NASCAR: History of Leap Day Racing

Today marks Leap Day, February 29, where an extra day is included in the calendar every four years and occurs due to Earth taking 365 days and an extra six hours to orbit around the Sun. The gain of an extra day within the 365-day calendar ensures the calendar itself remains aligned with Earth revolving around the Sun.

With Leap Day providing its share of historic events and birthdays throughout human history, the holiday date has also provided a handful of significant moments within NASCAR history.

The first known NASCAR competition to occur on Leap Day dates to February 29, 1976, at North Carolina Motor Speedway, where the Cup Series’ Carolina 500 occurred. During the event, Richard Petty won for the first time of the season after claiming the checkered flag by two laps over runner-up Darrell Waltrip and dodging a late multi-car pileup that resulted in Bobby Allison flipping. The victory was redemption for Petty, who was involved in a wild final lap accident and finish with David Pearson two weeks earlier that resulted in Pearson managing to nurse his damaged No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mercury across the finish line in first place ahead of Petty, whose car was unable to restart.

The 1976 victory at Rockingham’s North Carolina Motor Speedway would serve as Petty’s 178th of 200 overall Cup victories he would achieve, where he still stands as NASCAR’s “The King” with the most career victories all-time to coincide with his seven championships, which is tied for the most in the Cup Series history alongside Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Currently, Petty, who retired from NASCAR competition following the 1992 season, serves as a team ambassador for Legacy Motor Club, a team he formerly owned and is currently owned by Johnson and Maury Gallagher. The team was rebranded from Petty GMS Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, both names that stood out over the last 14 years.

Sixteen years later (1992), another Leap Day event at North Carolina Motor Speedway occurred. On this occasion, the Xfinity Series hosted the Goodwrench 200. During the event, Ward Burton scored his first Xfinity career win after leading the final 22 laps and beating Mark Martin by nine-tenths of a second. The Rockingham victory would serve as Burton’s first of four total victories he would achieve in his Xfinity career, with his latter three occurring in 1993. To date, Burton has made 161 career starts in the Xfinity Series, with his latest occurring in 2007. The South Boston, Virginia, native has also made a single start in the Craftsman Truck Series, which occurred in 2012 and marks his final national touring series career start, and 375 in the Cup Series, where he has achieved five victories, including the 2002 Daytona 500 and the 2001 Southern 500.

In 2008, there were no NASCAR race day competitions that occurred on Leap Day. Instead, the Cup Series held a qualifying session for the upcoming UAW-Dodge 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. During the qualifying session, hometown hero Kyle Busch, who was making his third career start driving the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, secured his first pole position of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 182.325 mph in 29.613 seconds. During the main event two days later, Busch, who led twice for 56 laps, ended up in 11th place while Carl Edwards would fend off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a two-lap dash to win for the ninth time in his career and second in recent weeks.

Today, Edwards, who would proceed to win eight additional events and settle in the runner-up spot behind Jimmie Johnson in the 2008 final standings, is retired with 28 Cup career victories added to his resume after electing to step away from full-time competition following the 2016 season. Earnhardt Jr., who would end up in 12th place in the 2008 standings, also retired following the 2017 season as he stands at 26 Cup career victories, including two Daytona 500 titles. Meanwhile, Busch, who ended up in 10th place in the 2008 standings despite winning a total of eight races, is currently campaigning in his 20th season as a Cup Series competitor and second driving for Richard Childress Racing. He currently has achieved two Cup Series championships (2015 & 2019) and holds 230 victories across NASCAR’s top-three national touring series (65 in Craftsman Truck Series, 102 in Xfinity Series and 63 in Cup Series).

The third and latest NASCAR competition to occur on Leap Day was in 2020 at Auto Club Speedway in the Xfinity Series. During the year’s event, Harrison Burton, Ward Burton’s nephew who was campaigning in his first full-time Xfinity campaign and driving the No. 20 Toyota Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing, scored his first Xfinity victory in his 12th series start after he led twice for 40 laps and managed to retain the top spot during a restart with 19 laps remaining before fending off late challenges from teammate Riley Herbst and Austin Cindric. The Fontana victory would serve as the first of four victories accumulated for Burton throughout the 2020 Xfinity season, with the Huntersville, North Carolina, native securing a spot in the 2020 Xfinity Playoffs. Despite being eliminated from Playoff contention following the Round of 12, Burton, who won twice in the final four-scheduled events, proceeded to finish in eighth place in the final driver’s standings and secured the Rookie-of-the-Year title.

Currently, Burton is campaigning in his third full-time season in the Cup Series for Wood Brothers Racing and as the driver of the No. 21 Ford Mustang Dark Horse. He has made 75 starts in NASCAR’s premier series and has racked up a single top-five result and four top-10 results.

Prior to Harrison Burton’s first Xfinity victory, the Cup Series generated a dramatic moment earlier in the day when Clint Bowyer edged seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson by 0.007 seconds to claim what would be his fourth and final Cup career pole position at Fontana. Bowyer’s pole-winning lap, overall, occurred at 179.614 mph in 40.086 seconds. During the main event, Bowyer, who led the first 10 laps, ended up in 23rd place and Johnson settled in seventh place while Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, won for the second time in his career after leading a race-high 110 laps.

Bowyer and Johnson have since retired from full-time NASCAR competition, which occurred following the 2020 season, while Bowman is currently campaigning in his ninth season in the Cup Series and seventh driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

Photo by David Myers for

For this season, there are no NASCAR-sanctioned events that are scheduled to occur on Leap Day, with the Craftsman Truck Series, Xfinity and Cup divisions set to run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as part of a triple-header weekend between March 1-3. With Leap Day 2028 scheduled to occur on a Tuesday and with race day events primarily occurring on weekends, Leap Day 2032 is scheduled to occur on a Sunday, which leaves the futuristic possibility of another addition to NASCAR competition on Leap Day to be made.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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