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NASCAR Numerology: What's in a car number?

There's a story behind the numbers of many of the cars on the track in NASCAR:

43 — Its 198 trips to Victory Lane are the most for any NASCAR number. Richard Petty was responsible for 192 of the wins, but John Andretti took it to the checkered flag for the last time at Martinsville in April 1999. Petty's father, Lee, a three-time champion, drove the No. 42, and Richard's son, Kyle, drove the 44 and 45. Kyle's late son, Adam, also drove the 45. The No. 43 has also competed in 1,702 events — the most of any car number.

3 — Driven by the late Dale Earnhardt for Richard Childress Racing from 1984 through 2001, the stylized 3 is arguably the most iconic number in sports. Childress, who drove the car before ceding to Earnhardt, continues to control the lucrative marketing rights to the number because NASCAR licenses it to him every year. A No. 3 has not competed in a Sprint Cup race since Earnhardt died in RCR's No. 3 Chevrolet on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

11 — No personal tie to driver Denny Hamlin, but Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs wore the number when he played football at William & Mary. The 11 is second on the all-time Sprint Cup wins list (184) and races (1,621). JGR purchased the number from Junior Johnson in 2004 and used Jason Leffler, Terry Labonte and J.J. Yeley before Hamlin, who was born in Tampa and lived briefly in Brandon, took over at age 24 in 2005.

14 — Tony Stewart, driver/owner of Stewart-Haas, chose the number as a tribute to his racing hero, A.J. Foyt. The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 1972 Daytona 500 victor never won in NASCAR with the number. Sterling Marlin used the number at Ginn Racing partly to honor his father, Coo Coo, who also drove 14.

48 — It's double the No. 24, the program from which Jimmie Johnson's car was gene-spliced in 2001. Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, is Johnson's co-owner with Rick Hendrick.

In some cases, the car number is tied to the car's primary sponsor:

01 Chevrolet — a riff off of the U.S. Army's "Army of One" ad campaign.

07 Chevrolet — Richard Childress Racing would have preferred No. 7 because of the Jack Daniel's "old No. 7" motto, but Robby Gordon wouldn't budge, so Childress slipped a zero in there. Besides, that's what your blood-alcohol level will be with too many Jack and Cokes.

83 Toyota — There are 8.3 ounces of taurine-powered Red Bull in every can.

Luck and the look: Sixty-seven drivers, including A.J. Foyt, Banjo Matthews, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, Richard Childress, Mike Skinner and Robby Gordon, have raced a No. 13 car, but Johnny Rutherford (1963 Daytona 500 qualifying race) is the only driver to win in one in 245 starts.

Q: Why do the numbers on the roof appear upside down from the grandstands?

A: Before electronic scoring, officials used to log laps and race positions for every car from a perch in the infield, so the numbers faced toward them.

NASCAR Numerology: What's in a car number? 02/27/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 7:30pm]

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