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Pontiac Power

Back in the day, General Motors’ Pontiac division helped Hall of Famers win big in NASCAR

Two decades ago, three future members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020 had it going on in a big way with their Pontiac race cars.

Team owner Joe Gibbs saw drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart win NASCAR premier series titles in 2000 and 2002, respectively, in their Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiacs.

From 1997 through the 2002 season, Joe Gibbs Racing campaigned Pontiacs for first Labonte and then Labonte and Stewart, with the two drivers combining for 30 race victories and the two championships during that time.

While the JGR squad had great success with Pontiacs, they weren’t alone among Hall of Famers: All told Pontiacs won 154 premier series races, many with Hall of Famers behind the wheel.

Here’s a chronology:

Cotton Owens (left) and car owner Jim Stephen took home the hardware after winning at Daytona Beach in 1957. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1957

Seven of the nine premier series race victories captured by Cotton Owens (2013) came behind the wheel of Pontiacs he prepared and drove. Owens earned Pontiac’s first NASCAR victory in 1957, when he won on the Daytona Beach & Road Course.

Pontiacs went back-to-back at Daytona, with Paul Goldsmith winning in 1958 to capture the final race on the old Daytona Beach & Road Course. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1958

Ace team owner and mechanic Smokey Yunick built the 1958 Pontiac that Paul Goldsmith drove to a convincing victory in the last race on the Daytona Beach & Road Course. Goldsmith started from the pole in his Yunick-prepared Pontiac and led every lap to finish five car-lengths ahead of Curtis Turner (2016).

Daytona Beach native Fireball Roberts led all 40 laps of his 100-mile qualifying race for the 1960 Daytona 500 in one of Smokey Yunick’s Pontiacs. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1960

Daytona Beach native Fireball Roberts (2014) was hard to beat at his home track, Daytona International Speedway, where his Pontiacs were always fast. Roberts won seven times in Pontiacs, including a three-race sweep at Daytona in 1962, when he won his Daytona 500 qualifying race, the Daytona 500 itself and the Firecracker 250.

David Pearson won his first race on three tires, as he suffered a last-lap rear flat but held on to win the 1961 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

1961

On the last lap of the second World 600, David Pearson (2011) had a huge led over Fireball Roberts, and he needed it, as Pearson’s John Mason-owned Pontiac shredded a rear tire, forcing him to limp around Charlotte Motor Speedway to take the checkered flag. Pearson still finished more than two laps ahead of Roberts to score his first of 105 career race victories.

Joe Weatherly drove this Bud Moore-owned Pontiac convertible at Darlington Raceway in the 1962 Rebel 300, NASCAR’s last convertible race. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1962

Pontiacs made a lot of noise in NASCAR in 1962, with the automaker winning 22 races and its only Manufacturers’ Championship. Driving for Bud Moore (2011), Joe Weatherly (2015) won his first of two consecutive driver titles behind the wheel of a Pontiac. Weatherly posted nine race victories, 39 top fives and 45 top 10s in 52 races to take his first title.

The 1963 season saw Joe Weatherly repeat as premier series champion. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

1963

Although Joe Weatherly won just three races to Richard Petty’s 14 wins, the man known as “Little Joe” and “The Crown Prince of Stock Racing,” earned enough points in 1963 to win his second consecutive driver’s title. Weatherly drove for nine different team owners during the season, with all three wins coming in Moore’s cars. In his career, Weatherly won 20 races in Pontiacs.

Owner-driver H.B. Bailey was the only one of 51 drivers in the 1969 Daytona 500 who competed in a Pontiac GTO. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

1969

Although Pontiac had dropped out of NASCAR temporarily by the mid-1960s, independents still occasionally raced them. In the 1969 Daytona 500, Houston racer H.B. Bailey entered this 1969 Pontiac GTO muscle car in the Great American Race. An engine failure left him 47th in a 51-car field.

After winning his first of seven championships in 1980, Dale Earnhardt began the ’81 season behind the wheel of a Rod Osterlund-owned, Wrangler-sponsored Pontiac Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1981

The 1981 started with defending premier series champion Dale Earnhardt (2010) driving for Rod Osterlund in a Wrangler-sponsored Pontiac Grand Prix. But after Osterlund sold the team to Jim Stacy midway through the season. Earnhardt moved to Richard Childress Racing, where he drove Pontiacs for the rest of the season.

Richard Petty’s 200th and final race victory of his career came in the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

1984

You might say this was fit for The King: With President Ronald Reagan watching live, Richard Petty won his record 200th premier series race when he edged Cale Yarborough back to the caution flag to capture the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Afterwards, the President ate fried chicken in the garage with the drivers.

Rusty Wallace got his career off to a great start, winning premier series Rookie of the Year honors in 1984, when he drove this Gatorade-sponsored Pontiac for car owner Cliff Stewart. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

1984

It was a great first full season for premier series Rookie of the Year and future Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace (2013), who finished 14th in points in 1984, posting a pair of top-five finishes and four top 10s. Wallace would go on to win 31 races in Pontiacs, most of any driver, taking his only championship in a Pontiac in 1989.

Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Pontiac is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit, which features 18 premier series championship cars.

Bobby Labonte delivered Joe Gibbs Racing its first premier series championship in 2000. Photo courtesy of Robert Laberge/Allsport

2000

Joe Gibbs (2020) has built a NASCAR dynasty over the last three decades, winning his first championship with Bobby Labonte (2020) in 2000. That title would be the penultimate one for the Pontiac brand. During his championship season, Labonte won four races, including the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500, two of NASCAR’s most prestigious races. He also posted 19 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes.

The second Joe Gibbs Racing driver to claim a premier series championship was Tony Stewart, who won his first of three titles in 2002. Photo courtesy of Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR

2002

Few knew it at the time, but the end was near for Pontiac in NASCAR when Tony Stewart (2020) won his first premier series title as a driver and the second for team owner Joe Gibbs (2020). In 2002, Stewart won three races and finished in the top five 15 times in 36 races. The following season, Joe Gibbs Racing would switch back to Chevrolets.

Tony Stewart’s 2002 Pontiac is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit, which features 18 premier series championship cars.

In the closest finish in NASCAR history at the time, Ricky Craven edged Kurt Busch to win at Darlington in 2003. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

2003

The Pontiac brand won 154 times in the premier series from 1957-2003, and the final victory might have been the most remarkable. In the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway, Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch put on a show for the ages, with Craven taking the checkered flag a mere 0.002 seconds ahead of Busch. Craven’s Tide-sponsored Pontiac was owned by Cal Wells. In October 2003, Pontiac announced it was leaving NASCAR at the end of the season.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a veteran of more than 20 years in the NASCAR media industry.

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