In NASCAR Cup Series competition the #43 car has started more races than any other number. The number has started 2,023 races and has 199 wins, 123 poles, 573 top 5s, 819 top 10s, and 468 DNFs.
- Richard “The King” Petty has the one of longest and most successful career anyone has ever had in NASCAR. He started #43 1,125 times out of his career total 1,184 races, from his first race 16 days after his 21st birthday in Toronto, Canada in 1958 until his final start at Atlanta in 1992 Petty Earned 192 of his record 200 wins driving #43. His first career win came in 1960, but his breakout year would be 1963 winning at tracks like Martinsville and Bridgehampton. In 1964 he would capture his first Daytona 500 win and his first Grand National (Sprint Cup) Championship.
Joining in the Chrysler boycott of NASCAR due to the organizing body’s ban of the Hemi engine, Petty spent much of 1965 competing as a drag racer. He crashed his car at the Southeastern Dragway, in Dallas, Georgia, on February 28, 1965, killing a six-year old boy, Wayne Dye, and injuring seven others.
He returned to NASCAR in 1966 to win his second Daytona 500. Petty was 2 laps down at one point, but overcame the deficit to win the rain shortened event, on lap 198 of 200. Petty won his second championship in 1967 after dominating the season. One of the 27 victories was the Southern 500 at Darlington, which would be his only Southern 500 victory. His dominance in this season earned him the nickname “King Richard”. He had previously been known as “the Randleman Rocket”
In 1969 Petty switched brands to Ford, due to his belief the Plymouth was not competitive on super-speedways; he wanted a slippery Dodge Daytona but Chrysler executives insisted he stay with Plymouth.
He would win 10 races and finish second in points. Won back in 1970 by the sleek new Plymouth Superbird with shark nose and goalpost wing, Petty returned to Plymouth for the 1970 season. This is the car in which Petty is cast in the 2006 Pixar film Cars.
In 1972, after losing factory support from Chrysler, STP Oil Company would begin sponsoring the #43, a partnership that still exists today. STP originally wanted the car all red, but after negotiating all night Petty formed a compromise to keep the familiar “Petty Blue” on the car in some capacity. Despite a few setbacks, in the 1970’s Petty would be nearly unstoppable as he won the 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, and 1979 Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) Championships. During this time he also won the 1971, 1973, & 1979 Daytona 500s, in addition to the 1974 Daytona 450, shortened due to the energy crisis. He also almost won the 1976 Daytona 500, but after a turn 4 wreck with David Pearson he would come to rest in the grass about 100 feet from the finish line.
In 1981 Petty won his 7th and final Daytona 500, a record that still stands today. Petty struggled through the early 1980s. He shocked many people in 1984 when he left his family team of Petty Enterprises to drive for Mike Curb. On July 4, 1984 Petty won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, his 200th and final career win. The occasion was made even more special because President Reagan attended the race.
In 1986 Richard returned to Petty Enterprises where he drove for the remainder of his driving career. At the 1988 Daytona 500 Petty was involved in a terrible crash. He walked away unharmed. In 1991 Petty announced that 1992 would be his final racing season. Petty qualified for all 29 events in 1992, finishing the season off at Atlanta. The 1992 Atlanta race is one of the most historically interesting races ever. In addition to being Petty’s last race, it was future star Jeff Gordon’s first ever race, and Alan Kulwicki would win the championship that day out of the 6 eligible drivers.
Since retirement Petty has ceremonially driven his #43 a few times, but his last laps at speed came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1993 at a test session preparing for the first ever Brickyard 400. Petty’s car was donated to the IMS Museum after the test.
Even after his driving career, Richard is still seen weekly at the race track. He still fields his #43 with Richard Petty Motorsports, and involves fans in the action with the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Petty won 7 Cup Series championships, tied with Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson for the most ever. He is alive and kicking at 77 years old.
- Following Richard Petty’s retirement, the famous #43 was changed to #44 with driver Rick Wilson for the 1993 season. In 1994 Wally Dallenbach Jr. has hired to drive the car and the number was changed back to 43. Wally made 14 starts in the car before being released.
- John Andretti was hired to finish out the 1994 season in Dallenbach’s place. Andretti would leave Petty Enterprises at the end of the year, but would return to drive #43 from 1998-2003. Andretti scored a win at Martinsville in 1999 driving the #43, 1 of only 2 in his career. This would also be the last win for Petty Enterprises before dissolving into RPM in 2009. John Andretti also drove #43 in 3 Indy Car Series events betweeen 2009-2010 including the 2009 Indianapolis 500. The car was fielded in a joint venture between Petty Enterprises and Andretti Autosport, the Indy Car team owned by John’s cousin Michael Andretti. John started the #43 car a total of 197 times in Cup competition.
- Between Andretti’s two stints with the team, Bobby Hamilton drove the #43 from 1995-1997 with 94 starts and 2 wins
- Following John Andretti’s departure in the 2003 season, Christian Fittipaldi made 10 starts in the #43. Jeff Green also made some starts that year and would continue to drive the car through 2005, a total of 80 starts.
- Starting in 2006 former series champion Bobby Labonte raced the #43 for 108 starts earning 3 top 5 finishes. Bobby drove the car through the 2008 season.
- In 2009 Reed Sorenson drove the #43 for 36 races. Sorenson struggled all year earning only 1 top 10 finish.
- After driving #44 for RPM in 2009, A.J. Allmendinger moved to the famous #43 for the 2010-2011 seasons. ‘Dinger earned 18 top 10 finishes in 2 years and 72 races before moving to Penske Racing in 2012.
- Following Allmendinger’s departure to Penske, Aric Almirola was hired in 2012 to drive the #43. Almirola’s best season so far was 2014 where he earned 7 top 10s and 1 win at Daytona exactly 30 years after Richard Petty won his 200th race. This win punched Aric’s ticket into the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. 2015 did not have the same outright success for the #43 team, though Almirola did earn 3 top 5 and 6 top 10 finishes while improving on his average finish compared to the previous year. 2016 seemed to be a step back for the #43 team as they earned only 1 top 10 all season. The main culprit for this regression seems to be the in-house chassis made by Richard Petty Motorsports in 2016. After the 2017, Aric surpassed John Andretti as the driver with the second most starts in car #43 with 208.
Almirola started the 2017 season as the sole driver at RPM, and finished an impressive 4th at the 2017 Daytona 500. During the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 13, Almirola was involved in a violent crash along with Joey Logano and Danica Patrick. After Logano’s brake rotor exploded, he collided with Patrick, sending both straight into the wall. Almirola attempted to avoid the wreck, but instead slammed into Logano. Although he was conscious, Almirola was cut out of his car, placed onto a stretcher and airlifted to the University of Kansas Hospital where he was diagnosed with a compression fracture of his T5 vertebrae. Almirola missed 7 races while recovering, but would return to score a top-5 finish at Talladega, and a pair of 9th place finishes at Kansas and Pheonix. In September it was announced that Almirola and long-time sponsor Smithfield would not return to the 43 in 2018, and in November it was announced that both would move to car #10 at Stewart Haas Racing for the upcoming season.
- During Almirola’s recovery, super-sub Regan Smith started 2 races at Charlotte and Dover, in addition to the All Star Race. Shortly after, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. was announced as the substitute drive for the remaining races, beginning at Pocono. Wallace made 4 starts with 3 top-20 finishes, including a best effort of 11th place in his final start at Kentucky. Wallace’s stay in the car was briefly interupted when road course ringer Billy Johnson made his only Cup Series start to date at Sonoma, bringing car #43 home to a 22nd place finish.
On October 25th, RPM officially announced that Bubba Wallace will pilot the #43 car full time in 2018, as the team switches to Chevrolet and explores a new technical partnership with RCR. He will be the first African-American driver to have a full time Cup ride since Wendell Scott in 1971.
- Jim Paschal was one of the first Petty Enterprises drivers to not actually be named Petty. He drove the Petty Powered #41 & #42 in many races, and even had a few starts in #43 back in the 1960s. He started 12 races in #43 and earned 2 wins driving the number.
- Richard’s father Lee Petty is best known for driving #42, but he did start #43 a twice in 1959, including 1 win.
- Other notable names in #43
- Maurice Petty, 4 starts
- Kyle Petty, 1 start
- LeeRoy Yarbrough, 1 start
Jimmy Hensley, Carlos Contreras, Steve Grissom have all started the #43 in the Truck series for the Petty’s.
Rodney Combs, Michael Annett, Dennis Setzer, Dakota Armstrong, and Jeb Burton have started #43 in the NASCAR XFINITY series for the Petty’s, but the #43 XFINITY team is not expected to field a car in 2018.
Aaron Fike, Johnny Sauter, and Jay Sauter have all driven #43 in the XFINITY Series for Mike Curb racing, who managed the #43 team with indirect association with the Petty team.