It kind of seems like former Hendrick Motorsports crew chief and NASCAR team owner Ray Evernham turned the NASCAR world upside down, so to speak, on Tuesday with a tweet and a couple of photos tweeted from several years ago of a car in the HMS shop that carried a paint scheme from back in the day that looked identical to the paint scheme similar to Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 carried early in Gordon’s career. But the car didn’t carry that familiar No. 24; instead, this was a No. 46 Chevy.
Here’s Evernham’s (@RayEvernham) tweet:
“Really, really rare pic. Yes our # was supposed to be 46 @JeffGordonWeb pretty wild how things happen.”
The tweet created a huge buzz within the NASCAR community and led to stories on such online outlets as NASCAR.com, SBNation.com, MRN.com, and I’m sure others. After the tweet, Evernham also spoke about the No. 46 on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.
“When I went to work (at Hendrick), the general manager at that time, Jim Johnson, said, ‘OK, your number is going to be 46. And I think even our tools were identified with No. 46,” Evernham said on Sirius XM and was re-quoted as saying on SBNation.
According to Evernham, Gordon running the No. 24 he’s identified with instead of the No. 46 is a result of a licensing issue or something along those lines with the “Days of Thunder” movie or Paramount, from with “Days of Thunder” came.
Hendrick did field a No. 46 for Al Unser Jr. for the 1993 Daytona 500, but it didn’t carry that familiar DuPont rainbow paint scheme. The organization did field a rainbow car that carried the No. 46 for Buddy Baker at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 1993, but Baker failed to make the race.
“We did a car for Buddy Baker because Buddy helped us a good bit on the speedway stuff when we first started and we had to run a car and we just slapped number 46 on it,” Evernham said. “To my knowledge, it’s the only time that we ever had a number 46 on the DuPont paint scheme.”
Evernham did point out to MRN that the car in the photos he tweeted weren’t of a car Gordon was going to drive. It was the car prepared for Baker for Talladega.
The MRN story carried this whole number thing one step further, exploring the history of the No. 24. Nobody other than Gordon has ever won at NASCAR’s top level in the No. 24, but that’s not because no other big names have ever piloted a No. 24 car.
Richard Petty is most associated with the No. 43, but did you know he once drove a No. 24 car? Yep, he ran the No. 24 for one race in 1959. He didn’t put it in the top-10, though. Another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Bobby Allison, ran the No. 24 for more races, but he had more bad finishes than good ones with the number. Curtis Turner ran a No. 24 car for 19 laps before his engine blew. The folks at HMS thought this would be a good number? Oh well, it’s obviously worked out better for Hendrick, Gordon and company. They must not have been superstitious when it came to car numbers, at least not back then.
At least the No. 46 won races. Okay, so it’s only won 11 times and the last victory came in the early 1960s.
What if Petty had stuck with the No. 46 to pilot to those seven championships and 200 race wins?
Dale Earnhardt didn’t always run the No. 3. He raced, among other numbers, a No. 15 early in his career. What if his seven Winston Cup titles came from behind the wheel of the No. 15?
It just goes to show — things that seem so small and unimportant now could make things look way different down the road. The Nos. 3, 24 and 43 are, perhaps, the most iconic numbers in NASCAR history. I guess those numbers could have easily been something like 46 and 15.
– Photo courtesy of Ray Evernham via Twitter