The typical sports fan’s experience regarding losing a team can be summed up in a word: unlikely. While it is possible that you could lose a team to relocation, it is not particularly common. Motorsports are unique in this business sense of sports. Teams come and go with relative frequency, some leaving more of an impact than others. Whether they are sold to another team or go out of business completely, you don’t want to get too attached to race teams. The upcoming Bojangles’ Southern 500 is teasing the nostalgia of race fans with throwback paint schemes of historic teams and drivers. These NASCAR throwbacks bring memories not just of legendary drivers, but defunct teams.
NASCAR Throwbacks: Revisiting Teams of Cup Series Past
Bill Davis Racing
Any NASCAR fan who was following the sport in the 1990’s to early 2000’s will tell you that the Caterpillar car was iconic. The No. 22 car was piloted by fan favourites Bobby Labonte and Ward Burton. It was with Burton that the CAT Dodge would become a staple of the Winston Cup Series field. With high profile wins such as 2001 Southern 500 and 2002 Daytona 500, Bill Davis Racing looked to be a mainstay in the sport. Aside from their Cup Series run, the team is notable for introducing Jeff Gordon to the world of NASCAR via the Busch Grand National Series. The team was also an instrumental part of Toyota’s introduction to NASCAR, though this was met with some controversy.
However, this success was short-lived. Outside the moderate success of the No. 22 team and popularity of Ward Burton, the remaining cars on the team faced relatively poor performance. Another fan favourite Kenny Wallace only lasted one year at the sport’s top level with the team. A slew of drivers came in to replace Burton, including Scott Wimmer and Dave Blaney. Longtime sponsor Caterpillar announced in 2008 that they were leaving the team in favour of Richard Childress Racing. Although the CAT car can still be seen in the field driven by Ryan Newman, Bill Davis Racing is no more. Owner Bill Davis sold the team off in 2008 after losing the CAT sponsorship.
The team is also notable for bringing Formula 1 World Champion and Canadian racing icon Jacques Villeneuve into the NASCAR Cup Series. However, the team was unable to secure sponsorship and quickly folded.
Not as long-running or iconic as the other teams on this list, PPI Motorsports‘ entry will be relatively short. However, the team was solidified in NASCAR lore by one of the most memorable finishes in motorsports. For that, the team is more than worth revisiting.
PPI carried on the iconic “Tide Ride”, made famous by Darrell Waltrip. They also carried the old-school NASCAR throwback torch of running a single-car team in an era of multi-car teams. Ricky Craven served as the driver of the Tide car from 2001-2004. In that time, he achieved the team’s only two victories, including the previously referenced iconic finish at Darlington in 2003. Eventually, he was replaced by Bobby Hamilton Jr. due to poor performance. After a few more years of struggling and eventually losing the Tide sponsorship, PPI Motorsports was liquidated into several other teams. This included the also now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing.
The Tide Ride will return as a NASCAR throwback scheme in the 2016 Bojangles’ Southern 500 driven by Matt Kenseth.
Unlike the other teams in this retrospective, Evernham Motorsports still exists to some degree. Legendary crew chief and team owner Ray Evernham would later merge the team with Petty Enterprises and Yates Racing to make Richard Petty Motorsports. Evernham Motorsports is closely tied with Dodge’s return to NASCAR. The team ran two cars back by dodged, driven by Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield. In 2004, the team would usher in young phenom Kasey Kahne.
Although the team lives on through Richard Petty Motorsports, Evernham lost control of the team in 2007. The newly dubbed Gillett Evernham Motorsports faced considerable financial and legal issues. Facing lawsuits from Robby Gordon and Elliott Sadler as well as a drug controversy with Jeremy Mayfield, the team ended on a low note. With Dodge now out of NASCAR, the team remains as a bizarre chapter in the history of the sport. Don’t expect to see any NASCAR throwbacks of the classic Evernham Dodge cars at any future Southern 500’s.
Robert Yates Racing
Robert Yates Racing is arguably the most iconic team on this list. The team began in 1988 with the late Davey Allison. The son of NASCAR icon Bobby Allison, Davey Allison quickly became an elite presence in the Cup Series. The young driver achieved nineteen wins across his nine seasons in the sport’s top series. Although a serious contender for the Cup, Allison’s best chance at the title was ended by owner-driver Alan Kulwicki who just barely claimed the 1992 title. The Havoline Ford became a constant contender, even after Allison’s untimely death in 1993. Ernie Irvin also found success with the team as a replacement for Allison, until that role was filled by Dale Jarrett. The list of legends behind the wheel of a Yates car would continue with the addition of Ricky Rudd in 1999.
The team claimed their first, only, and long-overdue Cup championship in 1999 with Dale Jarrett. Yates would go on to be a hotly contending team in the 2000s with a lineup of Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett. Sadler would run the now-familiar M&M’s car, a ride now piloted by Joe Gibbs Racing‘s Kyle Busch. The team had obviously reached its peak, and so began the decline. The latter half of the 2000’s proved difficult for Robert Yates Racing. After the loss of Jarrett, the No. 88 went to Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr.. The team would merge with Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises to form Richard Petty Motorsports.
Dale Earnhardt Inc.
For a time, Dale Earnhardt Inc. or DEI was among the premier teams in the NASCAR Cup Series. Owned, operated, and named for one of the sport’s most enduring figures: Dale Earnhardt. The team is largely recognizable for enduring sponsorships, matching paint schemes, and restrictor-plate racing dominance. Among the team’s most iconic moments is steeped in tragedy. Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished first and second in the 2001 Daytona 500. The same race in which owner Dale Earnhardt lost his life. DEI would seek redemption later that season in the 2001 Pepsi 400. The finishing order was reversed, with Earnhardt Jr. taking the win ahead of his teammate Waltrip.
Despite strong consistency and unmatched restrictor-plate performance, DEI never claimed a Cup title. They had the most popular driver in Earnhardt Jr. and one of the most iconic cars with the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet. Even so, the team lost Earnhardt Jr. to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. DEI continued, but without the star power of the Earnhardt name were unable to consistently attract major sponsorship. The team would eventually be merged into Chip Ganassi Racing to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. This title was short lived, and DEI faded from the series as the team’s name was returned to Chip Ganassi Racing.