NASCAR: Controversy surrounding Richard Petty’s record?

Richard Petty, NASCAR (Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images)
Richard Petty, NASCAR (Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images) /

Richard Petty, “The King” of NASCAR, is often considered the best to ever drive a Cup Series car, and for good reason. The seven-time champion earned a record 200 wins, but not all of them came without controversy.

On Sunday, October 9,1983, the NASCAR Cup Series made its second trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway of the year for the Miller High Life 500. One of the main storylines going into the 1983 season was Richard Petty’s quest for 200 career wins.

Entering the year, he had 195 wins to his name. After two wins prior to the Miller High Life 500, he was only three wins away.

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The Miller High Life 500 was shaping up to be just like any other 500-mile race at Charlotte. These races were more like marathons. Teams tried to stay alive and in contention until the next pit stop, when they would make adjustments to the cars. These adjustments could win a race for a team, but they could also lose it.

Petty started the race in 20th place. At that point in time, no driver had ever started that far back at a 500-mile Charlotte race and went home as the race winner. But who could count out the seven-time champion?

As the race went on, it was indeed just like any other Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. As the laps wound down, Darrell Waltrip, who was in a points battle with Bobby Allison for the Winston Cup championship, found his way to the lead. With under 40 laps to go, he was looking good.

That is, until the blue and red STP Pontiac found his groove. Not only did Petty catch up to Waltrip, but his #43 car flew by him to take the lead with 23 laps to go.

Petty’s car looked very stable in the closing laps of this 500-mile race. While everybody else was struggling with grip and power, his car seemed perfect. He could run the inside, outside, and anywhere in between and still have speed.

He went on to win the race by 3.1 seconds. This was a big deal for many reasons. Not only did he get his 198th career win, but this race also had one of the biggest purses on the schedule at $352,430. Petty and his team went home with $40,400 of it.

But during the victory lane celebration, a NASCAR official noticed that Petty’s Pontiac had four left side tires. This helped the car have traction in the corners — a clear violation of the rules. Once this was noticed, the #43 car was taken in for a lengthy inspection.

The inspection lasted over four hours, and NASCAR found that the #43 team had not only violated the tire rule, but they also had an engine that was 23.983 cubic inches over the limit of 358 cubic inches.

NASCAR penalized the #43 team by fining them $35,000 and taking away 104 (of 180) championship points, but they let the win stand.

They let the win stand for a couple reasons. First of all, they wanted the fans to leave the track knowing who had won the race. By the time the post-race inspection was done, the grandstands were empty and the fans were either home or on their way there.

Secondly, the second place car of Waltrip was quickly put into the hauler after the race and was not able to be inspected. NASCAR did not want to give the win to a team that could have also been found to have violated the rules.

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After all of this, Petty left Charlotte Motor Speedway with his 198th win and went on to reach 200 career wins in the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. This milestone is a Cup series record that will go unbroken for a very long time.