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Petty has a season to remember in 1975

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Petty has a season to remember in 1975
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In 1975 Richard Petty dominated the Cup Series like no driver has since, rolling to the title by 722 points over David Marcis. (Smyle Media)

Brad Keselowski's surprising championship in Dodge's most recent swan song perhaps shouldn't have been that surprising, since NASCAR history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Richard Petty and other Mopar drivers sat out most of the 1965 season after Chrysler boycotted NASCAR following a rule change that banned the Hemi engine. And the company pulled its factory support in 1977, two years after Petty dominated the Cup Series like no other driver has since.

With NASCAR's new points system -- one that would remain in place, with minor revisions, for more than three decades -- Petty overwhelmed the rest of the competition. Dave Marcis was a distant second, 722 points behind.

Petty won 13 of the 30 races run that year, led more than a third of the laps he completed -- at least one lap in 26 different races -- and clinched the title with four races remaining, despite blowing an engine and finishing dead last at Richmond.

How good was Petty's year-old Dodge Charger in 1975? Between the World 600 at Charlotte in May and Martinsville in September, Petty finished either first or second in 11 consecutive races. He won at Charlotte -- in Dale Earnhardt's Cup debut -- and Riverside, then finished two car-lengths behind David Pearson at Michigan.

Petty returned to Victory Lane in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, then posted three runner-up finishes at Nashville, Pocono and Talladega -- losing to Buddy Baker in a photo finish -- before getting his revenge when the series returned to Michigan, beating Pearson to the line in a side-by-side, final-lap duel.

Even sickness and mechanical issues couldn't seem to slow Richard down. Battling both Bobby Allison and the flu bug, Petty led 146 laps at Darlington before finally giving away to relief driver Marcis in the closing stages of the Southern 500. At Dover, Petty broke a tie rod and lost six laps in the pits, but made up the deficit, eventually beating Dick Brooks and Benny Parsons to the stripe.

Petty won the next race at North Wilkesboro before his hot streak finally ended with a rear end failure at Martinsville. But Petty's bad luck lasted just one race, as he came right back to win at Charlotte.

Petty's engine expired just 34 laps into the race at Richmond, saddling him with a last-place finish, but when Marcis went out with similar issues 300 laps later, Petty had enough of a lead to clinch the championship.

Bristol was Petty's 13th win of the year -- nine more than Baker -- and when he finished third in the following race at Atlanta, it gave Petty his 21st top-five finish.

But unbeknownst to those in the garage and on the other side of the fence, Dodge's days were already numbered. Petty won eight more races over the next two seasons, but Chrysler eventually pulled the plug on its NASCAR racing program in 1977 -- with Neil Bonnett's win at Ontario serving as the last victory for a car bearing a Dodge nameplate for the next quarter of a century.

Petty soldiered on in Dodge equipment for the first two-thirds of the 1978 season, but it turned out to be a disaster, as he went winless for the first time since his rookie year of 1959. His final race as a Mopar driver came at Talladega, where he finished seventh. In all, Petty won 176 times in either a Dodge or Plymouth.

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