Saturday, July 4, 2009 marked exactly 25 years since Richard "The King" Petty took his No. 43 Pontiac to Victory Lane, for the final time, at Daytona International Speedway.
It was Petty's 200th victory, and the car number's 195th. Both statistics rank at the very top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record books, neither likely to fall any time soon -- if ever.
The No. 43 has won three more races since that Firecracker 400 in 1984. The late Bobby Hamilton brought the No. 43 back to prominence twice since Petty left it for good in 1992 -- once in 1996 at Phoenix and again in 1997 at Rockingham. John Andretti, a member of another famous racing family, was the last to win in the No. 43, at Martinsville in 1999.
Though the No. 43 is synonymous with "The King" (he did win 192 races in the car, after all), the family tree's branches extend further than most would assume.
Its first race was in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' first year -- a 42nd-place finish by Jack Russell in the fourth race of the 1949 season (Langhorne Speedway).
Totaling a record 1,717 starts and 198 victories, the No. 43 has seen 41 different drivers in its seat. Five of those drivers won with the number: Richard Petty, Hamilton, Andretti, Jim Paschal and Lee Petty.
Paschal and Lee Petty made the most of their few opportunities in the car. In just 12 races, Paschal won twice. Lee's winning percentage is even better -- 50%. In two starts in the No. 43, Lee Petty won once, at North Wilkesboro in 1959 -- the very first win for the No. 43.
Though lacking the wins, a number of notable drivers have filled the No. 43's seat: Bob Welborn, Darel Dieringer, Jim Reed, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Bobby Labonte and its current driver, Reed Sorenson.
But, of course, when anyone sees the No. 43, Petty Enterprises comes to mind. The No. 43's first race under the Petty Enterprises umbrella was February 7, 1954, an 11th-place finish by Welborn at Palm Beach Speedway in South Florida. A number of other owners would field the No. 43 after that, until Petty Enterprises assumed the number in 1959.