For the second weekend in a row, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series will be without Dale Earnhardt Jr. in one of its cars, as the sport's most popular driver continues to recover from the effects of a concussion suffered in a 25-car accident at Talladega.
Massive wrecks on that scale don't come too often, as the sport only visits superspeedways a maximum of four times per year. But that doesn't mean that drivers are immune from them everywhere, as one wrong move can lead to a pileup on just about any track. And Chasers beware—getting caught up in one can be an absolute killer in the points.
So where were some of the biggest pileups in NASCAR history? Sure, Daytona and Talladega are included, but some of the other tracks on the list might not be so obvious at first glance. Without further ado:
After Greg Biffle squeezed him into the backstretch wall, Mark Martin tried to find a way into the Bristol pits while fighting an uncooperative car and a flat tire. Unfortunately, his timing was a bit off, to say the least, and he bunched up the entire field behind him in the process. This one could've been a lot worse, with only Marcos Ambrose left behind.
The trunk of Kasey Kahne's car wasn't built with the intent of trimming the hedges on Pocono's backstretch, and the front splitter wasn't designed to mow the grass on the inside of the track. But at the end of this wreck, which started when teammate A.J. Allmendinger attempted to guard the inside line on the final lap, Kahne was a fully qualified landscaper at Pocono. He wouldn't finish the year with Richard Petty Motorsports.
You wouldn't think of Watkins Glen as a place to feature the "big one" a la a superspeedway, but if one car gets stuck in the narrow esses, nobody else has anywhere to go. Such was the case in this incident in the Nationwide race in 2010, which collected Jason Leffler, Justin Allgaier, and Trevor Bayne, among others. Kevin Harvick and Steven Wallace both carved their way through this incident to score top-10 finishes.
The night race at Bristol is already one of the hottest events on the Sprint Cup schedule. It got even hotter for Kasey Kahne after he was caught up in this melee, which ended with Kahne's car catching fire in spectacular fashion. Fun fact: this was also the wreck that led Clint Bowyer to call future team owner Michael Waltrip "the worst driver in NASCAR."
"It's been a long time since I've seen that many cars in a wreck," admitted TNT's Wally Dallenbach after this wreck, which saw the entire field bunched up as they reacted to contact between Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch. Brad Keselowski turned Brian Vickers to spur this accident, which collected nearly every car behind them. Busch, to his credit, saved the car from sliding back up the track and continued on.
The biggest wreck by quantity in the 2001 Daytona 500 took place on the backstretch with less than 30 laps to go, and Tony Stewart got the worst of it by far. Robby Gordon turned Ward Burton into Stewart, whose car took a "whale of a ride" in the words of Darrell Waltrip, and most of the drivers behind them simply had nowhere to go.
Most start-and-park teams pull off the track relatively early in order to avoid incidents and preserve their equipment. Unfortunately, at Dover in June, this accident proved costly for the majority of start-and-park teams and some other backmarkers. Six cars were done for the day, while many of the others involved limped around the track for a few more laps to earn extra points before pulling off.
This wreck happened in August, when the Whelen Modified Tour visited Bristol Motor Speedway. Ryan Newman spun on the frontstretch and began to back out of it, but he field failed to compensate properly behind him. Soon enough, the entire straightaway was plugged with modifieds. Cars ended up on top of other cars, many fell out immediately, and the race required a red flag—and this was only lap four!
Dover's narrow backstretch is a breeding ground for major pileups, and this one was no exception. Elliott Sadler's spun car became a sitting duck for Tony Stewart to plow into, and the carnage just piled up behind them. Denny Hamlin dove into the mess at a particularly high rate of speed, destroying his front end in the process.
Only five cars finished on the lead lap in Dover's June 2004 race, which was won by Mark Martin. But to get there, Martin had to stomach a windshield full of this wreck's aftermath, stopping behind it in order not to take any damage. He, Jeff Burton and Scott Riggs were three of the five lead lap drivers, and all were officially listed on the post-race report as part of the accident.
The first hard hit in a series of them in Ricky Craven's Cup career came at Talladega in April 1996, when a major accident in the first turn sent his car tumbling up the track's steep banking. With nowhere to go as Mark Martin careened down the track, Craven's car was launched into the catchfence, and five cars actually drove under him during the wreck. Here, Craven, now an ESPN analyst, discusses his wild ride.
Here's a wreck that fans won't forget anytime soon. During the season-opening Truck race, Geoffrey Bodine's truck was launched into the tri-oval catchfence, completely annihilating it and seriously injuring Bodine. Behind (and underneath) him, numerous other trucks found themselves caught in the accident. Though he would return to Cup racing later that season, Bodine lost his ride in the fall and has not raced full-time since, electing to focus on his bobsled efforts.
It's rare to see a Talladega race go as long without a major accident as the one two weeks ago did, with the "big one" not coming until lap 189. But when Tony Stewart threw a block on a hard-charging Michael Waltrip and got turned into the pack, he collected almost the entire pack behind leader Matt Kenseth. The resulting accident left NASCAR with an incredible scoring mess to sort out, as well as Earnhardt Jr.'s aforementioned injury.
Three cars finished on the lead lap in this race. Three. Nearly everybody else had their race ruined by this massive accident, which saw polesitter Johnny Sauter turned over and 15 cars calling it a day as a result of damage. The field was so decimated that Kenny Wallace managed to blow an engine with ten laps to go and still earned a ninth place finish.
NASCAR fields were much larger in the days before the modern era, with a maximum of 68 cars in a superspeedway race like this one at Daytona. That provided as much potential as ever for the possibility of a massive accident, and in this race, a whopping 37 cars got mixed up in the same wreck, with six of them on their roof. Incredibly, all 37 drivers walked away from this wreck.
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