suarez and Trackhouse Racing.

Think of all the pinnacle moments in NASCAR that this car was involved in, like Ricky Rudd crashing with Earnhardt on the final lap at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1990, or Joe Ruttman spinning into a wreck that collected the top four cars on the final lap at Richmond Raceway in 1986, and even Brett Bodine spinning out his brother Geoff in NASCAR’s first trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

What makes this scheme even better is that it has many hallmarks that define a premier throwback: the exact same scheme and the exact same primary sponsor. The only knock would be it sports a different number, but for these reasons and more, it is why the Quaker State green machine ranks No. 1 this year.

Honorable Mentions

NASCAR Cup Series: Chase Elliott‘s tribute to father Bill and Ryan Newman‘s throwback to his rookie season.

NASCAR Xfinity Series: Five drivers (Josh Williams, Sheldon Creed, Blaine Perkins, Austin Hill and Ryan Ellis) all have great schemes paying tribute to former series champion Kevin Harvick.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series: Lawless Alan‘s throwback to Adam Petty and TRICON Garage’s tribute to Red Horse Racing.

And now, let’s get to the worst schemes.

5. Jeremy Clements’ No. 51 Chevrolet (Xfinity)

There is nothing optically bad about Jeremy Clements‘ car. It is a great scheme. But this scheme has been beaten to death. First it was Buddy Baker‘s gray ghost that everyone decided to repeat as a throwback (which thankfully there is none of this year). Now, it’s this Geoff Bodine Levi Garrett car that is prone to the throngs of repetition.

4. Justin Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet (Xfinity)

There is something about sponsors throwing it back to the early days of their company without any association expressed toward the sport that just rubs me the wrong way. Justin Allgaier‘s scheme this year is a classic example.

3. Ty Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet (Xfinity)

Unlike his Cup Series ride, Dillon’s Xfinity machine really misses the mark. There are many inaccuracies in his Martin Truex Jr. tribute scheme. Ferris Mowers apparently let the grass grow for Dillon’s car, as there were far fewer blades of it on Truex’s.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: 5 Best Darlington Throwbacks

Additionally, my OCD meter is off the charts as Truex’s red-and-black color scheme has been replaced by an altered red-and-gray design and a much larger logo on the hood.

2. Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford (Cup)

In the words of my Frontstretch colleague Adam Cheek when he first saw this scheme for the first time, “Uhhh … what is this?”

I guess this is supposed to be a tribute to a scheme that never actually ran, which is somewhat bizarre. But what is worse is that it has the wrong color scheme, a definite no-no in the unofficial rule book of throwback paint schemes. It is a tragic misstep for Harvick in his final season.

But let’s not fret too much as he has one epic scheme coming up next weekend at North Wilkesboro.

1. Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota (Cup)

Although Nos. 1 and 2 on this list could easily be flip-flopped, when you combine Clements’ repetition problems with Allgiaer’s racing history problems, you are sort of grandfathered into earning the title of worst throwback scheme of the year. Not only does this throwback scheme not tie into any racing history, but Denny Hamlin also ran this EXACT scheme three years ago at Darlington. Not cool.

The only good thing going for this scheme is that we will finally see the return of the shipping wars thanks to Hamlin’s new best friend Ross Chastain and his UPS throwback scheme.

So thanks, Ross!

About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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Let me get this straight, Keselowski’s throw back to a car that never existed is one of the best, but it’s “bizarre” and makes it one of the worse that Harvick chose a car that existed, but never he never got to race?

JD in NC

Ken Block is a legend who tragically died too soon this past year. So I love that SHR is doing a throwback on Herbst’s car. But it needs the green wheels to be complete.


You should have waited on this column- Lucas Oil #8 throwing back to earlier this year is the biggest copout I’ve heard in a long time….

Mike Kalasnik

The 51 gets a bad rap because it was used on cars OTHER then his before? Give me a break. Anyone can write an article here and never reply to the comments.

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