Bristol Motor Speedway is a track with a long and storied history, having hosted its first NASCAR race in July 1961. It’s seen everything from last lap wrecks (Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt most readily come to mind), to nearly deadly accidents (Michael Waltrip and Mike Harmon have had two of the worst wrecks in NASCAR history at the track), to the first Sprint Cup Series Car of Tomorrow event in 2007.
On August 25, 1990, the track saw a little team from Abingdon, Virginia win its first ever Winston Cup race. The car: the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet, piloted by a promising Californian driver named Ernie Irvan was fielded by Morgan-McClure Motorsports.
Before parting amidst an ugly lawsuit in late 1993, Irvan and MMM won six more races together, including the 1991 Daytona 500. MMM won that race again in 1994 and 1995 with Sterling Marlin, and scored a total of seven more wins with Marlin and Bobby Hamilton.
After an abysmal 2007 with Ward Burton, however, the long-struggling team decided to go on hiatus instead of, as owner Larry McClure stated, “just sliding by.” The team intends to return to the track once proper sponsorship is found.
“With the right sponsorship, I have no doubt that we can be a top-15 car within a year or two. And then we could be a top-five car within 2-3 years. We know what it takes to be successful,” McClure said in this Bristol Herald Courier report.
But what NASCAR will be in 2009 is nothing like what NASCAR was in MMM’s heyday. The last time a single-car team won a race was at Darlington in 2003, when Ricky Craven won at the line in a thrilling duel with Kurt Busch.
No single-car team has finished in the top 10 in points since Burton finished ninth in 1999. No single-car team has won a championship since the late Dale Earnhardt won his seventh title in 1994.
Unfortunately, if MMM returns, it’ll likely see more of the same misfortune as it did between 2004 and 2006. Seven drivers combined to score one top 10 finish, an eighth in the 2005 Pepsi 400 with driver Mike Wallace.
Drivers who have combined to score nine Sprint Cup wins, 43 Nationwide wins, 18 Truck Series wins, and one Truck Series title couldn’t do any more than that in MMM cars.
Especially in a struggling economy, it’s highly unlikely that any company is going to take a chance on a single-car team trying to rebound after a year off like MMM, regardless of its storied history. With teams like Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers struggling to find sponsorship as well, it’s clear that the NASCAR landscape has forever changed, leaving the little guy behind.
Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, this week’s five Quick Hits:
5. Michael Waltrip Racing will reveal its 2009 plans for David Reutimann in a press conference this Friday. Rumor has it that Aaron’s Rent will shift sponsorship from Reutimann’s Nationwide Series car to the No. 44 Toyota Reutimann currently drives. Current sponsor UPS is looking at the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of David Ragan.
4. Congratulations to Casey Mears, who will land on his feet at Richard Childress Racing for 2009. Mears will drive the No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet, while Clint Bowyer will move to the No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet. Mears won’t drive the No. 33 because General Mills expressed reservations over a driver currently endorsing rival brand Kellogg’s.
3. Congratulations to Joey Logano, whose Sprint Cup debut is close at hand. “Sliced Bread” will drive a No. 02 Home Depot Toyota at Richmond and multiple other races before replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2009.
2. Speaking of smoke, the Stewart-Haas puzzle is beginning to come together, finally. Ryan Newman will drive a No. 39 Chevrolet, likely sponsored by Burger King. Darian Grubb is the leading crew chief candidate for Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet. Subway will not renew with Stewart, most likely, and is looking to sign Carl Edwards to a personal services contract.
1. Longtime NASCAR sponsor Texaco/Havoline will leave the sport at season’s end, ending a continuous presence in the sport that began in 1986. This means that an already sponsor-desperate Chip Ganassi Racing needs a new primary for Juan Montoya.
Finally, a big congratulations to Carl Edwards for sweeping the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races at Michigan last week.