Former NASCAR champion Sam Ard dies at 78

Sam Ard, who won two championships in what is now the Xfinity Series, died Sunday morning, a NASCAR spokesman has confirmed. He was 78.

Ard won 18 races over his 1983 and 1984 championship seasons -- the second and third year of the series' existence -- and ranks eighth in all-time series wins with 23. He retired from NASCAR racing after suffering severe head trauma in a crash at North Carolina (Rockingham) Speedway in the next-to-last race of his 1984 championship season.

"For many years, Sam Ard's persona was that of a tough-as-nails racer," NASCAR said in a statement. "No matter the track or the competition, he battled to the end. That fighter's mentality lasted throughout his life, and far beyond the confines of a race car. Sam battled on and off the track with the same ferocity that earned him two championships in what is today the NASCAR Xfinity Series as well as countless victories in the Late Model Sportsman Series."

When Kyle Busch tied Ard's series record of 10 wins in a season in 2008, Busch pledged $100,000 to Ard, whose financial struggles had become a focal point of the financial plight of NASCAR drivers -- as independent contractors with no pensions -- after their careers ended.

Ard made one NASCAR Cup start in his career, completing one lap in the September 1984 race at Martinsville Speedway.