Why Richard Petty left early and missed No. 43 winning at Darlington for first time in 55 years
Before the checkered flag waved over Erik Jones’ Petty-GMS Racing Chevrolet on Sunday night at Darlington Raceway, 55 years had passed to the day since Richard Petty’s famed No. 43 had rolled into victory lane.
The last time it happened was Sept. 4, 1967. Petty was driving a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere. It was also the best season of Petty’s 32-year career, with 27 wins in 48 starts — 10 of those victories coming consecutively. Petty also won his second of seven career NASCAR championships that season.
During an interview earlier this year, Petty talked about the 1966 Plymouth that he used to win the 1967 Southern 500. There was just something special about the car that no one from Petty Enterprises could really figure out — in a good way. They didn’t want to ask too much of the mighty little Belvedere. It was giving them too much success.
“We lost Daytona (the 500),” Petty said. “We took the 1967 Plymouth to four races and fell out of four races. I said to Dale, ‘Put it in the corner. It doesn’t have a good personality.’ We went back to the 1966 Plymouth and ran all those races and didn’t wreck it badly enough that we couldn’t fix it. We only had eight people working on our crew total that year.
“We would win, come back to the shop, fix it. We would win again. And win again. We’d just go and win. I only won Darlington three times but one of those wins was with that Plymouth in ’67.”
Petty had been at the track earlier Sunday afternoon signing autographs for fans and visited with his team in the garage area while wearing his famous smile and that ever-present black cowboy hat and sunglasses.
He and longtime crew chief and cousin Dale Inman often travel together and decided to head back early to Level Cross, North Carolina. The King, as Petty was dubbed during that 1967 season, as well as Inman, are in their mid-80s now and have seen more races than they could possibly count. Both would have loved to have been in victory lane if they had only known their driver would be celebrating there after such an emotional victory.
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After 367 laps had been completed Sunday night, Jones had held off Denny Hamlin for the win. Jones emerged through the driver’s side of his No. 43 ride and stood on the door seal with arms raised high. The Byron, Michigan, native is now a two-time Southern 500 winner, having won the race for team owner Joe Gibbs in 2019. Winning for Petty was also a very special moment.
“I talked to him (Petty) on the phone and that was cool,” Jones said during his post-race interview. “He and Dale Inman had left earlier to go home. They said it was getting too late and they needed to go home and rest. I wish I could have seen him face-to-face just to see his emotion. I really would just love to sit down and watch the race with him, especially the ending and just talk about it.
“But Richard hasn’t been to victory lane at Darlington probably since he last won here. It’s just awesome. ... We’ve been so close all year, and I didn’t think today was going to be the day. It was going to be a tough one to win, I knew, but no better fitting place. I love this track, I love this race.”
Jones confirmed he would get the trophy and enjoyed being the center of attention amid all the confetti and flashes of cameras. There’s another, more personal trophy Jones seemed to be more excited about.
“I get a hat,” Jones said between smiles. “He told me I get a hat if I win.”
NASCAR TV schedule
- Trucks Kansas Lottery 200, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
- Xfinity Kansas Lottery 300, 3 p.m. ET (USA)
- ARCA Kansas Lottery 150, 7 p.m. ET (FloRacing)
- Cup Hollywood Casino 400, 3 p.m. ET (USA)