Off-Track


NASCAR superstitions: A case study for all

June 13, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com

NASCAR superstitions: A case study for all
Friday the 13th comes to life when NASCAR races

Legend has it that Sterling Marlin didn't want to lose any luck he may have gotten in his first Daytona 500 win in 1994. So before the 1995 season-opening race, he put on the same underwear, stopped at the same Krystal Burger and ordered the same breakfast he had the year before. The superstition worked: Martin and his old undies took home a second consecutive Daytona 500 trophy.

Each of us has our superstitions, but Friday the 13th is one of the most feared days in the Gregorian calendar. Falling one to three times a year, few NASCAR races occur on that day. The last Friday the 13th on race day occurred in September of 2013, the day of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. For one pit crew member, the concern of the day was warranted: as Max Gresham took a wide turn into his pit stall to avoid traffic, he hit one of his crew members, sending him onto the hood of the No. 8 truck. 

In honor of the dreaded date, here are some of NASCAR's top superstitions.

The color green

Gaston Chevrolet, winner of the 1920 Indianapolis 500 and Auto Speed Championship, was killed in a wreck at a Los Angeles race track in November of 1920. He was reportedly driving a green No. 4 as he went to pass Joe Thomas. The driver instead made contact with Eddie O'Donnell, and the ensuing wreck cost Chevrolet his life. Since that day, green has been seen as a bad omen on a race car.

Case study: Danica Patrick

In her one start in the blue Aspen Dental Chevrolet, Patrick has a finish of 21st -- one spot better than her starting position of 22nd. Her average finish in the green GoDaddy No. 10 settles at 27.03, and Patrick has only finished better than her starting position in less than half of her starts piloting green.

Conclusion: We'll need more evidence before making a strong conclusion, but blue may have to become Danica's color. Kyle Busch offers some hope for GoDaddy's lime green, showing that the color can win: In two starts this season in the Interstate Batteries Toyota, he has one trip to Victory Lane and one third-place finish. 

Peanuts

Peanuts certainly used to be involved in a lot of wrecks, but not as a superstition. In the early days of racing when events often took place outside of tracks, drivers piloted their cars underneath grandstand, where peanut shells made their way from the stands above. As peanut shell debris became more and more frequent in wrecks, the two became closely associated.

Case study: Johnny Sauter

In the 22-race Camping World Truck Series season of 2013, Sauter wheeled a No. 98 Toyota sponsored by Carolina Nut Co. for all but the final race of the season. In his 21 starts with the feared nut sponsor on his truck, Sauter nabbed 14 top-10s, nine top-fives and three wins. His lone start in the Nextant Aerospace/Curb Records ride, on the other hand, gave Sauter a finish of 16th.

Conclusion: While Sauter certainly had some bad luck with three DNFs in the Carolina Nut Co. truck, his strong record shows he's unaffected by the superstition. In fact, the peanuts might be giving him some good luck, as his record last year is stronger than his finishes so far this year in the Nextant Aerospace ride.

The number 13

The unluckiness of 13 is a superstition that spreads beyond NASCAR. Some believe the origin comes from the Last Supper, where Judas was the 13th guest at the table, while others think it stems from Norse mythology. Like hotels and cruise ships that chose to forgo having a 13th floor, NASCAR rarely ran a No. 13 car until Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino became an owner in the sport, bringing his former jersey number to his team's car. In 389 races, the number has only eight top-five finishes.

Case study: Casey Mears

In 2009, Casey Mears was still in the No. 07 for Richard Childress Racing. That year, his record included only four top-10s and an average finish of 19.8. He switched to the dreaded No. 13 halfway through the 2010 season. In his debut race in that Germain Racing ride -- the second Bristol race -- Mears ended the day 58 laps in with electrical issues. He's only had two top-10s since.

Conclusion: Things seem to have gone downhill for Mears since getting into the No. 13. His best season was in the No. 25, when he drove to a career-best 10 top-10s in 2007 and posted his only win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It might be time for him to give up on the unlucky No. 13.

Shaving on race day

George "Doc" MacKenzie, a driver who had two top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500, was recuperating from a wreck when he decided to get married. As a wedding gift, according to the Sprint Car Hall of Fame, "Doc" decided to shave off his famous facial hair. After returning to racing, he was killed in a wreck at the Wisconsin State Fair. Ted Horn blamed the incident on the missing facial hair, saying, "Doc shouldn't have shaved. That jinxed him." Since then, shaving on race day has become something for the superstitious to avoid.

Case study: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In 2010, Dale Earnhardt Jr. kept a clean-shaven face. While stubble would make an appearance here and there, most days Earnhardt was present at the track without any facial hair. He began growing his beard during the 2011 season, and it has been a staple of the face of NASCAR's most popular driver since -- even holding its own Twitter handle. His number of finishes in the top 10 have grown steadily with the hairs on his chin: in 2010, Earnhardt had eight top-10s. The numbers ticked up to 12 on 2011, 20 in 2012 and 22 in 2013. 

Conclusion: Keep the beard. Whether it was the superstition or the itchy face, something about shaving wasn't working for Junior: after telling followers on Twitter he shaved his beard for a sponsor event, he had his worst running finish of this season at Talladega.

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