On February 13, 1982, Dale Earnhardt crossed the finish line first in the Goody’s 300 at Daytona International Speedway to win the inaugural race in what is now known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Twenty-three champions and 136 race winners later, NASCAR’s No. 2 series approaches an historic milestone – its 1,000th race, on Sept. 6 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, Motor Racing Network Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio).
Through the years, drivers, owners and fans have witnessed some of the best racing in motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, beginning with Jack Ingram’s championship run in 1982, the series’ inaugural season.
Ingram drove the self-owned No. 11 Pontiac to seven wins that season, followed by five victories in 1985 to claim his second title. Next Friday at Richmond, Elliott Sadler will pilot the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota carrying a paint scheme honoring Ingram’s upcoming enshrinement into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 29, 2014.
“The NASCAR Nationwide Series always has been a perfect blend of young and veteran drivers, providing some of the most compelling and entertaining racing in motorsports,” said Mike Helton, NASCAR president. “We are very pleased with the progress the series has made over the last 32 years and continues to make in terms of competition, technology and providing a truly memorable experience for its legions of fans.”
Over the last 999 races, there have been a multitude of highlights that weave together the colorful tales of its drivers and epic battles on the track. Some of the top moments from the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ stories history include:
· Dale Earnhardt’s wins the series’ inaugural event – the Goody’s 300 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13, 1982.
· Jack Ingram captures the inaugural series championship at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 31, 1982.
· Sam Ard becomes the first driver to win two titles in the series on Oct. 28, 1984, at Martinsville, becoming the first of eight drivers to earn the distinction. The other seven are Jack Ingram, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
· Jeff Gordon captures a series-record 11th pole of the season in late October 1992 at Rockingham Speedway – the most poles by one driver in one season.
· Nationwide Insurance becomes the title sponsor in 2008, renaming NASCAR’s No. 2 series the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
· Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the debut race of the new NASCAR Nationwide Series car at Daytona on July 2, 2010. Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet carries the No. 3 Wrangler paint scheme his father made famous early in his career.
· Kyle Busch wins the Food City 250 at Bristol on Friday, August 20, 2010. He had already won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at the .533-mile track two days earlier and would go on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race the following night, becoming the only driver to sweep all three national series events at a track.
· On August 26, 2011, Kyle Busch claims his 50th series victory in the Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway to surpass Mark Martin as the all-time wins leader. Busch continues to win consistently in the series, notching his 60th victory on August 23, 2013, at Bristol.
· Kenny Wallace passes Jason Keller as the all-time series’ starts leader with 521 on November 12, 2011. Wallace’s tally of race starts currently sits at 541.
· Ricky Stenhouse Jr. becomes only the sixth driver in the series to claim back-to-back titles in 2012, following in the footsteps of Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series long has been a proving ground for drivers trying to earn a seat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. There are eight NASCAR Sprint Cup champions who competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series before making their way to NASCAR’s top level: Alan Kulwicki, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Keselowski is the only driver to have won titles in NASCAR’s top two series.