It's been more than 25 years since Richard "The King" Petty retired from NASCAR for good. But, while the 1992 season finale in Atlanta was the last time the seven-time Cup Series champion officially competed in a NASCAR-sanctioned event, it wasn't the last time he would drive around a NASCAR track.
For the playoff race at Darlington Raceway in 2017, Petty served as the honorary pace car driver to cap off NASCAR's throwback weekend that honors past legends. Needless to say, Petty had a blast that day in South Carolina. He had so much fun, in fact, that he didn't want to come off the track. This led to Petty getting black flagged at "The Track Too Tough to Tame."
Given that Petty's pace car was the iconic No. 43 Plymouth Belvedere, it makes sense why he didn't want to come into the pits. For all you NASCAR trivia buffs out there, you know that this was the same car in which Petty won the 1967 Southern 500. That win at Darlington would be one of 26 wins that Petty racked up in '67, the same year that he won his second championship. Given Petty's shining track record at Darlington (he would perform exceptionally there throughout his 35-year career), it only made sense that he would be the honorary pace car driver at the South Carolina track.
Usually honorary pace car drivers are supposed to head to the pits one lap prior to the field getting the green flag. But, when it was time for the 80-year-old Petty to finish up, he bypassed pit road. Then, he did it again. And again. Eventually, the flag man signaled to Petty that his time was up as he waved the black flag.
Now, the black flag is usually waved during an actual race when NASCAR officials determine that a driver has committed some sort of infraction (mostly it's used when a driver can't maintain a consistent speed to continue racing) and therefore must head into pit road. In this particular instance, the flag man probably hadn't used a black flag on a pace driver, but there's a first time for everything, I guess.
Here's another black flag fact for you: it's also called a "consultation flag," as it necessitates that offending driver and his team meet with a NASCAR official in the pits to determine what the actual on-track offense was and if there will be a resulting penalty. Obviously, no one needed to consult with "The King" after his black flag at Darlington. In fact, nobody really blamed him for wanting to keeping circling the track until the cows came home.
Kevin Harvick even admitted on his radio, "I'd drive around in that thing all day." Hey, it's hard to criticize a legend like Petty, even when he's kind of, sort of breaking the rules. Long live The King!
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