This Sunday will be the 15th anniversary of one of the most historic races in the 59-year history of NASCAR.
On Nov. 15, 1992, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of this week’s Pep Boys Auto 500, there were almost too many story lines to follow.
The biggest of them was a three-way championship battle going into what was then the season-finale for NASCAR’s top stock car series. Davey Allison, Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki all went into the race with a chance to win the title.
Allison crashed out and dark horse Kulwicki emerged as a 10-point winner over Elliott in what was then the closest title battle ever.
That race was also the farewell to competition for NASCAR King Richard Petty, the biggest star in the sport and winner of seven championships and 200 races.
The late Dale Earnhardt is the only other seven-time champion, and only the long-retired David Person, with 105 wins, has gotten into triple figures with Petty, who is now a team owner.
Unfortunately, Petty ended his 35-year career on a downer, crashing and completing only 93 of 328 laps, finishing 39th in his 1,185th and final start.
“Looking back, it was a race that will always be a significant part of NASCAR history,” Petty said.
“It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” he added. “But I knew it was my time to quit driving. And it was kind of funny that everybody was so busy looking at the championship that I didn’t get all the attention, which was fine.”
Another thing that has distinguished that race is the fact that it was the first start for Jeff Gordon. The 21-year-old Gordon obviously had much potential, but few would have predicted that 15 years later he would be a four-time series champion with 81 victories – sixth best all-time.
The Atlanta track will recognize Petty and Gordon at this Sunday’s event. Gordon will serve as the grand marshal, getting to say the traditional “Gentlemen, start your engines,” from the cockpit of his No. 24 Chevrolet, while Petty will wave the green flag as the honorary starter.
“It’s an honor,” said Gordon, who goes into the race leading Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 53 points in the Chase for the championship. “For the first time, the entire crowd may actually cheer for something I did.”