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NASCAR At Kansas Speedway: STP 400 Pays Tribute To Petty

While the STP 400 at the Kansas Speedway will provide the latest chapter in NASCAR's ever-evolving history, it also will conjure up memories of the heyday of the iconic Richard Petty and his STP-sponsored cars.

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Perhaps more than any other sport in America, the history of big-time stock car racing is being constantly written. With each passing lap of each passing race, the stories that will be told when we are all dead and gone are molded.

A sport that involves driving automobiles, obviously, also focuses heavily on looking forward. This weekend's STP 400 at the Kansas Speedway, however provides an opportunity to look back at perhaps the most iconic name in all of motorsports: Richard Petty.

STP - which for you non-auto enthusiasts out there stands for "Scientifically Treated Petroleum" - began it's long-time association with Petty, known to race fans all over the globe simply as "The King," 40 years ago. Petty's famous blue No. 43 car was accented with STP's day-glo red, creating as iconic a color scheme as has ever competed in major auto racing.

From 1972-1992, Petty himself piloted the STP machine, usually as an owner-driver but also for a brief period in the 1980s for country music mogul Mike Curb. Four of Petty's record seven championships in what is now the Sprint Cup Series came with the STP logo on the hood. Furthermore, he picked up 60 of his 200 wins with the company including four of his seven Daytona 500 trophies.

Once Petty retired, a revolving door of drivers including RIck WIlson, Wally Dallenbach, John Andretti, and the late Bobby Hamilton piloted the STP car for Petty until mid-2000, when the primary sponsorship of the car - at the time piloted by Andretti - shifted to General Mills and the Cheerios Brand. Hamilton and Andretti stand as the last drivers to take the No. 43 or the STP colors to a Sprint Cup victory lane to date.

Piloting the No. 43 Ford Fusion this weekend, Aric Almirola will have an opportunity to change that. The Tampa native will be sporting a paint-scheme reminiscent of the King's 1974 STP ride. Were Almirola to grab his first victory and take the famous 43 with the STP colors to victory lane - as Hamilton did with his first triumph in 1996 - it would likely be a celebration for the ages and one of the most popular wins in the sport's history.

While the STP 400 will provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the sport's past and it's greatest legend, it will also showcase the stars of today who are constantly rewriting history.

Jimmie Johnson, winner last fall at Kansas, seeks to headline the field with another dominant showing. As has been well documented over the last several weeks, the next win Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, or Jeff Gordon (who won the inaugural Kansas race in 2001 and backed it up a year later) will be the 200th win in the illustrious ownership career for Rick Hendrick.

Hendrick has been frustratingly close, with the late-race debacle at Martinsville and Johnson's late-race brush with the wall at Texas standing as the most-recent roadblocks in his bid for the milestone triumph. With the drivers and equipment his team takes to the track every week, Hendrick is serious a threat to visit victory lane every race of the year, and Sunday is no exception.

Greg Biffle, who enters the race as the point leader and until winning last Saturday at Texas had not visited a victory lane since Kansas in 2010, figures to be another threat to win the race. Teammate Carl Edwards, a native of Missouri, has claimed that a checkered-flag at Kansas would be bigger than even a Daytona 500 victory. He proved that in 2008, when he overdrove the last turn in a banzai attempt to pass Johnson. His car slammed the outside wall, allowing Johnson to scoot back past and win the race. Should he get the long-awaited Cup win at the track where he won a Camping World Truck Series race in 2004, don't be surprised if emotion touches the normally stoic Edwards.

As always there will be many more key players in Sunday's event, but with a moniker like the STP 400 and the paint scheme Almirola is carrying this weekend, it may seem we've taken a trip down memory lane back to the days when Petty Blue and Day-Glo-Red assumed the role as headliner with legendary regularity.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.