Requiem for 42

What’s in a number?

Of course he meant that in jest, but it’s not far from the truth. If you believe in astrology and life numbers, seeing the number 42 everywhere is a sign that you should live your life to the fullest. Live a happy and fulfilled life while you work on your passions. Nothing should hinder you from achieving greatness. It is upon you to write your destiny because no one will do it for you. Always seek the guidance of the angels in everything that you do.

If you ask author Douglas Adams, he’d say 42 is the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything,”

Nothing should hinder you from achieving greatness.” Really sticks out, doesn’t it?

Sunday marks the last time (for now) that the number 42 will be driven in its current form. As reported earlier this summer, Chip Ganassi Racing will be shutting it’s doors in NASCAR, with the assets going to Team Trackhouse. Ross Chastain will be the driver of the 1 car, a spot currently filled by the departing Kurt Busch.

The number 42 has had a long history in NASCAR. 45 drivers have driven the number, most notably all three members of the Petty Family. Lee leads all drivers in starts with 414, Kyle is behind him with 286. Even King Richard had his fair share of starts, with 28 coming in the 42. Lee won 53 races with the number, most all time. Kyle had 6 victories, which is tied for second most with another Kyle in Kyle Larson. Richard scored 2 of his series record 200 wins driving the number.

Now that we’ve had a minor history lesson, let’s bring it to the incarnation of why we’re here today.

The 42 as we know it today attempted its first race in the 1989 Daytona 500 for SABCO Racing and its owner Felix Sabates. Sabates was a self made millionaire who was well known in the kids toy industry. They picked up Kyle Petty from Wood Brothers Racing to drive for them in at least 19 races. Things seemed to be destined for for good times ahead.

The 42 missed the show.

As they were a new team, they had no provisionals to fall back on. Petty raced in that year’s 500, taking over the 23 car of Eddie Bierschwale after ten laps. With sponsor Peak Antifreeze on board, Petty would bring the 23 car home in tenth, giving Eddie his only career top ten finish in Cup Series history.

After an inauspicious start, SABCO and Petty would run a full season for the first time in 1990, coming home 11th in points and posting the first victory in team history at Rockingham. 1991 was setting up to be a great year as well with Mello Yello replacing Peak, but Kyle broke his leg in a wicked crash at Talladega in the spring. He would be replaced by drivers such as Tommy Kendall, Kenny Wallace and Bobby Hillin Jr. From 1992-95, Kyle would score five more victories including the last of his career at Dover. After 1996, Kyle would leave SABCO to start his own team.

In 1997, Joe Nemechek and sponsor BellSouth came on board.

The 42 missed that year’s Daytona 500. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before. Nemechek would score four poles and his first career victory with the team, leaving at the end of 1999.

In 2000, it was highly touted prospect Kenny Irwin’s turn behind the wheel. He had just left from a rocky situation at Robert Yates Racing and it seemed to be a low risk, high reward hire for SABCO. There were good and bad moments early in the season, as there would be for any new team. However, things were about to go from bad to worse.

In July of that year, NASCAR was making it’s second of two stops at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Irwin would be involved in a practice crash, and was pronounced dead at the track. He was only 30 years old. SABCO would take the week off and return with the 42 changed to the number 01 for the remainder of the season and on into the next.

The number 42 wouldn’t be used again until 2003.

During that rough time, there was a bit of good news. Motorsports owner Chip Ganassi was ready to make an imprint in NASCAR, and found a perfect partner in SABCO. At the start of the 2001 season, the team would be renamed Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The 01 would run in 2001 with Jason Leffler behind the wheel, but after poor performances Leffler was let go.

Jamie McMurray would take over the driving privileges of the 42 in 2003, after subbing for the injured Sterling Marlin in 2002 and pick up his first victory. He would run for and win Rookie of the Year. He failed to win a race in 2004, but finished in the top ten 23 times. He would miss the chase in 2005, but was the highest finishing non-chase driver, finishing 11th in points. He would leave for Roush Racing at the end of the season.

Next up would be Casey Mears. Mears was already at Ganassi driving the 41 car. He would find a then career best finish in the 42 car when he finished second in that year’s Daytona 500. He would leave for Hendrick Motorsports for 2007.

If you ask any teenager or twenty-something who do they remember most in the 42 car, they’d probably tell you Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya came to Ganassi from Formula 1. He won his first race in his rookie year at Sonoma. He’d pick up another win in 252 total starts and leave at the end of his contract in 2013.

After Montoya came the biggest prospect since Joey Logano in Kyle Larson. Larson had torn up the lower levels of racing and Ganassi was able to sign him and keep a long time sponsor in Target. Larson would take the 42 to victory six times in 219 starts. Target would leave after the 2018 season, and Larson would be removed from the seat midway through 2020. He was replaced by Matt Kenseth, and in 2021 Ross Chastain would run full time in the car.

All told, the number 42 has seen the track in 1649 races with 75 wins, 401 top fives and 714 top ten finishes. We don’t know what’s next for the number or where it goes from here. It’s free to be used by anyone and should Trackhouse decide to expand again I would think a number that means so much to the fabric of the sport would be their top choice.

Featured photo from @CGRTeams on Twitter.

Published by Phillip Spain

A 25 year veteran in the world Motorsports, Phil loves anything with an engine. When he’s not watching cars, he’s out with family.

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