WATCH: When Mike Skinner Beat Mark Martin to Win the NASCAR Exhibition Race in Japan

Published 11/24/2020, 8:00 AM EST
23 Nov 1996: The Miller Ford Thunderbird of Rusty Wallace in action during the Thunder Special 100 at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka City, Japan. Credit: Getty Images


It is usually quite rare for NASCAR to venture beyond American soil, but there have been a few races. Back in 1997, there was an exhibition race on the East portion of the Suzuka circuit in Japan. After the 125 laps concluded, Mike Skinner emerged victorious, taking his only win of the season.

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Skinner and Mark Martin dominated much of the race. Behind him were Mark Martin and Randy LaJoie, with David Green and Michael Waltrip completing the Top 5. The first time the NASCAR community visited the track, Rusty Wallace had won the race in 1996.

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Skinner raced in NASCAR between 1997 and 2002 on a full-time basis. However, he began his NASCAR tenure in 1986 with limited appearances. Admittedly, he never won a single Cup race, apart from that Suzuka 1997 win. However, he has one Xfinity win and 28 Truck Series wins.

Aside from Mike Skinner winning, what else happened in the race?

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It is also worth noting that it marked the final race for the Ford Thunderbird. Martin gave the Thunderbird the perfect send-off with his second-place finish.

Additionally, the Winston Cup cars used the rain tires for the very first time. However, this was only applicable to the practice and qualifying sessions.

That year, Jeff Gordon won the championship from Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin. This was Gordon’s second Cup Series title and he would go on to take two more titles. Meanwhile, Mike Skinner had a mediocre debut season, but his career picked up from there, with the best finish of 10th in the 1999 season.

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23 Nov 1996: NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett leads in his Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford Thunderbird during the Thunder Special 100 at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka City, Japan. Mandatory Credit: Yukio Yoshimi /Allsport. Credit: Getty Images

Meanwhile, he did win the 1995 Truck Series from Joe Ruttman and Ron Hornaday Jr, which was his debut season. Sadly, he fully retired from racing in the 2012 season after a handful of one-off appearances. However, his final full-time season was in the 2010 Camping World Truck Series Season.

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Dhruv George

12112 articles

Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

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