Shepherd becomes oldest NASCAR driver in Cup race

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) - Morgan Shepherd gave NASCAR its own version of Old-Timers’ Day at New Hampshire.

At 71, Shepherd took the wheel of the No. 52 Toyota and became the oldest driver to start a race in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series.

“This is all for the race fans,” Shepherd said before the green flag dropped.

Most fans might not even remember him in his prime. He was winning NASCAR races before so many in the field were even born.

Shepherd started 41st in the 43-car field Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He made his Cup debut in 1970 and won four times in NASCAR’s top series. He finished as high as fifth in the final standings in 1990 and hadn’t started a Cup race since 2006. He last ran a full season in 1996.

Without a chance of fielding a competitive ride, he still had no plans of slowing down.

“When I start hitting the wall or something, then maybe it’s time to get out,” he said. “I’m here as long as the Lord wants me to be. I’m here to encourage people to get off the couch and do something with their life.”

Jim Fitzgerald was 65 when he raced in the 1987 Cup race at Riverside International Raceway. James Hylton is the oldest driver to start a NASCAR race. He was 76 for the 2011 Truck Series race at Pocono.

Shepherd said he planned to finish the 301-lap race. But he completed 92 laps before he pulled into the garage.

He hitched a ride with low-budget Brian Keselowski Racing and found friends who were willing to chip in the needed funds to get him a spot. He had no type of cool box _ NASCAR’s version of air conditioning _ in his car.

“I reckon they’re going to see how tough I am,” he said, smiling.

NASCAR has no age limit, and Shepherd passed the basic physical issued at the start of the season. He said he has 20-15 vision and felt as good as he ever did inside a stock car. Most drivers encouraged Shepherd’s run.

“At some point, I think you just have to trust that he knows what he can do and what he can’t do,” defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski said.

Shepherd still drives part-time in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series, starting all 34 races in 2011. He hasn’t won a Nationwide race since 1988.

He’s not finished racing at the top level.

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