The No. 43 in Victory Lane – Tradition on a Non-Traditional Day

Mother Nature didn’t smile on Daytona International Speedway this weekend, but we did get to see two races, even if the Sprint Cup Race was only a 280- mile event. Though this writer is not a fan of restrictor plate racing, I’ve come to expect the carnage here and at Talladega, and grown to accept it. I do not think that is a good thing. Neither is the weather a good thing for fans, tracks, and participants. I cannot criticize NASCAR for what they did once the race was scheduled. I do have some thoughts on the matter, but that’s another column for another time.

It’s always awesome to see the No. 43 in Victory Lane, even though it took 15 years to see it there. Aric Almirola has been hinting at a win for two years and he finally got his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win and a ticket for the Chase. Petty’s organizations have won races, most notably Marcos Ambrose’s victories at Watkins Glen in 2011 and 2012, but they were both in the No.9 car out of the Petty stables. Kasey Kahne also won a Daytona qualifying race in 2011 in the No.9, but that’s not the same as having the 43 in victory lane. I hesitate to say it, but even though Petty had more wins, more was made of the No. 3 returning to action than the win of the No.43. Why is that? Maybe it is because Petty hasn’t had much success lately or the glory days were more than 40 years ago, but I don’t know.

Regardless, the race finally was run and although 120 miles shorter than planned, but that was because of the nasty weather. When I first started following the sport, the Firecracker 400 was a race run on July 4th and mostly at 10:00 or 11:00 AM. The track used the sales line, “come to the race in the cool morning and enjoy the beach in the afternoon.” Of course, things have changed. Now, many more people come to the event, and the beach is not so much a destination as it used to be back in prior decades. Still, the fact remains that having a race in July at night in a tropical climate is a crapshoot. Daytona President Joie Chitwood III called it bad luck. Rain also delayed February’s Daytona 500.

Tradition is very sacred to NASCAR fans, especially the older ones who actually have the money to spend on a race. I hear a lot of talk about how they took away the Labor Day Southern 500, the second Darlington race, Rockingham, the first Atlanta race, North Wilkesboro, and replaced them with venues that do not offer better racing. Rumblings today seem to indicate that the traditional July 4th date is just another nail in the coffin of NASCAR fans that have problems with high ticket prices, outrageous motel costs, and what they consider races that are not very competitive.

Now rumors are circulating around Daytona that Darlington may become the second race on the schedule in 2015, which would be in the midst of winter. It could be just another rumor, but it also could be another nail in the coffin. I guess the line of thinking is if that doesn’t kill it, nothing will. Having scraped snow off the bleachers at Rockingham in February and Rockingham being only a few miles to the north, I fear the worst. Hopefully, the Darlington rumor is just that—a rumor.

For now, the celebration must be in order for Richard Petty Motorsports and Aric Almirola. Since Petty spun off his relationship with George Gillette and formed one with Ford, he has now won three races in four years. As he is always saying, that’s not enough, but it is better than many others in the same time period. He now has a car and driver close to being locked into the Chase and an organization that gets better every year since 2011. It was a fitting birthday present for Petty who turned 77 earlier this week, but he didn’t get to see the victory in person.

Petty had been at the track with his two daughters on Saturday, but left early on Sunday morning to head home. It was ironic he was watching the race on television and “reading the funny papers,” according to his teleconference done by phone in the media center.

So, a NASCAR tradition has been revived with the No. 43 appearing in Victory Lane. I know NASCAR has nothing to do with who wins the races, but on a day when tradition seemed to be shoved to the back burner, tradition was front and center. The fans roared and Petty smiled that big smile he is famous for. We just couldn’t see it.

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