Family. We often hear how NASCAR is a family sport, where drivers, their wives, and their kids all share in the experience behind the scenes. The family theme has dominated since the sport’s earliest years. I mean, it starts with the France family, as Bill, Bill, Jr., and now grandson Brian have held the reins of the family operation since the very beginning.
Family. If you do not know the names of Allison, Baker, Bodine, Earnhardt, Flock, Wallace, Waltrip, and Wood, welcome to NASCAR. You must be a newbie, my friend. Might I suggest that you have some catching up to do.
In 1954, Lee Petty won his first of three titles, while 10 years later his son Richard claimed his first of seven. Ned Jarrett was champion for the first time in 1961, with his son Dale taking the title in 1999. It was good enough for father-son tandems, so the siblings got into the act. Terry Labonte first claimed the crown in 1984, with brother Bobby taking his in 2000. Then, Kurt Busch, the 2004 king, was joined last Sunday by brother Kyle as the Sprint Cup series champion. That should take the edge off the family Christmas dinner next month.
Only under this format could Kyle Busch win it all. He missed the first 11 races of the season as he mended a broken leg. In the not so old days, that would have been the end of his hopes. A win gets you in, almost, and he then stormed back to win four to get over one hurdle. Now, all he had to do was be within the Top 30 in points to cash those wins into a post-season berth. Busch then eliminated that barrier with a few races to go before the Chase. In the year he and Samantha extended their family with the birth of son Brexton, Busch won at Homestead to beat out runner-up and defending champ, Kevin Harvick to win it all. Did I mention that along with his wife and son, he was joined in Victory Lane by his parents and even got a post-event hug from brother Kurt?
Family. That is what means more to Jeff Gordon that a fifth championship. Sure, he would have loved to have finished better than sixth in his last race and third in his last season, but what and who was more important were there for all to see. Ingrid, Ella, and Leo joined such motorsports royalty as Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton at center stage to wish farewell to an icon after a career of 797 consecutive starts and 93 victories. Few are able to quit while still at the top of their game. We saw a legend do just that at Miami.
Family. Gordon is the bridge between Richard Petty, who ended his Cup career the same race Gordon began his, and 19-year old Chase Elliott. The youngster, who began his Cup experience this season and who takes over from Gordon in the No. 24, is himself the son of former champion Bill Elliott. By the way, Elliott won that race, 23 years ago, that saw both Petty and Gordon on the track together.
Like in all families, we have had to say goodbye to loved ones over the years, like Lee and Adam Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Buck Baker and, earlier this year, his son Buddy. Like in all families, roles change over time. This off-season team owner Richard Petty will be searching for a new driver for one of his teams, Jeff Gordon prepares to enter the FOX broadcast booth in February, joining Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip’s brother Michael closes his race team, Chase Elliott prepares to build on his family’s Hall of Fame legacy, while Kyle Busch, like his brother before him, becomes the face of the sport as its latest champion.