NASCAR Sprint Cup: 5 Best Final-Race Duels of All Time

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistNovember 16, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 5 Best Final-Race Duels of All Time

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    NASCAR has seen several final-race duels throughout its long history.  Some duels turned out to be a battle of five drivers instead of two, and other were classic match ups between long rivals.

    The 2012 Chase season has turned out to be a duel between Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.  There duel at Homestead this Sunday, will be one for the record books, as the young Keselowski hopes to walk away with the championship.

    The Chase has played a big part in seeing some of the closest final races in NASCAR history.  While Keselowski and Johnson have the focus in NASCAR right now, last season turned out to be the closest finish between two drivers ever in the sport.

    Names like Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip have also battled it out at the final-race of a season, with the championship on the line.

    Throughout NASCAR there have been several final-race duels for the championship.  Here are the top five.

Honorable Mentions

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    Bill Rexford vs. Fireball Roberts—Bill Rexford won the 1950 NASCAR championship with a blown engine.  During the final race of the season in Hillsboro, North Carolina, Rexford was sidelined early with engine troubles.  Fireball Roberts was set to win the championship, but instead of driving conservative, he tried charging to the front to win the race.

    Roberts blew his engine, finished in 21st. Rexford walked away with the championship.


    Tim Flock vs. Herb Thomas—The 1952 season came down to the last race at West Palm Beach, Florida.  Tim Flock led the points, with Herb Thomas sitting right behind him.  Flock was able to clinch the title by the time the race was over.  He finished the race crossing the finish line on the hood of his car, as a wreck had flipped him.

    Still, Flock won the championship and held back Herb Thomas.


    Dale Earnhardt vs. Cale Yarborough—Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt Sr. battled it out in Ontario, California for the championship in 1980.  Cale was 29 points behind Earnhardt at the start of the race.  Eventually Earnhardt found himself a lap down, and saw his championship hopes in jeopardy.

    Earnhardt battled back, got onto the lead lap, and was able to maintain his point's lead over Yarborough.

5. Brad Keselowski vs. Jimmie Johnson

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    This seasons Chase has been a close one.  Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin all battled for control of the point's lead.

    Eventually Hamlin fell out of contention, and now as The Chase enters Homestead, it's going to come down to Keselowski vs. Johnson.

    Johnson's chances of winning the Sprint Cup title might seem slim, since he had a tire go down last week at Phoenix and was knocked out of the race.  He sits 20 points behind Keselowski, and needs to win at Homestead if he hopes to have any chance of winning the title.

    Keselowski needs to finish in 15th or better on Sunday in order to walk away from Homestead as the champion.

    Brad will need to go into championship mode, and not be as aggressive like he has been in order to minimize any potential risk to losing The Chase.

    Johnson will need to push harder than he has before, if he hopes to win the race on Sunday.  These two drivers will need to switch roles, with Keselowski being conservative and Johnson being aggressive.

    The Chase has come down to two drivers.  Anything can happen at Homestead as the young up and comer Keselowski hopes to etch his name in NASCAR history.

    Will he be able to avoid bad luck, and cross victory lane as the 2012 champion?  Or will the veteran Jimmie Johnson manage to pull off the upset and win his sixth championship?

    Johnson and Keselowski will duel it out for the championship at Homestead, and add another fantastic final-race duel to NASCAR history.

4. Richard Petty vs. Darrell Waltrip

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    The 1979 season came down to a classic battle between Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty.

    Waltrip held a two point lead over Petty as they entered the final race of the season. Richard Petty started the race in sixth and Waltrip started back in 10th.  Eventually, Petty managed to take advantage of starting further up and passed Buddy Baker to lead a lap, and earn points.

    Waltrip decided to stay out on the track during an early caution, in an attempt to keep up with Petty.  He managed to gain five bonus points for leading a lap, and then decided to pit and restart at the back of the field.

    A car in front of Waltrip spun out, and he spun trying to avoid it.  It placed Waltrip a lap down.

    Without the luck dog rule of today's NASCAR, Waltrip never got back on the lead lap.  When the race finally ended, Waltrip finished in eighth, but Petty had finished three spots in front of him, in fifth place.

    Petty won his seventh championship by 11 points over Darrell Waltrip. 

    The whole season of 1979 was a battle between Waltrip and Petty.  Both drivers entered the last race of the year with everything on the line.

    Waltrip suffered from a bit of bad luck during the season final-race, and never made up the ground he needed.

3. Kurt Busch vs. Jimmie Johnson vs. Jeff Gordon vs. Mark Martin vs. Dale Jr.

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    A duel is usually between two people, or in NASCAR's case, two drivers.  The final-race in Homestead Miami was different though. 

    2004 was the first year NASCAR decided to implement The Chase, a playoff format end to the NASCAR season.

    They were probably pleasantly surprised then, when the last race of the season turned out to be the deciding factor in who won the championship.

    It was a duel between five drivers, as all five had a shot to win the championship.

    Kurt Busch held a 18 point lead on Jimmie Johnson, but Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin also had a chance to win the title during the last race of the season.

    The race was filled with cautions, and by lap 93 it looked like Kurt Busch might lose his first place spot in The Chase.

    Busch knew something was wrong with his car, and as he pulled into pit road, a tire came off  his car.  It brought out a caution and saved Busch some time, but he would need to push to the front in order to hold on to his lead.

    Both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished in front of Busch, but his fifth place finish turned out to be enough to help him win the championship by just eight points.

    The Chase has brought some close finishes to the season, and the finish in 2004 was one of the closest in NASCAR history.

2. Tony Stewart vs. Carl Edwards

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    Before the last race of the 2011 Sprint Cup series, The Chase had been met with some criticism.  Winning races seemed like a minor factor when it came to winning The Chase.

    That changed in 2011.

    Carl Edwards was able to maintain his lead throughout The Chase, all while not winning a single race.  Tony Stewart however, slowly moved up The Chase standings as he managed to win four races before heading to Homestead.

    The 2011 season came down to the final race, and the only way Stewart would be able to leave with the championship is if he managed to win the race.

    Edwards tried to keep up, but couldn't hold Smoke back.  When the checkered flag waved, Smoke finished in first, with Edwards finishing in second.

    With everything on the line at Homestead, Tony Stewart delivered.  The 2011 season proved that even with The Chase setup, winning still mattered in NASCAR.

    The finish to the 2011 season was the closest finish in NASCAR history.

1. Alan Kulwicki vs. Bill Elliot

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    The 1992 Hooters 500 was the best finish to a NASCAR season.  It turned out to be more than just a duel between two drivers, but instead a battle of six, as six drivers had a chance to win the title once the race started.

    Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, Kyle Petty, Harry Gant, and Mark Martin all had a chance to win the title at the Hooters 500 race, but only two would make it to the end.

    Kyle Petty and Mark Martin ran into engine trouble during the race, and were knocked out of contention.

    Harry Grant couldn't keep up, and by the second half of the race he was too far back in points to have a shot at winning the title.

    Davey Allison ended up being the victim of a wreck, as Ernie Irvan lost control of his car when a tire went down, hit the wall, and bounced into Allison.  The wreck sent Allison to the garage, and ended his championship hopes.

    The Hooters 500 at Atlanta came down to just two drivers in the end.  Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliot battled it out during the latter part of the race, switching back and forth between first and second place. 

    The championship would come down to who led the most races.  Kulwicki led 103, and eventually settled for second place behind Elliot.  Bill would go on to win the race, but only led 102 laps. 

    Alan Kulwicki won the title by 10 points, thanks to leading one more lap than Elliot did. 

    The last race of the 1992 season was the best final-race duel of all time.  A six man battle ended with just two drivers fighting to lead the most laps.