Top Ten Epic NASCAR MomentsOn Sunday, one of four drivers will be crowned champion of the 2016 NASCAR season.
On Sunday, one of four drivers will be crowned champion of the 2016 NASCAR season. Sponsors will be thanked, trophies will be raised, and country music will probably be played very loudly. It’s a loud and brash sport, earning its reputation for wild rides and close finishes. Over the years, NASCAR has given us plenty edge-of-your seat moments that can only be found in the ‘House that Bill France Built’. Hang on tight; we’re going to burn rubber through our Top Ten NASCAR Moments.
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Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington
The track at Darlington is one of NASCAR’s toughest, with even the best drivers often finishing the race with a ‘Darlington Stripe’. In 2003, fans saw Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch crossing the start/finish line in a dead heat with two laps to go. The pair traded the lead, beating and banging all the way towards the chequered flag. On the last lap, they ran nose-to-tail all the way into turn three. Coming off turn four, with the finish line in sight, Busch drifted up the track in an attempt to block Craven, who instead went to the low side of the track. Both cars lost traction, hitting each other side-by-side in a drag race to the finish. The margin of victory? Craven, by .002 seconds.
1979 Daytona 500
February 1979 saw most of the northeast United States stuck at home thanks to a massive snowstorm. A perfect time, then, for the first broadcast flag-to-flag coverage of a NASCAR race on live television. Viewers were in for a treat, watching Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison locked in a battle for the win. Attempting to pass Allison on the last lap, Yarborough’s and Allison’s cars touched, sending them careening into the wall and spinning into the infield grass. Tempers flared and insults were hurled amongst the drivers when Bobby Allison stopped to see if his brother was ok, leading to fisticuffs on live tv. NASCAR’s reputation was set.
Dale Earnhardt Jr wins the 2001 Pepsi 400
Image Source: Nascar
At NASCAR’s first visit to Daytona since the death of Dale Earnhardt at the track earlier that year, all eyes were on his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior qualified 13th after a rain delay and took the lead on lap 27. A late race crash scrambled the running order, giving Junior the headache of having to deal with traffic on the restart. When the green flag flew with six laps to go, Earnhardt quickly retook the lead and never looked back. Naturally, conspiracy theorists floated the idea of the race being fixed, given the emotional circumstances, conveniently forgetting that, y’know, the Earnhardt family is pretty good at restrictor-plate racetracks.
Kevin Harvick wins in “Earnhardt’s car”
After the death of Dale Earnhardt in February 2001, team owner Richard Childress chose not to race a car painted in the iconic black #3 livery. Spraying the car white and giving it the number 29, Childress signed a young Kevin Harvick to drive the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. Three races later, on March 11th in Atlanta, Harvick found himself in the lead with only five laps remaining. On the final lap, Gordon tried to pass Harvick on the straightway but Harvick hung on to win by an incredibly close .006 seconds, taking “Earnhardt’s car” to victory lane just three weeks after his death at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt finally wins the Daytona 500
Throughout his career, Dale Earnhardt lost the Daytona 500 in just about every way imaginable. He got a flat tire. He got wrecked by other drivers. He even once hit a seagull. For 1998, Earnhardt qualified fourth and led 107 laps during a remarkably clean and accident-free race (for Daytona, anyway). There were only three cautions, all of which were for minor incidents. On lap 198 of 200, Earnhardt led Bobby Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield into turn 2. Bearing down on a slower car, Earnhardt masterfully passed the backmarker, leaving Labonte and Mayfield to duke it out for 2nd place. After his win, there was a large show of respect for Earnhardt, in which every crew member of every team lined pit road to shake his hand as he made his way to victory lane.
Richard Petty’s 200th winImage Source: Action Sports Photography / Shutterstock.com By 1984, Richard Petty had more than earned his nickname as The King. With 199 wins to his credit, Petty was eager to crack the double-century mark. At the summer Daytona race that year, President Ronald Reagan was in attendance, first giving the “Gentlemen, start your engines,” command from Air Force One via telephone and later watching the race from a luxury press box. With two laps to go, Petty battled Cale Yarborough for the lead while another driver wrecked elsewhere on the track. Roaring back to the flag stand, the two drivers raced side-by-side, with Petty beating Cale Yarborough to the line by a nose for the win. Petty raced for eight more years—retiring after the 1992 season. Watch on Youtube
The first Daytona 500
Image Source: Nascar
On February 22, 1959, in front of 41,921 spectators, the very first race was held at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Today’s electronic timing technology makes it easy to determine a race winner, but nothing of that nature existed fifty-seven years ago. Johnny Beauchamp and Lee Petty appeared to cross the finish line at the same time, with NASCAR initially giving the win to Beauchamp. Compounding matters, the lapped car of Joe Weatherly was also alongside the leaders, making for a three-wide situation. Amid the confusion, photographer T. Taylor Warren came forward with a photograph of the finish, showing Petty crossing the line ahead of Beauchamp. . Armed with newsreel footage—NASCAR’s promoters awarded the win to Petty—three days after the event.
1992 Hooters 500
The final race of the 1992 season was awash with storylines: future superstar Jeff Gordon ran his first race, NASCAR king Richard Petty ran his last, and six different drivers had a mathematical shot to win the championship. The race was won by Bill Elliott in a Thunderbird owned by a major race shop, with the underfunded underdog of Alan Kulwicki earning second place. Kulwicki won the series title with the combination of his second place finish and leading 103 laps in the race compared to Elliott’s 102, giving Kulwicki a five point bonus. His single lap advantage was earned through impeccable planning and timing, with Kulwicki realizing that he could stay on track and lead Lap 80 while everyone else went to the pits during a caution flag.
212.809 mph, May 1987Benny Parsons broke the 200 mph barrier at Talladega in 1982, leading to steadily increasing pole speeds - over 202 mph in 1984, 209 mph twelve months later, and culminating with Bill Elliott setting a blazing 212.809 mph qualifying effort at the 1987 Winston 500. Concerns about the dizzying speeds were being raised by drivers, with the Chevy teams reporting the rear tires of their Monte Carlos lifting off the track in turn three. During the race, a major wreck happened on lap 22, when Bobby Allison’s car sailed off the track and into a catch fence. The race was red flagged for two hours while repairs were made—and NASCAR fitted restrictor plates to engines shortly thereafter—choking the intake of air which reduced the amount of horsepower and ensured Elliott’s lap record would never be broken.
Pearson, Petty, and the 1976 Daytona 500
Throughout the 1970s, NASCAR fans saw David Pearson and Richard Petty locked in a consistent battle for racing supremacy, and the 18th running of the Daytona 500 was no different. The two racers dominated the last quarter of the race, running up front and exchanging the lead. On turn three of the last lap, Pearson passed Petty for the lead, who then immediately slipped alongside his rival. The two ran side-by-side towards the chequered flag, making hard contact and spinning through the grass. Petty’s blue Dodge spun to a smoky halt a mere 50 yards from the finish line. Pearson, keeping his wits about him—wisely depressed his car’s clutch—preventing his Mercury from stalling during its wild ride along the front stretch. At a pace of no more than 30mph, he was able to limp across the finish line for his first Daytona 500 win.