While it has been a part of NASCAR’s premier division since 1950, the No. 33 was not run on a consistent basis in NASCAR until “Handsome” Harry Gant moved on from Jack Beebe’s team to join stuntman and film director Hal Needham’s team in 1981.
Gant made his first start in the green-and-white No. 33 Skoal Bandit car during the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 1981. Starting second and leading 28 laps, Gant opened his time in the No. 33 with a runner-up finish to NASCAR Hall of Fame member Darrell Waltrip.
For the next 14 years, Gant would make the No. 33 Skoal Bandit car a staple in NASCAR’s premier division, often running the highest lane possible around the track.
Yet before Gant made the No. 33 an icon in the sport, a long list of drivers took turns behind the wheel of the number. Wally Campbell was the first to pilot a No. 33 in NASCAR’s premier division, finishing 52nd in the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington.
During the 1951 season, Lou Figaro drove a No. 33 Hudson owned by Jack Gaynor. Figaro delivered the first win for the No. 33 on June 30, 1951 at Carrell Speedway in Gardena, California.
The number would go winless until the 1982 season, when Gant started third, lapped the field and earned his first career NASCAR premier division win at Martinsville Speedway. Gant would go on to win two races in 1982, followed up with one in 1983, three in 1984 and 1985, before going winless from 1986 until 1988. During the 1989 season, ownership of the No. 33 Skoal Bandit team changed hands from Needham to Leo Jackson.
Gant won one race in 1989 and 1990, respectively, but in 1991, he would make history with his No. 33 Skoal Bandit car. At 51 years old, Gant earned his first win of the 1991 season at Talladega Superspeedway, with a little help from teammate Rick Mast. However, once the season ended the summer stretch and hit September, Gant came alive.
To open the month, Gant won the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sept. 1. He then topped Davey Allison for the win at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7. The following week, Gant lapped the entire field to win the Peak AntiFreeze 500 at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 15. Finally, on Sept. 22, Gant led 226 of 500 laps to sweep the month’s races to that point and win the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
When the series hit North Wilkesboro Speedway for the final race of the month, Gant was on fire and qualified on the pole. Despite leading 350 of the 400 laps, Gant’s No. 33 lost the lead to Dale Earnhardt with just nine laps to go and he finished the day second. Despite missing out on the clean sweep, Gant’s four-consecutive wins earned him the nickname “Mr. September.”
At the conclusion of the 1994 season, Gant hung up his driving helmet and retired from the sport. In his 397 starts with the No. 33, Gant recorded 18 wins, 111 top fives, 181 top 10s and 7,791 laps led.
Robert Pressley was the next driver to take the reins of the No. 33, driving the number for two seasons before Ken Schrader became the driver of the No. 33 in 1997.
While Schrader continued to drive the No. 33 Skoal Bandit, the team once again changed hands, this time to owner Andy Petree. The pair never found a great deal of success, but earned five top fives and 25 top 10s in their 100 starts together.
After Schrader, Joe Nemechek joined Petree’s team as the newest driver of the No. 33. Nemechek made a total of 65 starts in the No. 33 car from 2000 until 2001, earning one win, four top fives and 13 top 10s.
Following the 2001 season, the No. 33 became a seldom-used number until Clint Bowyer joined Richard Childress Racing for the 2009 season. For three years, Bowyer found success with the number, earning three wins, 15 top fives and 50 top 10s in 109 starts.
When Bowyer moved on to join Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012, the number returned to part-time status. For the 2015 season, Alex Kennedy, Brian Scott, Ty Dillon, Travis Kvapil, Mike Bliss, B.J. McLeod, Derek White, Ryan Ellis and Michael Annett all took turns behind the No. 33 car.
In all, a total of 107 drivers have driven the No. 33 in NASCAR’s premier division since 1950, with only Gant, Bowyer, Nemechek and Figaro finding Victory Lane.
History of the No. 33
Wins by driver: Harry Gant, 18; Clint Bowyer, 3; Joe Nemechek, 1; Lou Figaro, 1
Top 5s: 147
Top 10s: 305
Average finish: 20.25
Average start: 19.3
All stats provided by driveraverages.com