NASCAR: Who was the last driver of the #45 car?

Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Kurt Busch’s NASCAR Cup Series win at Kansas Speedway on Sunday afternoon was historic for a number of reasons, including the car number.

After passing former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson with just a handful of laps remaining in Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, Kurt Busch went on to secure his first win of the 2022 season and his first win with 23XI Racing.

The team co-owned by Denny Hamin and Michael Jordan joined the Cup Series last year with Bubba Wallace as the driver of their #23 Toyota, and they were able to expand and become a two-car operation for 2022, adding the #45 Toyota for Busch.

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Busch had lost his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing after three seasons. Trackhouse Racing Team acquired Chip Ganassi’s team after the 2021 season ended, and while many believe that Busch was an option for the Justin Marks and Pitbull-owned team, he instead switched from Chevrolet to Toyota and Trackhouse Racing Team went with Ross Chastain, then Busch’s teammate.

Busch’s victory on Sunday, which made the 2022 season his ninth consecutive winning season, was 23XI Racing’s second ever Cup Series victory. They earned their first with Wallace in a rain-shortened race at Talladega Superspeedway last October.

What Busch also did was get the number 45 back to victory lane for the first time since May 1964 when LeeRoy Yarborough won the race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

From then to the start of the 2022 season, the number 45 had been run in quite a few races. Across 37 seasons, it had competed in a total of 734 events.

Throughout those 37 seasons, there were 59 drivers who had the chance to run the number 45, including Yarborough. None of them could find victory lane.

But until 2022, the number 45 had been completely absent from Cup Series competition since 2008.

After the 2008 season, Petty Enterprises shut down. For the last several years at that point, the number 45 had been used as a tribute to Adam Petty, who entered the Cup Series in 2000 and drove the #45 Petty Enterprises Chevrolet in his lone start at Texas Motor Speedway.

A few weeks later, Adam, the son of Kyle Petty and grandson of seven-time champion Richard Petty, was killed in a practice crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Busch admitted that Sunday’s win was made even more special because it gave him the chance to honor Adam and the Petty family.

But before Busch competed in the 2022 season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, who was the last driver to pilot a car #45 in any Cup Series race?

During the 2008 season, four drivers had the opportunity to spend time behind the wheel of the #45 Petty Enterprises Dodge, including Kyle Petty, Terry Labonte, Chad McCumbee, and Boris Said.

Kyle Petty ran the #45 Dodge in 15 events and failed to qualify for two others. Labonte ran it in nine, and McCumbee ran it in six and failed to qualify for three others. Said ran it in one.

Before the 2022 season began, McCumbee had been the most recent driver to use 45 as his car number, as he competed in the 2008 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This race was the final Cup Series race for Petty Enterprises.

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23XI Racing brought back the number 45 as a nod to the number which Michael Jordan, who is most well-known for wearing the number 23, used when he returned to the Chicago Bulls from his first retirement in 1995. But they did not do so without getting permission from the Petty family first.