Photo Credit: NASCAR Hall of Fame

First round

(8) #30 Walter Ballard v. (1) #72 Benny Parsons

(7) #12 Bobby Allison v. (2) #11 Cale Yarborough

(6) #71 Buddy Baker v. (3) #24 Cecil Gordon

(5) #43 Richard Petty v. (4) #48 James Hylton

In the first race of the playoffs at the now-known-as Talladega Superspeedway, it would be Ballard, Baker, Yarborough and Hylton taking early leads over their competitors as all four finished inside the top-10, while Parsons and Allison exited early due to an engine failure and crash respectively. With the second race at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Yarborough made quick work of Allison as he again was knocked out of the event early on, with Ballard pulling off a massive first round upset with an eighth-place finish to Parsons’ 19th-place result after dropping out with engine woes with just under 100 laps to go. Meanwhile, Baker completed his sweep of Gordon by taking the race win by a full four laps, leading 160 laps in the process. This left the matchup of Richard Petty and James Hylton as the only active one going into the third race, with Petty finishing 18 laps ahead of Hylton to stave off elimination. In said third race coming at Darlington Raceway, while both cars were still running at the finish, it would be Petty running away with the round as he ended up 21 laps ahead of Hylton to move on to the next round along with the other three drivers.


(8) #30 Walter Ballard v. (2) #11 Cale Yarborough

(6) #71 Buddy Baker v. (5) #43 Richard Petty

The first race of the semifinal round at Richmond Raceway saw Cale Yarborough easily claim the first win over Ballard by 21 laps, while Petty captured the race win in dominating fashion, leading all but 71 circuits to put Baker on the ropes as well. Heading into Dover for the second race, Ballard nabbed a lucky break as Yarborough crashed out of the event not long after the two-thirds mark, with Ballard himself lasting just under 100 more laps before blowing an engine. As for Baker, he put together a solid performance to finish as just one of three cars on the lead lap, with Petty finishing 20 laps behind. Going into the final race at North Wilkesboro, both series were still up for grabs. However, Ballard’s Cinderella run came to an end at the short track, finishing 22 laps down while Yarborough grabbed a lead-lap finish to move on to the championship finals. Although Baker made his final round a competitive one, finishing just one lap down in fourth, it wouldn’t be enough as Petty claimed the runner-up spot, advancing to the finals in pursuit of his fourth Cup Series title.


(5) #43 Richard Petty v. (2) #11 Cale Yarborough

With the opening race at Martinsville Speedway, it looked early on as though it would be Yarborough’s race to lose, leading much of the first half of the race. However, he would eventually fall a lap behind Petty, who took the lead for good with less than 50 laps left in a race which would eventually be shortened due to rain. Undeterred, Yarborough came back with a vengeance at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading the vast majority of the race’s 334 laps. Though Petty held the lead late, Yarborough snuck by with just 22 laps remaining to secure the race win and, more importantly, the win over Petty. The drivers stayed in the Tarheel State for the season finale at Rockingham, thus becoming the first-ever championship battle in series history to go all three races. As David Pearson dominated the day for the race win, the fight for the championship ended after just 133 laps with Petty retiring from the race early due to a broken camshaft. Yarborough brought the car home in one piece, finishing third to score the first championship of his Cup Series career.

Cale Yarborough’s stats for 1973 were four victories, 16 top-fives and 19 top-10s, finishing second in the real-life standings while real series champion Benny Parsons instead fell out in the opening round.

1973 Cup Series standings in real life: