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ANDERS: Hendrick number change feels like an ending

Jordan Anders
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Jordan Anders

NASCAR Indianapolis Auto Racing-9
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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, September 3, 2017

On a weekend where NASCAR is once again going all out celebrating retro paint schemes at Darlington, it’s kind of fitting that perhaps the biggest news of this week is represented in one of the throwback cars that will be on the track tonight.

Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement this week that it will shift numbers around next season came somewhat from out of left field. Chase Elliott’s car number will change next year from the No. 24 to the No. 9, allowing him to take the number his father helped make famous, as well as the number with which he won an Xfinity Series title in 2014. The No. 24 will be driven next season by William Byron, who is replacing Kasey Kahne in what is now the No. 5 car.

That means for the first time since its inception in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports will not field a car bearing the No. 5 at the Cup level, which came as a bit of a shock. The No. 24 and No. 48 may have had more success in terms of victories, but the No. 5 has been a staple at Hendrick since the beginning.

It’s somewhat ironic that Kahne tonight will race a car that has the same yellow and white paint scheme on it that the No. 5 had when Hendrick Motorsports debuted, known then as All-Star Racing, more than 30 years ago.

NASCAR fans can be incredibly nostalgic about paint schemes, but it can be underestimated the attachment some can develop toward numbers themselves. Just ask any Dale Earnhardt fan how they feel about someone, anyone, driving the No. 3.

The rarest of drivers are synonymous with a number, like Richard Petty’s No. 43 or Earnhardt’s No. 3. Some numbers are indelibly linked to teams instead of drivers. The Wood Brothers’ famed No. 21 comes to mind in that regard.

Hendrick’s No. 5 has won 38 times at the Cup level, most recently with Kahne at Indianapolis in July. Six different drivers have won races in it. Geoff Bodine, the team’s first driver, won the 1987 Daytona 500, and Terry Labonte drove the No. 5 to the 1996 Cup championship.

Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky, drove the No. 5 in the Xfinity Series in the early 2000s. After he retired as a driver, Brian Vickers took over that ride and drove it to the 2003 Xfinity Series championship.

The No. 5 signifies a tie back to Hendrick Motorsports’ start in NASCAR. Though Hendrick said this week it wasn’t out of the question for his team to retain the number and bring it back to the Cup Series eventually, it feels strange to think his team won’t field that number next year. 

Throwing it back: Like I mentioned, it is Throwback Weekend at Darlington, where the Southern 500 will be contested tonight among a field of cars carrying awesome retro paint schemes.

I’m not going to dive into the weekend at length because I’ve written about it in the past, but I will say this year’s slate of cars has some particularly strong looking ones. Among them:

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s scheme that throws back to his old AC Delco look from his Xfinity Series championship years is one of my favorites. It’s simple, but it’s cool to see Earnhardt take advantage of the fact he’s one of the few in NASCAR who has been around long enough to pull out a “retro” scheme he drove himself.
  • The Petty family is represented with a pair of fantastic looking cars — Kyle Larson’s No. 42 carries the look of Kyle Petty’s Coors Light car from the mid-1990s, and Aric Almirola’s No. 43 is made up to look like Richard Petty’s STP car from 1984, when he won his 200th race. The STP one is hard to beat.
  • Another one of my favorites is Danica Patrick’s car that resembles Dale Jarrett’s 1999 championship car. Jarrett was my favorite driver as a kid, and seeing the blue and white Ford Credit on the track hit me harder than I expected this week.
  • As sweet as all those are, my favorite is undoubtedly Brad Keselowski bringing back Rusty Wallace’s old “Midnight” look. The combo of the same sponsor, same number and same team, as well as Keselowski rocking the old school firesuit, is perfect. I was never a Wallace fan, but the black and gold look on that car was great 20 years ago, and it’s going to look awesome under the lights at Darlington.

Trophy talk: Monster and NASCAR unveiled the championship trophy for the Monster Energy Cup Series late in the week, and it had people talking.

The trophy is twice as tall as the old Sprint Cup trophy, and is actually a “cup,” unlike the trophies of the past. The cup also has the outlines of all 23 Cup Series tracks layered within it, which I thought was a really cool touch.

The problem, as many were quick to point out on Twitter, is that not all of them were exactly accurate. The outlines for Watkins Glen and Sonoma featured the full course layout for both, despite the fact NASCAR races on an altered, shorter layout at each one. It’s a small, nitpicky detail, but one that could have and should have been caught by someone with attention to detail within the process.

As a sport, having a trophy that boasts all your venues while having two of those venues misrepresented isn’t a great look for NASCAR, but the trophy looks great and takes the championship in a bit of a different direction.

PREDICTION

Tonight’s race should be a blast with the old-school cars, a worn-out racing surface and the typical Labor Day heat. My pick won this race in 2013, and with just two races left to snag a playoff berth, I think he pops up and does just that.

PICK: Matt Kenseth.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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