In keeping with a tradition stretching back nearly a decade, Darlington Raceway's 2023 "Throwback Weekend" is full of colorful cars that pay homage to special people and special moments from years past. Unfortunately, though, not all of the paint schemes are exactly a home run.
Let's take a look at three retro designs that pop, and then get acquainted with three that leave a lot to be desired.
Aric Almirola (Dale Earnhardt Jr.)
He believed in @Aric_Almirola when it mattered most.
This weekend's throwback is for you, @DaleJr.
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) May 10, 2023
Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought the NASCAR world together like few drivers had ever done when he captured an emotional victory in the 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, less than five months after the tragic death of his father, Dale Earnhardt, on the final lap of the Daytona 500.
It's fitting that Aric Almirola is the sporting the "baseball car" paint scheme Earnhardt drove that night, since Almirola competed for Junior at JR Motorsports in 2011, scoring 18 top-10 finishes and using his NASCAR Xfinity Series success as a springboard to a full-time Cup Series ride with Richard Petty Motorsports the following season.
"With Dale Sr. passing away earlier that year after the Daytona 500, to then watch Dale Jr., coming back in this baseball paint scheme and winning is just extremely emotional," Almirola said. "I remember jumping up and down on the couch of the cabin that we were staying in, just so excited that he had pulled off that win and it was just really emotional."
"I remember running around the cabin like a wild man and jumping up and down and just super-pumped, and so was the entire NASCAR world, so when they asked me what one of my favorite paint schemes as a kid was growing up, this is the first that came to mind."
Noah Gragson (Jimmie Johnson)
— LEGACY MOTOR CLUB (@LegacyMotorclub) May 10, 2023
Noah Gragson is paying tribute to none other than his famous boss — Legacy Motor Club co-owner and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson — with a car resembling the one Johnson wheeled to victory in the 2014 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Given all that Johnson accomplished over his nearly two decades as a full-time driver with Hendrick Motorsports, for which he won not only his seven championships but also 83 Cup Series races, these seem like natural car colors for Gragson — a Cup Series rookie who undoubtedly aspires to leave a legacy akin to that of his first-year team owner and boss.
Chase Elliott (Bill Elliott)
"This one means a lot."- Chase Elliott's Darlington throwback is a tribute to his dad's Ray Evernham days. pic.twitter.com/YNT5WY1aw3
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 5, 2023
No one is more beloved at Darlington Raceway than 1988 Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who on Labor Day weekend in 1985 electrified everyone in attendance at Darlington — not to mention the entire NASCAR world — when he won the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and a $1 million bonus from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
Beginning that day, many fans appropriately dubbed Elliott "Million Dollar Bill," while others simply described his unprecedented feat as "awesome," which led to Elliott carrying the moniker "Awesome Bill" that's his even now.
All this being so, it seems fitting that Chase Elliott — Bill's son and NASCAR's now perennial most popular driver — is campaigning the paint scheme that his famous father raced to four wins from 2001-2003 during his time with the long-since-shuttered Evernham Motorsports organization. The 2003 season was Bill's final one as a full-time Cup Series driver and the year of his 44th and final victory at NASCAR's highest level.
Chase's car is almost a mirror image of his father's, considering it has not only the same design but the same number — 9 — emblazoned on it that was Bill's at the time.
Ty Gibbs (Bobby Labonte)
?? THROWBACK ??
Next weekend @shrinershosp and @TyGibbs are throwing it back to the one-off scheme Bobby Labonte ran in celebration of Coach Gibbs? induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. Who remembers the track and year?
Learn more about how you can help Shriner?s Children?s? pic.twitter.com/VR7DDqJ9Xl
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) May 4, 2023
Most throwback paint schemes elicit some kind of emotions or, at the very least, memories from an earlier time. This isn't quite the case with the paint scheme that Cup Series rookie Ty Gibbs is running this weekend, however.
In fact, it's safe to say that virtually no one — except perhaps the most diehard of fans — will recall ever seeing it. That's because it was used just once. That one time was July 28, 1996, when Joe Gibbs Racing driver Bobby Labonte campaigned it at Talladega Superspeedway to honor team owner Joe Gibbs' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Labonte finished eighth in the race.
Joe Gibbs, of course, won three Super Bowl as head coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins (now the Washington Commanders), but Ty — his 20-year-old grandson — wasn't even alive then.
Joey Logano (Mark Donohue)
— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) April 23, 2023
With all due respect to the late Mark Donohue, who passed away in 1975, very few modern-day NASCAR fans have ever even heard of him, much less know what he accomplished.
Nevertheless, the paint scheme on Joey Logano's No. 22 Team Penske Ford at Darlington was inspired by the No. 16 AMC Matador that Donohue drove to Team Penske's first NASCAR win, which came at now-defunct Riverside International Raceway in California on January 21, 1973.
Donohoe was never all that well known in NASCAR circles, however, due to the fact that he made only six premier series starts — all between 1972 and 1973. His most notable accomplishment was winning the 1972 Indianapolis 500 for Roger Penske, but, of course, that was IndyCar and not NASCAR.
Therefore, Logano going vintage Donohue at Darlington — a track steeped in NASCAR tradition — feels like somewhat of a misfit.
Chase Briscoe (Tony Stewart)
Time to throw it back to- ???? ???? ???????
Pre-orders are now open for the No. 14 Chase Briscoe Mahindra Throwback, get yours in today!
— Lionel Racing (@Lionel_Racing) May 4, 2023
Like Noah Gragson, Chase Briscoe is rolling with throwback colors once driven by his boss — who, in Briscoe's case, is Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.
Though Briscoe himself is a huge fan of the fiery hues on his No. 14 car — "I think of all the throwback schemes we have done, this is my favorite," he said — they're not going to resonate with many spectators. That's because few, if any, fans will recognize this paint job, given that it's from a USAC Midget car that Stewart drove in the 2000 Turkey Night Race at California's Irwindale Speedway.
Yep, Briscoe is campaigning colors patterned after a USAC Midget car that was last on track over two decades go. Whatever floats his boat, though, right?
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