- Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR
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Everyone loves a parade.
Especially a man like Richard Childress, who on Sunday at Bristol was treated to the most rewarding parade that a NASCAR team owner could ever dream of, the vision of his three cars marching their way over the finish line with nothing -- not an opponent, tacky float or high school band -- between them.
"When you put in all the hours that we all do at RCR, you do that work hoping you run 1-2-3 every week, but it never happens" said the man who has probably put in more hours under a race car than any team owner this side of Richard Petty. "It's hard enough to finish a race at Bristol, let alone sweep the top three spots."
He's right. It never happens. Well, sometimes it does. Like once every decade or two. So, with the image of Burton-Harvick-Bowyer still fresh in our minds, let's take a look back on some of those other times when multicar teams put a multiplied hurting on the competition. As we present our Top 5 One-Team Beatdowns in NASCAR history:
5. 2001-04 -- DEI serves up a plate of butt-whippings
When the late Dale Earnhardt left this earth, he took his secrets of restrictor-plate mastery with him or so we thought. But as he had built his own race team in Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, he'd also been kind enough to hand over some family secrets to its two senior drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip.
Mikey and Junebug began their amazing streak the day their mentor died, sweeping the top two spots in the 2001 Daytona 500. Over the next four seasons, they teamed up to win 11 of the 16 restrictor-plate races run, including three Daytona 500s and Dale Junior's streak of four consecutive Talladega wins. Four of those wins were 1-2 DEI sweeps.
4. 1967 Daytona 500 -- Mario and Freddy tag team the field
In the 1960s the Holman-Moody race team was as close to a modern multicar team operation as there was to be found. With youngsters such as Robert Yates building engines, the team would field one, two or three cars depending on what and whom it could stick in the field.
In 1967 Holman-Moody hired a driver that team co-owner Ralph Moody referred to as "that little Italian s---" -- you know him as Mario Andretti -- and put him in a Ford to race alongside full-time employee Fast Freddy Lorenzen.
"We were all too scared to get near Mario," admits Richard Petty, who finished eighth. "He was driving that car like he was on dirt, sliding completely sideways in the turns. We were all so caught up watching him wreck that we didn't realize he was whuppin' us."
When the tire smoke cleared, Mario and Freddy finished 1-2, the only two cars on the lead lap, and led a combined 125 of the 200 laps.
3. 1997 Daytona 500 -- Hendrick to the power of 3
Poor Bill Elliott never stood a chance.
In a moment that became symbolic of the changing face of NASCAR, driver-owner Bill Elliott was leading on the final restart of the Daytona 500, but with the three cars of Hendrick Motorsports filling up his rearview mirror. "I was screwed," Elliott admitted after the race. "I could've held off one of them, maybe even two, but not three."
Defending Cup champion Terry Labonte went high, defending runner-up Jeff Gordon dove low and teammate Ricky Craven waited to see what Elliott was going to do. He froze. So the three Hendrick cars swept by and swept right on toward the checkered flag, Gordon-Labonte-Craven. By season's end Gordon would be the champ and the trio would record 50 top-10 finishes.
2. 1956 -- Taken out back by the King of Outboards
For all of the griping about today's "superteams" of Roush Fenway, Hendrick and the others, the complaints will never reach the volume of those in the 1950s, and with good reason. Because no team owner will ever duplicate the mind-numbing success of Carl Kiekhaefer, father of the Mercury outboard motor and owner of Chrysler's factory-backed NASCAR effort.
Kiekhaefer was the first true multicar team owner, he was the first owner to make his team wear uniforms, the first to use a hauler, and, with all due respect to today's Hendrick "Dream Team," the first to throw sacks of cash around to hire the best talent on the track and in the garage. It worked. In two seasons of racing he won 52 times in 101 races, earning 116 top-5s in 190 tries and two championships.
In 1956, Kiekhaefer's cars posted six 1-2 sweeps including four in a row, and four 1-2-3 sweeps. The backlash from fans and opponents became so great that the pride of Wisconsin won the season finale at Wlison, N.C., with driver Buck Baker, then left forever.
1. 1957 -- Pete and Re-Pete times four
Kiekhaefer's biggest rival in '56 was 1925 Indy 500 champion Peter DePaolo, a literal living racing legend who'd decided to come south and get into the NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) team ownership business. DePaolo fielded factory-backed cars over three seasons, 1955-57, and won 21 races. He was the Roush to Kiekhaefer's Hendrick, and just like Jack's, when Pete's cars won they won in gangs.
On Dec. 30, 1956, DePaolo Engineering became the first NASCAR team to sweep the top four spots in one race when Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Marvin Panch and Ralph Moody finished first through fourth in a 15-car race in Titusville, Fla. For good measure, DePaolo also claimed the last-place spot as Joe Weatherly never completed a lap.
Four months later DePaolo did it again, this time in North Wilkesboro, N.C., and the perpetrators were Roberts, Paul Goldsmith, Moody and Panch. This time ol' Pete nearly took the entire top five, but Allen Adkins faded to sixth behind Buck Baker. At the end of the season, DePaolo left the sport. But his team manager, John Holman had buddied up with Moody, and the next season Holman-Moody was born.
"We'd learned how good it felt to really beat the hell of out somebody," Moody recalled in 1998. "So we just tried to keep on doing it. And we did."
Ah yes, nothing warms the heart quite like seeing the love of a good beatdown handed down like a family heirloom.
Ryan McGee, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, is the author of "ESPN Ultimate NASCAR: 100 Defining Moments in Stock Car Racing History." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A team's cars finishing 1-2-3 in a race -- as the Richard Childress racing gang did Sunday in Bristol -- is a rare occurrence. But it's not so rare that Burton-Harvick-Bowyer makes Ryan McGee's top five team beatdowns.