This past weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series celebrated another first-time winner as 24-year old Kyle Larson brought home his maiden Sprint Cup victory.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), remembers what it was like to be a first-time winner himself. In fact, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion and winner of 38 career races at NASCAR’s top level was the first driver to Larson’s driver-side window to shake his hand in victory lane at Michigan. Busch knows how difficult wins are to come by, and it certainly brought back memories of his own first win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California back in 2005.
So as the Sprint Cup series heads to its second annual “Throwback Weekend” at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Busch and Interstate Batteries will be honoring a first-time victory of their own as JGR and Interstate Batteries celebrate their 25th year together in 2016. The paint scheme Busch will race is a replica of the original design Dale Jarrett raced to victory in the 1993 Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – the first-ever Sprint Cup win for JGR and for Interstate Batteries.
In addition to appearing on the No. 18 entry for Jarrett’s Daytona 500 victory, the Interstate Batteries scheme was run for the first two years of JGR’s foray into NASCAR’s top series during the 1992 and 1993 seasons.
The story of Jarrett’s historic victory in the 35th Daytona 500 has been told many times throughout the last 24 years. That day – Feb. 14, 1993 – Dale Earnhardt led 107 of 200 laps, but he was passed by Jarrett’s No. 18 Interstate Batteries car on the last lap while Jarrett’s father, Ned, excitedly called the action during the live television broadcast. The “Dale and Dale Show,” as referred to by Ned Jarrett on the telecast, is still considered by many to be one of the best races in NASCAR history. Ironically, as part of the throwback theme at Darlington this weekend, Dale and Ned Jarrett will join legendary play-by-play voice Ken Squier in the NBC broadcast booth to call a portion of Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.
Perhaps lesser known, and somewhat humorous, is the mass confusion that took place following the checkered flag of that 1993 Daytona 500. JGR had only competed in NASCAR for one year and had yet to find victory lane, while Jarrett had scored only one previous victory in his career – the August 1991 race at Michigan.
So after Jarrett took the checkered flag at Daytona, a large yet slightly unorganized celebration took place.
“We were so naive, we didn’t know what to do after the race, nor did Joe (Gibbs),” said Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries. “I think we b
arely remembered to get photos taken in victory lane. It was only our second Daytona 500 and we won the thing. It was amazing.”
Gibbs, who 18 months earlier had sold Miller on sponsoring his team despite not having a race shop, a driver or any racing experience, couldn’t believe his team had won the biggest NASCAR event of the season.
“When we crossed the finish line, reality kind of set in,” Gibbs said. “Norm was obviously excited. We were all very emotional. Pat (Gibbs, wife) was there. She was a crying. I remember when we were heading for the winner’s circle, J.D. (Gibbs, son), Coy (Gibbs, son) and Todd (Meredith, crew member, former vice president of operations) were all kind of wrestling in the infield. It was just a great thrill for us.”
Jarrett, who would go on to win two more Daytona 500s, the 1999 NASCAR Cup Series championship and 32 races in NASCAR’s top division, was in the middle of the chaotic victory lane.
“I would say it was one of the more interesting victory lane celebrations,” Jarrett said. “Even though I had won at Michigan in the Cup Series, this (Daytona 500) was the biggest race and we were all kind of looking around going, ‘Did this really happen? What do we do now?’ I think we were all kind of looking for some help. I remember looking at Joe and his family, and Norm was there, and we were all kind of looking at each other wondering what we were supposed to be doing. There was just a lot of laughing and hugging and even a few tears, I think.”
While this weekend’s scheme pays homage to JGR’s 1993 Daytona 500 win, there were also memories made in the years that followed for JGR and its No. 18 car at the tricky 1.33-mile egg-shaped Darlington oval. Former JGR driver and 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte brought home JGR’s first Southern 500 win back in 2000, the same year he brought JGR and Interstate Batteries its first Sprint Cup title.
Busch, the current driver of the Interstate Batteries Toyota, has also conquered Darlington with the No. 18 car, as well, having brought home a big win at “The Track Too Tough To Tame” in May 2008. In fact, his first victory at Darlington earned him the distinction of being the youngest Sprint Cup winner – at 23 years of age – in the storied history of Darlington. Busch also has one Xfinity Series win at Darlington, scoring that one in May 2011.
So, as Busch returns to “The Lady in Black” to compete in the traditional Southern 500 on Labor Day, he’ll hope turning back the clock will be just what he and the Interstate Batteries team need in order to rekindle the magic of not only the 1993 Daytona 500 win, but his first Southern 500 win from 2008. Besides, there’s nothing like reaching victory lane for the first time.