50 Races That Changed NASCAR Forever
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In the 67 years since NASCAR ran its first race, the sport has undergone innumerable changes. Some of them were gradual. Others were sudden.
We can trace many of the changes to specific races: ones that made a driver's career, ones that ended a driver's life and ones that prompted changes to the cars, to the tracks and to the sport itself.
This list, by no means complete, highlights those races that changed NASCAR for the better and for the worse.
The 50 races listed here help us understand the sport's history, how it evolved over the decades and how it became the sport it is today.
March 29, 1927: Daytona Beach, FL
Long before the advent of stock car racing, the sands of Daytona Beach were a proving ground for speed as daredevils competed for land speed records on the hard-packed sand.
Long before NASCAR, Daytona became synonymous with speed.
Sir Henry Segrave was an early pioneer of auto racing. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Segrave won the 1924 San Sebastian Grand Prix while also becoming the first driver to wear a crash helmet.
Three years later he revolutionized the sport once again by taking his 1,000-horsepower Sunbeam to the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida.
The beach's hard-packed sand proved to be an ideal surface for Segrave's pursuit of history, and it was there that Segrave set a new land speed record of 203.79 miles per hour.
Numerous other speed record challengers would take to Daytona, including Sir Malcolm Campbell, seen in the video above.
By choosing Daytona Beach as his car's proving ground, Segrave had once again revolutionized the sport of auto racing, unknowingly paving the way for a completely different kind of speed contest.
March 8, 1936: Daytona Beach, FL
Milt Marion won the first stock car race contested in Daytona, winning the 250-mile race on the combination beach/road course.
Land speed records would continue to fall at Daytona Beach through 1935 when Sir Malcolm Campbell set a new mark at 276.82 miles per hour, according to Volusia County Heritage.
Campbell took his machine to Bonneville Salt Flats the following year, and the Utah town became the new home of world records.
The loss of speed record challenges left the town without a marquee event, but that changed with the arrival of the country's first major stock car race in 1936.
A temporary 3.2-mile course was laid out, utilizing 1.5 miles of beach and a parallel stretch of highway, connected at each end by sweeping corners cut out of the sand dunes.
Milt Marion was declared the winner after the race was shortened to 241 miles because of rising tide. National Auto Racing News, as quoted in a 2010 National Speed Sport News article, reported on the race conditions.
"...it was a wonder that the cars held together even at this speed. The course was full of ruts, bumps and holes, and at times the cars seemed to completely leave the ground."
The video above shows just how bad conditions were that day as the north turn became a junkyard. Only 10 of the 27 starters would finish the event.
But the race was a big enough draw that it became an annual tradition. Seventy-seven years later, Daytona is still home to stock car racing's biggest event.
February 15, 1948: Daytona Beach, FL
NASCAR's first sanctioned event was a Modified race on the Daytona Beach road course in 1948. Red Byron would win the race and the series championship.
In December 1947, after a series of meetings at the Streamline Hotel, the organization known as NASCAR was born. Two months later, the sanctioning body held its first race, a Modified race around the Daytona Beach Road course.
Red Byron won that first race, his first of 11 victories on the season, according to The Third Turn. When the season was over, Byron was crowned NASCAR's first champion, beating out legends like Fonty and Tim Flock, Curtis Turner and Buck Baker.
Though it has undergone many changes through the years, NASCAR's Modified Tour has propelled several drivers to superstardom like Joe Weatherly and Bobby Allison, while also creating its own stars like NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans.
The success of the modifieds in 1948 helped establish NASCAR in the eyes of fans and competitors, and opened up the door for everything that followed.
June 19, 1949: Charlotte Speedway
Jim Roper won NASCAR's first Strictly Stock race at Charlotte in 1949 while Lee Petty flipped his car in the same race.
NASCAR's Strictly Stock divison, the precursor of today's Sprint Cup Series, began on June 19, 1949 at the Charlotte Speedway, a .75-mile dirt track (not to be confused with today's Charlotte Motor Speedway).
Jim Roper would go down in history as NASCAR's first race winner, beating out a field that included five future champions.
In true NASCAR fashion, the race was not without controversy. Glenn Dunaway was flagged as the winner, finishing three laps ahead of Roper. However, as Sports Illustrated recounted, Dunaway was later disqualified for illegal modifications to his front springs, handing the win to Roper.
NASCAR would later change their policy. Today the sanctioning body no longer takes away victories for rules infractions, issuing points and monetary penalties instead.
Jim Roper would make just one more NASCAR start, finishing 15th in a race at Occoneechee Speedway that August, but he will be forever known as the first winner in what is now the Sprint Cup Series.
September 25, 1949: Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville Speedway began life as a half-mile dirt track in 1949 and has hosted two Sprint Cup events per year since 1950.
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The Strictly Stock Series was just a few months old when it made its first trip to the small town of Martinsville, Virginia. According to racing-reference.info, 10,000 fans were in attendance to watch Red Byron earn his second victory of the season, besting Lee Petty by three laps at the finish.
The town of 13,733 residents, according to city-data.com, is a most unlikely home for the sport.
NASCAR's 1949 schedule included races in small towns like Hillsboro, NC; Langhorne, PA; Hamburg, NY; and North Wilkesboro, NC. North Wilkesboro would hold on until 1996, but Martinsville is now the only original track remaining on the schedule.
Starting in 1950, Martinsville Speedway began hosting two races per season, and NASCAR has run 129 Sprint Cup races on the speedway since.
Byron's victory helped propel him to the 1949 championship, but the race was just as important for establishing Martinsville as one of the sport's cornerstone race tracks.
September 4, 1952: Langhorne Speedway
Langhorne Speedway already had a reputation as one of the most dangerous tracks in America before Larry Mann became the first fatality in NASCAR Cup Series history in 1952.
Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania was a unique track on NASCAR's early schedule. Known as the "Big Left Turn," Langhorne was constructed as a true oval with no straightaways. According to Explore PA, the track began hosting open wheel races in 1926, and the track was added to NASCAR's Strictly Stock schedule beginning with the inaugural 1949 season.
Lee Petty would earn the victory in the 250-lap race, but it was not a day of celebration for NASCAR.
Larry Mann entered the record books for all the wrong reasons after he died from injuries suffered in a late-race accident.
Mann, driving in just his sixth NASCAR event, became the first fatality in the Strictly Stock division, according to WikiPedia.
Sadly, many more drivers have lost their lives on-track in the years that have passed, including 25 in the Sprint Cup Series alone.
Larry Mann will always have the dubious honor of being the first.
February 22, 1959: Daytona International Speedway
The memorable finish of the 1959 Daytona 500 helped establish the race as NASCAR's answer to the Indy 500.
Daytona Beach had been NASCAR's home since the beginning, but in 1959, the sport left the beach behind.
Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR's 2.5-mile, high-banked answer to Indianapolis debuted that year with the first running of the Daytona 500.
Two days before the race Bob Welborn became the first driver to visit Daytona Victory Lane when he won the 100-mile qualifying race, but it was the main event that everyone came to see.
It was an exciting race by all accounts. More than 41,000 fans were in attendance to watch the drivers swap the lead 33 times, according to racing-reference.info. But it was the last lap that would go down in NASCAR lore.
The race went caution-free, wtih Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp trading the lead 11 times over the race's final 50 laps. The two were inseparable the entire race, with Petty holding a slim advantage at the white flag.
On that final lap, Beauchamp edged ahead as the cars entered the trioval three-wide with the lapped car of Joe Weatherly on the top. The three crossed the line in a dead heat, and Beauchamp was declared the winner.
It took several days before NASCAR found a photograph of the finish that showed Petty ahead at the line by three feet.
The Daytona 500 was a roaring success, capped off with one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history. Today, the Daytona 500 has eclipsed the Indianapolis 500 as America's race, the one motorsport event every season that everyone watches.
February 28, 1960: Southern State Fairgrounds
Long before Richard Petty became The King, he won his first career race at the Southern State Fairgrounds in 1960.
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The Southern State Fairgrounds in Charlotte, North Carolina began hosting Sprint Cup races in 1954. Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts and Ned Jarrett were among the legends to conquer the .5-mile dirt track.
But it was another NASCAR legend who began his winning ways at the track.
Richard Petty earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1959 after posting six top-fives and nine top-10s in his first year on the circuit, according to racing-reference.info, but as the 1960 season began, Petty had yet to find Victory Lane.
That all changed at Charlotte. Petty started seventh in the 21-car field, but after 200 laps he found himself in the winner's circle after finishing ahead of Rex White for his first career victory.
Petty would reign as The King for the next 32 years, earning seven championships, 200 victories, 555 top-fives and 712 top-10s.
And it all began on the dirt at the Southern State Fairgrounds.
August 8, 1963: Columbia Speedway
David Pearson and Richard Petty's rivalry came to a head in the 1976 Daytona 500, but it began with in Columbia, SC in 1963.
By the time the NASCAR Grand National Series (now Sprint Cup) arrived at Columbia, South Carolina in August, 1963, Richard Petty was establishing himself as a star in the sport. Petty led the series with 11 victories and already had amassed 24 for his career.
David Pearson was also making a name for himself. Pearson had had run a limited schedule in his first four seasons on tour, but had earned three victories and was one of the drivers to beat every time he entered a race.
The two giants of the sport were about to go toe-to-toe on the .5-mile dirt track.
Petty qualified on pole and led the first 103 laps of the race before Pearson wrestled the top spot away. Petty would regain the lead on lap 166, leading the race's final 35 laps on his way to victory, according to racing-reference.info. Pearson would finish a distant second.
It was the first time the two drivers had finished first and second in a race. Sports Illustrated ranked it as one of the top rivalries in all of sports, one that would continue for another two decades. Petty and Pearson finished 1-2 a total of 63 times, with Pearson holding the edge 33-30.
The 1963 Sandlapper 200 was the start of the sport's greatest rivalry, one that would provide countless memorable moments in the years to come.
December 1, 1963: Speedway Park
In 1963 Wendell Scott became the first African American driver to win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida was a mostly forgettable venue, hosting six races between 1951 and 1964, according to racing-reference.info, oftentimes with large gaps in between.
But it is the sport's last visit to the Florida dirt track that changed NASCAR forever.
At the end of 200 laps, Buck Baker was declared the race winner, but the record books now show Wendell Scott running 202 laps for his first, and only career victory.
NASCAR admitted to a scoring error after Scott's team protested the race, but according to a retrospective from ESPN, the real truth is that the track owner did not want Scott, an African American from Virginia, to kiss his trophy girl in Victory Lane.
The events of this day helped fuel the stigma of NASCAR as a niche sport stuck in the Jim Crow South.
NASCAR has put a conscious effort into improving the sport's diversity in recent years, introducing the Drive for Diversity program to help create opportunities for drivers who may otherwise be passed over.
Fifty years after Scott became the first African American winner in NASCAR history, the sport is fiinally breaking the stereotypes of the past, but it still has a long way to go.
January 19, 1964: Riverside International Raceway
Joe Weatherly was one of NASCAR's biggest stars, but the two-time defending Grand National champion was killed in an accident at Riverside in 1964.
The 1964 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside International Raceway was one of the most star-studded events in NASCAR history. The road course brought out the best in the business, including Indianapolis 500 champions A.J. Foyt, Rodger Ward and Parnelli Jones.
Trans-am driver Dan Gurney was driving a second car for the Wood Brothers, and he was dominant, leading 142 of the race's 185 laps, inlcuding the final 132 circuits on his way to second of four consecutive Riverside victories, according to racing-reference.info.
But the race will always be remembered as one of tragedy as NASCAR lost one of its biggest stars that day.
Joe Weatherly entered the 1964 season on the biggest roll of his career. He had 24 wins over the previous four seasons and was the two-time defending champion of the Grand National Series.
Weatherly had earned top-10 finishes in three of the first four races and was looking to build on a seventh place finish at Riverside the year before.
Instead, tragedy struck on the 87th lap when Weatherly's car struck the wall at full speed. With no protection in the driver's side window, Weatherly's head contacted the wall, killing the driver instantly.
Good did come from the tragedy. Though they would not be mandated for another seven years, Weatherly's accident led to the development of window nets, a simple invention that has saved countless drivers in the five decades since his death.
May 24, 1964: Charlotte Motor Speedway
NASCAR lost a second superstar in 1964 when Fireball Roberts was killed in an accident at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Ned Jarrett and his family recounted the accident in Ned's Hall of Fame biography on SPEED.
The death of Joe Weatherly was a shock to the NASCAR world, but the tragedy of the World 600 was even greater.
The Charlotte Motor Speedway was added to the NASCAR schedule four years earlier, and the annual 600-miler was already one of the sport's crown jewel events.
Forty-four cars started the 1964 race, but attrition took a toll early, with nine drivers dropping out in the first six laps, according to racing-reference.info.
Things only got worse from there. As the Jarrett family tells in the clip above from Ned Jarrett's Hall of Fame Biography on SPEED, Fireball Roberts was involved in a horrifying crash on the eighth lap.
Roberts' car became an inferno on the backstretch, and Roberts, who was not wearing fireproof material, was badly burned.
The 33-time race winner succumbed to his injuries several weeks later, passing away in his hospital bed on July 2, and the sport was forever changed because of his death.
Ned Jarrett said in an interview with NASCAR.com's Rick Houston that two important innovations came from Roberts' death: fireproof racing suits and fuel cells.
"I think it was a historic time as far as racing was concerned," Jarrett said. "DuPont went to work immediately after that to make a fabric that was flameproof, that you could make a uniform out of. And Firestone went to work immediately after that wreck, that day, on fuel cells. Up to that day, we were using conventional metal gas tanks."
Jarrett was wearing a fireproof suit by that September, and the material would eventually be mandated for every driver, crewman and official on pit road.
January 17, 1965: Riverside International Raceway
Dan Gurney was the master at Riverside, winning four consecutive races at the track in the mid-1960s, but the 1965 race was the first race of the ban on the Hemi engine, and the first without Richard Petty.
Dan Gurney's domination at Riverside entered its third year, but it was the driver who was absent from 1965's season-opener that was the real story.
After earning his first Grand National championship in 1964, Richard Petty was not in the starting field at Riverside. In fact, Petty would skip the first 33 races of the season before returning at Bristol in July.
Petty's absence was an act of defiance toward the sanctioning body. After Petty's impressive '64 season, NASCAR implemented a ban on Dodge's powerful Hemi engine.
Because of Petty Enterprise's deep connections with Chrysler, Richard Petty joined in the company's boycott, and spent much of the season on the drag racing circuit.
Petty went on a barnstorming tour of the country in a Petty blue Plymouth Barracuda with the word "Outlawed" pained across the side.
His time in drag racing would forever change Petty. In March of 1965 he was involved in an accident that killed an eight-year old spectator.
In the absence of Petty and Plymouth, Ned Jarrett would dominate the sport, earning 13 victories and recording 45 top-10 finishes in 54 starts, according to racing-reference.info.
Six months after it took effect, NASCAR would come to an agreement with Plymouth to allow the Hemi engine to return to the speedways, but the ban cost the life of a young fan and may have cost Petty an eighth career championship.
September 12, 1965: Dragway 42
Dragway 42 in Ohio played host to the first NASCAR-sanctioned drag race in 1965. NASCAR produced some successful shows, but gave up on the venture after the 1967 season.
Richard Petty was now several months removed from his drag racing career, but NASCAR decided it wanted to try its hand at the sport.
On September 12, 1965, NASCAR sanctioned its first drag racing event at Ohio's Dragway 42.
Two legends of the drag strip faced off in the final round, with Don Westerdale taking out Don Prudhomme in the first ever NASCAR drag racing event.
According to an article on Drag Racing Online, NASCAR went full-time into drag racing for the 1966 and 1967 seasons. In the article, former NHRA official Greg Xakellis said the move made sense.
"NASCAR was a known quantity in the East, while NHRA was considered a kind of West Coast phenom. The only hardcore full-on NHRA track in the Northeast was York U.S. 30 in Pennsylvania. NHRA standbys like Raceway Park in New Jersey were still on the drawing board or just beginning operation. It just seemed a natural move for NASCAR to look at the young drag racing scene here and plant some roots."
Despite a successful run, NASCAR folded its drag racing division following the 1967 season. The article lists a variety of factors pulling the plug, from Bill France stepping down as president to the NHRA's increased presence, but for two years NASCAR was a viable competitor to the NHRA.
Had the sport not opted out after 1967, drag racing and NASCAR might both look very different today.
September 14, 1969: Alabama International Motor Speedway
NASCAR's first race at Talladega was the last for the Professional Drivers Association, a union led by Richard Petty that boycotted the event.
Ten years after the opening of Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR debuted its biggest and fastest track yet: Alabama International Motor Speedway.
The track now known as Talladega Superspeedway was slightly larger (2.66 miles to 2.5 miles) and higher banked (32⁰ to 31⁰) than its predecessor, and the speeds were incredible from the start.
Bobby Isaac earned the pole position at 196.386 mph, according to racing-reference.info, nearly eight miles per hour faster than the pole from February's Daytona 500.
The racing proved to be just as exciting as the speeds, with seven drivers swapping the lead 35 times over the race's 188 laps. Richard Brickhouse would earn his first and only career victory that day after taking the lead from Jim Vandiver with 11 laps remaining.
But the real story was off the track.
As explained in an episode of SPEED's Dave Despain on Assignment seen above, excessive tire wear plagued the teams from the time they unloaded. Richard Petty said the drivers asked to postpone the race until suitable tires could be provided.
"We want to run here...but under the circumstances of the safety deal, we don't need to be here."
The drivers had recently organized the Professional Drivers Association, a loosely formed union aimed at improving racing conditions. The PDA made the call to boycott the race, but NASCAR president Bill France did not back down.
Thirty-six drivers took the field for inaugural Talladega 500, many of them first-time starters, like 23-year-old Richard Childress who finished 23rd.
Richard Brickhouse will forever be remembered as the winner of the race, but the real winner was Bill France. By running the race against the wishes of the PDA, NASCAR had broken the union, and drivers would never again threaten a boycott.
May 9, 1970: Darlington Raceway
Richard Petty escaped serious injury in this crash at Darlington, but NASCAR had quite a scare when its star driver lay motionless in the car.
Richard Petty had escaped serious injury throughout the first decade of his career, but never was he luckier than at Darlington Raceway in 1970.
As you can see in the above clip from Petty Blue, Petty lost control of his car off the final corner, sending it head-on into the inside wall. The impact sent the car into a vicious barrel roll, landing upside down with Petty hanging out the driver's side widow.
Miraculously, Petty's only serious injury was a separated shoulder. In what could have been a tragic accident, Petty escaped and after missing five races, The King was back on the track.
Petty would win a season-high 18 races in 1970, but he would only finish fourth in points after missing time because of his injury.
An accident that could have ended a career or worse made Petty even stronger. He would go on to win five more championships, including back-to-back titles in 1971 and 1972.
September 30, 1970: North Carolina State Fairgrounds
NASCAR was born on dirt tracks like Eldora Speedway (above), but the Sprint Cup Series hasn't visited one since the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in 1970.
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One of Petty's 18 victories during the 1970 season came at the Home State 200 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
The race was not unlike many from NASCAR's early years. Petty was dominant, leading the final 112 laps after Benny Parsons retired with a blown engine, according to racing-reference.info.
Neil Castles finished a distant second, two laps behind Petty at the end of 200 laps.
What made the race special was the dirt. After spending years running on small dirt tracks around the country, the race at Raleigh was the last Grand National Race run on a dirt track.
In the 43 years since, NASCAR's biggest division has raced exclusively on paved courses.
When the track was left off the 1971 schedule, it was a sign that the sport was modernizing and that more changes were on the horizon.
January 23, 1972: Riverside International Raceway
NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty ushered in NASCAR's modern era when he won the season opening Winston Western 500 at Riverside in 1972.
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Long before Daytona became the season-opener, NASCAR's top division made an annual pilgrimage to California's Riverside International Raceway to ring in the new year.
In 1972, the Winston Western 500 ushered in more than a new season, it ushered in a new era.
The series schedule was cut from 48 races to 31. Gone were the days of two or three races per week, replaced instead by the current two- and three-day format for events.
The modern era began just one year after another major change for the series.
With a new ban on cigarette advertising in place, tobacco manufacturers like R.J. Reynolds were looking for an outlet for advertising, and motorsports presented an opportunity.
Winston cigarettes became the presenting sponsor for the series beginning with the 1972 season. The names NASCAR and Winston Cup became interchangable until the the two parties split following the 2003 season.
As ESPN's Wayne Drehs said at time, "For 33 years, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was the presenting sponsor. The term "Winston Cup" was to auto racing what "NFL" was to professional football.
NASCAR fans have always been loyal to their favorite drivers, auto manufacturers and sponsors, and by adding a title sponsor to the series, NASCAR capitalized on the loyalty.
With Winston on board and a trimmed down season, NASCAR's modern era began much the way the old one ended, with Richard Petty in Victory Lane.
May 25, 1975: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Dale Earnhardt's Hall of Fame career began in 1975 when the 24-year-old finished 22nd in the World 600 at Charlotte.
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Richard Petty was still the most dominant driver on the sport in 1975, but fans got a sneak peak at the future during the running of the annual World 600 at Charlotte.
While Petty led 234 of the race's 400 laps to best Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip (according to racing-reference.info) it was the driver who finished 22nd who would change the sport for years to come.
On that day, car owner Ed Negre fielded a 1974 Dodge Charger for 24-year-old Dale Earnhardt.
It was the first race of Earnhardt's illustrious career, and no one could know that the driver who finished 45 laps behind the race winner would be the one to inherit Petty's title as NASCAR's best driver.
Ironically, Earnhardt finished one position ahead Richard Childress, the man who would become his car owner and best friend.
Earnhardt would race off and on for the next three seasons before landing a full-time ride and Rookie of the Year honors in 1979, but it all started at the 1975 World 600.
August 26, 1978: Bristol Motor Speedway
The night race at Bristol Motor Speedway is still one of the hottest tickets in NASCAR 35 years after the lights were lit for the first time.
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While local tracks across the country were hosting Friday and Saturday night races for decades, NASCAR had established itself as a Sunday afternoon sport during the modern era.
That changed in a big way on an August Saturday night in 1978.
Bristol Motor Speedway joined the NASCAR schedule in 1961, quickly becoming one of the fastest, most exciting short tracks on the NASCAR schedule.
The track became a trailblazer 17 years later when it held the first night race of the modern era.
Cale Yarborough earned the victory that night in front of a crowd of 30,000, according to racing-reference.info.
Over the next 35 years, the race would become the most coveted ticket in NASCAR, with more than 100,000 fans packing the .5-mile bullring each year to see the sparks fly under the lights.
Many other tracks followed suit. Today 10 of the 36 races on the Sprint Cup schedule are run at night, and 13 of the 23 tracks on the circuit have lights installed.
All because Bristol dared to race into the night in 1978.
February 18, 1979: Daytona International Speedway
The 1979 Daytona 500 was the first race to be televised flag-to-flag, and fans got one of the most memorable moments in NASCAR history.
For the first time in the sport's history, the Daytona 500 went live on national television.
CBS was set to broadcast the entire race for the first time, and the race delivered in a big way.
The video is inescapable in any Daytona highlight package. Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough beating and banging down the backstretch on the final lap, both drivers more intent to keep the other from winning than on winning the race themselves.
As the two cars crashed together, Richard Petty drove by for his seventh Daytona 500 victory, but the fireworks were not over.
"The Fight" as it has become known began when Allison's older brother Bobby appeared on the scene, and as Allison tells the story in the above clip from SPEED's The 10, Yarborough began "beating my fist with his nose."
The race, and the ensuing fight helped put NASCAR on the national map. The successful broadcast paved the way for the billion-dollar television packages NASCAR recently signed with FOX and NBC.
February 13, 1982: Daytona International Speedway
The NASCAR Nationwide Series as we know it began in 1982, and like many of today's races, it was won by a Cup regular.
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Since 1950, NASCAR had sanctioned its "Sportsman" division, a series for late model cars, hand-me-downs from the brand new cars of the Winston Cup Series.
Drivers like Ralph Earnhardt, Ned Jarrett and Red Farmer cut their teeth running on NASCAR's minor league circuit, and in 1982, the minor league got a little bit closer to the majors.
With the running of the Goody's 500 at Daytona, the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series was born. With a trimmed down schedule and more shared weekends with the Winston Cup Series, the new-look sportsman series took off in popularity.
The series that would eventually become the NASCAR Busch Series, and now Nationwide Series, became the proving ground for young drivers, a home for veteran short track racers, and a place for Winston Cup drivers to get some extra work.
The "Buschwhacking" by Cup drivers, as it became known, began with the first race, with Dale Earnhardt claiming the victory in his no. 15 Wrangler Pontiac Ventura.
Today's Nationwide Series has not changed much in the 30 years that have followed. The series is still the next-to-last rung in the NASCAR ladder, home to rookies and veterans alike. Cup drivers still invade every weekend to steal paychecks and points from series regulars, just as it was back then.
It all started with Dale Earnhardt's 1982 victory at Daytona.
April 29, 1984: Martinsville Speedway
Rick Hendrick was set to shut his team down before Geoffrey Bodine won at Martinsville in 1984.
Martinsville Speedway was home to many memorable moments throughout its long and storied history, but its most important moment came in April of 1984.
Geoffrey Bodine was in his eighth race for the upstart All-Star Racing team. Financial problems had brought team owner Rick Hendrick very close to closing the team a week before, as Hendrick tells in the above clip.
But crew chief Harry Hyde talked him into one more race, and the team delivered. Bodine took the lead on lap 452, according to racing-reference.info, leading the last 49 laps to finish six seconds clear of runner-up Ron Bouchard.
In the above clip, Hendrick asserts just what that victory meant.
"If we hadn't won that race, we wouldn't be here today. That's how important that win was because we got a sponsor right after."
The team is the best in the business today, but it could have easily been over before it truly began for Rick Hendrick.
July 4, 1984: Daytona International Speedway
From Richard Petty's 200th win to President Ronald Reagan giving the command to fire engines, the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona was one of NASCAR's biggest days.
Some races are memorable for what happens on the track, others for what happens off. The 1984 Firecracker 400 was memorable for both.
Richard Petty was four races removed from his 199th career victory when the Winston Cup series rolled into Daytona for the annual Independence Day race.
The race began with a bang as President Ronald Reagan gave the command to start engines from his seat on Air Force One.
President Reagan would arrive at the speedway and join the commentary team in the CBS booth, becoming the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR race.
The race he saw was nothing short of historic.
In typical Daytona fashion, the lead changed hands 29 times, with Harry Gant, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Allison among the drivers taking turns at the front, according to racing-reference.info.
But it was Petty's day to celebrate. In front of a crowd of 80,000, Petty crossed the finish line first for his landmark 200th victory.
No one knew it then, but it would be the last of Petty's illustrious career as he would go winless through his 1992 retirement tour.
The combination of Richard Petty and Ronald Reagan created a lasting image. It was a day of celebration for NASCAR, and a truly great moment in the history of the sport.
May 25, 1985: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Darrell Waltrip held off Harry Gant to win the first running of The Winston, NASCAR's big-money, non-points all-star event.
Every week, NASCAR's biggest stars take to the track to compete for race wins and valuable championship points.
In 1985, NASCAR took the points out of the equation for the series' first All-Star race.
NASCAR had run non-points events before. Since 1979, the season unofficially kicked off with the Busch Clash (now Sprint Unlimited), a short race at Daytona for the previous season's pole winners.
But The Winston Select, the name chosen for the new All-Star race, was different.
The race was run on the day before the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 70-lap, winner-take-all race featured 12 of the day's top drivers competing for what was the largest prize on tour, according to racing-reference.info, a $200,000 check to the winner.
Harry Gant and Darrell Waltrip battled hard for the win, with Waltrip coming out on top by just .3 seconds at the finish.
The race moved to Atlanta Motor Speedway for one year in 1986, but upon its return to Charlotte, the Winston Select became one of NASCAR's most coveted prizes. Today the $1 million prize for first place is still one of the largest on tour, trailing only the Daytona 500.
October 27, 1985: Martinsville Speedway
Richie Evans' No. 61 is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Evans clinched his ninth Modified championship before he was killed in a practice crash at Martinsville Speedway.
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The NASCAR Modified Tour entered the modern era in 1985 with title sponsorship from Winston. Richie Evans had established himself as the tour's best driver, winning seven consecutive championships beginning in 1978.
Evans' domination continued into 1985 with the Rapid Roman winning 12 of the first 28 races on the season, locking up the championship before the October 27th season finale at Martinsville.
The modifieds were blindingly quick around the .5-mile oval. Charlie Jarzombek, who had swept the two races at the track in April, set fast time in qualifying with a lap of 97.122 mph, according to racing-reference.info. It would be another 20 years before a Sprint Cup car would break 97 mph in qualifying.
Three days before the race on October 24, Evans was making practice runs at the track in preparation for the race when his car struck the wall in Turn 3. The 44-year-old driver died in the accident, leaving behind a legacy that would carry him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Johnny Bryant would go on to win the race ahead of Bugs Stevens and Tom Baldwin, but the loss of Evans cast a dark shadow over the entire weekend.
A young driver named Jimmy Spencer would win the series championship the next two seasons, propelling him to a career in the Winston Cup Series, but Richie Evans would always remain King of the Modifieds.
May 3, 1987: Talladega Superspeedway
Bobby Allison's crash at Talladega in 1987 prompted NASCAR to limit speeds through the use of restrictor plates.
Talladega Superspeedway was the fastest track on the NASCAR circuit since its debut in 1969, and that legacy continued in 1987 when Bill Elliott set a new NASCAR speed record with a lap of 212.809 mph in qualifying. As ESPN's Ed Hinton points out, that was just barely shy of Bobby Rahal's 216.609 mph pole run for that year's Indianapolis 500.
Those speeds remained in the race, and the draft only made it worse, with drivers topping out at more than 220 mph entering the corners.
On lap 21, Bobby Allison was involved in an accident with near catastrophic results. As the video above shows Allison's car pirouetted on the frontstretch, ripping apart the catchfence in front of the grandstands before coming to rest several hundred yards from the crash site.
In an ironic twist, the race continued with Allison's son Davey earning the victory, his first of 19 career wins in the Winston Cup Series.
Bobby Allison would come back as strong as ever, winning twice more on the Winston Cup circuit, but superspeedway racing would never be the same.
Like Allison, the fans in the grandstands escaped serious injury that day, but NASCAR had to make changes to ensure the safety of not only the drivers, but the fans as well.
When Bobby Allison won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona that July, the cars were running with a smaller carboretor. For the return visit to Talladega, every carboretor was equipped with a restrictor plate to limit air flow. The pole speed fell to 203.827 mph that day, the last time Cup cars would break the 200 mph mark at the track.
May 7, 1989: Talladega Superspeedway
Chevrolet replaced the Monte Carlo with the Lumina at Talladega in 1989. Dale Earnhardt would drive the Lumina to four out of the next five championships.
Today's Sprint Cup car is considered the sixth generation. On May 7, 1989, NASCAR ushered in Generation 3 when the Chevrolet Lumina debuted at Talladega Superspeedway.
Chevrolet had raced its Monte Carlo brand throughout the 1980s, powering championship cars for Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip.
The Lumina was a drastic change for Chevrolet. The two cars shared nothing except the bowtie on the front. The Monte Carlo was a boxy coupe made for the street, but the Lumina was bred for the race track, with rounded corners that had never been seen on a stock car.
Davey Allison would take his Ford Thunderbird to victory lane at Talladega on this day, but the Lumina era had begun. Beginning in 1990, Dale Earnhardt would take the car to four championships in five years, beginning a decade of dominance for the Bowtie Brigade.
November 18, 1990: Atlanta Motor Speedway
This pit road accident during the 1990 season finale at Atlanta led to the death of tire changer Mike Rich and led to increased safety on pit road.
NASCAR's 1990 season was one for the ages. The championship battle between Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin came down to the final race of the year, with Earnhardt entering the day with a slim six-point advantage.
Earlier in the season, NASCAR had docked Martin 46 championship points after his car failed post-race inspection at Richmond.
The stage was set for an epic duel as both drivers ran near the front of the field throughout the 500-mile race. In the end it was Earnhardt who came out ahead, finishing third to Martin's sixth, clinching his fourth series championship and spoiling the best season of Martin's career.
There was no time for celebrating, however. Ricky Rudd was involved in an accident on pit road during the race. As you can see in the video, Rudd lost control of his car entering his pit stall. The car spun backwards and slid into Bill Elliott's pit stall. Elliott's rear tire changer Mike Rich was killed in the accident when he was pinched between the two cars.
Pit road safety had been largely ignored until this point. Through 1990, there were no speed limits on pit road. Immediate changes were made following the accident, with pit road speed limits becoming mandatory for the 1991 season.
November 15, 1992: Atlanta Motor Speedway
No race in NASCAR history had more storylines than the 1992 season finale at Atlanta. One Hall of Famer retired, another ran his first race, and two drivers had a championship battle for the ages.
Two years after the dark ending to the 1990 season, NASCAR was in the midst of its greatest title chase in history. Six drivers entered the race with a mathematically chance at the championship. Davey Allison was the points leader, holding a 30-point edge over Alan Kulwicki, 40 points over Bill Elliott. Harry Gant, Kyle Petty and Mark Martin were further behind, but still alive with 500 miles to race.
While the championship race would be the main focus, two other storylines were in play this day. Richard Petty's farewell tour was coming to an end. After more than four decades of full-time competition, Petty was set for his final Winston Cup start.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a young rookie named Jeff Gordon was set to make his first. After earning three Busch Series victories on the season, Gordon was signed to race for Hendrick Motorsports in 1993. The team debuted the rainbow-colored no. 24 for the final race of 1992.
Richard Petty was the first to find trouble, hitting the wall early on in the race. His team would make repairs, and the King returned to the track, minus a hood, to finish the race in 35th.
Mark Martin was the race's next victim, falling out with engine failure on lap 160. Gordon would find the wall four laps later, finishing 32nd.
Allison looked to have the title in hand until lap 254 when Ernie Irvan lost control his car and spun into Allison's Ford. The wreck opened the door for Kulwicki and Elliott, and the two put on one of the greatest shows in NASCAR history.
Elliott would win the race, but Kulwicki would win the championship because of the five extra bonus points for leading the most laps, 103 to Elliott's 102.
Kulwicki's 10-point championship victory was the closest in NASCAR history until 2011 and the last for a driver who was sole owner of his own car.
The championship battle combined with the changing of the guard created a race like no other, a race that changed the course of NASCAR history forever.
May 2, 1993: Talladega Superspeedway
Rusty Wallace had a violent accident in February's Daytona 500. His car tumbled down the backstretch, leaving the driver shaken, but unhurt.
When the Winston Cup Series headed to Talladega three months later, an encore performance was the last thing Wallace was hoping for.
On the final lap of the race, Wallace was in the middle of the big pack when Dale Earnhardt clipped the rear of his car. Wallace's no. 2 Ford went spinning on the apron, eventually tipping over and tumbling down the frontstretch.
Following the pair of accidents, Penske Racing set out to keep their cars grounded, and roof flaps were born.
Roof flaps, two cut-out pieces on the roof that flip up when a car gets sideways, help keep the cars grounded by changing the airflow over the top of the car.
Though cars are still able to get airborne today, the addition of roof flaps to every NASCAR has kept countless cars on the ground in the 20 years since Wallace's wrecks.
February 20, 1994: Daytona International Speedway
Tributes abounded at Daytona in 1994. Neil Bonnett and Roney Orr both lost their lives in practice crashes leading up the event.
The 1994 season was set to be one of competition with Hoosier battling with Goodyear in a Winston Cup tire war. Hoosier fired the first bullet when rookie Loy Allen Jr. put his No. 19 car on pole for the Daytona 500, but things took a tragic turn during the week.
Two Hoosier-clad drivers were killed during separate practice crashes. Rodney Orr, a NASCAR Dash Series competitor, and Neil Bonnett, driver-turned-broadcaster who was set for a comeback season in 1994, both lost their lives in accidents caused by tire failures.
NASCAR banned the Hoosier rubber for the race, forcing all teams to run on Goodyears for the 500-mile event.
Hoosier would score victories during the season, picking up four wins with Geoffrey Bodine, according to the Hoosier website, but when the season ended, so did the company's NASCAR program.
You can still find Hoosier tires on every ARCA race car, but Goodyear has remained NASCAR's sole tire supplier ever since.
May 29, 1994: Charlotte Motor Speedway
If you want to announce your arrival in a big way, winning one of the sport's biggest races is a good way to do it. After an impressive rookie campaign in 1993, Jeff Gordon was still looking for his first career victory when the Winston Cup Series arrived at Charlotte for the annual 600-mile race.
Gordon had finished runner-up to Dale Earnhardt in the event the year prior, but he was looking to better that in 1994.
And that's exactly what he did.
According to racing-reference.info, Gordon took the lead from Ricky Rudd with nine laps remaining in the race after a quick pit stop. Gordon did everything right that night, leading a total of 16 laps to earn his first career Winston Cup victory.
The win was the first many for Gordon, who now sits third on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup wins list with 87. Only Richard Petty and David Pearson have more.
That first win at Charlotte was where it all began for one of the sport's all-time greats.
August 6, 1994: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Jeff Gordon's second career victory was even bigger than the first. He became the winner of the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
There is no track in America with as much history Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Home to the Indianapolis 500 since 1911, the Speedway played host to some of the greatest moments in racing history and made legends of drivers like A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.
Beginning in 1994, Indianapolis would create new legends, this time in stock cars.
The first Brickyard 400 was held on August 6, 1994 in front of a sold out crowd of more than 300,000. NASCAR's top drivers were joined by Indianapolis veterans like Foyt and Danny Sullivan, all of them looking to make NASCAR and Indianapolis history.
Rick Mast was the unlikely pole sitter in a race that, according to racing-reference.info, had 21 lead changes.
In the end it was an Indiana driver that crossed the finish line first with Jeff Gordon going down in the record books as NASCAR's first Indianapolis winner.
The race quickly become one of the sport's biggest events, and though it has lost its luster in recent years, a win at Indianapolis is still meaningful for every driver.
July 30, 1994: Mesa Marin Raceway
Today's Camping World Truck Series began with a 20-lap exhibition race at Mesa Marin Raceway in 1994.
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For nearly 20 years, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been one of the top stepping stones for future Sprint Cup stars.
But the idea of pickup trucks racing on NASCAR tracks was still just a fantasy in early 1994. According to an article on Crash.net, the idea for the series came from a group of off-road racers who wanted to take truck racing mainstream.
That dream became a reality in 1994 when the first exhibition race was run at Mesa Marin Raceway.
The race was just 20 laps, and featured just five trucks. P.J. Jones, son of the legendary IndyCar driver Parnelli Jones, earned the victory in an exciting race that featured four lead changes, according to racing-reference.info.
More exhibition races were held throughout 1994, and the SuperTruck Series presented by Craftsman was born in 1995.
Today's Camping World Truck Series rose from those humble beginnings.
April 8, 1995: Tucson Raceway Park
NASCAR's first green-white-checkered finish came in the second SuperTruck race, with Ron Hornaday holding off P.J. Jones for the win.
Baseball has extra innings, football has overtime, and NASCAR has the green-white-checkered finish.
But that was not always the case. For much of the sport's history, races ended at the advertised distance, even if it was under caution.
One of the advantages of the SuperTruck Series was the ability for NASCAR to try different rules, and one of those was the introduction of its version of overtime.
Truck races could not end under caution. Instead, NASCAR would restart the race with the green flag, throw the yellow flag the following lap, and throw the checkered the following, assuming there were no more yellow flags thrown.
The rule was first put to the test in the second SuperTruck race. When Butch Miller lost a tire on his No. 75 truck in the closing laps, the race was forced into overtime.
Ron Hornaday would hold off P.J. Jones for the win in the first green-white-checkered finish in NASCAR history.
The win also was the first in Hornaday's record-setting career. Hornaday's 51 wins leads all drivers in Truck Series history, and it all began with a overtime win at Tucson in 1995.
May 22, 1995
When Dale Earnhardt painted his car silver for the 1995 running of The Winston, he became a trendsetter. The Winston became a showcase for paint schemes, and eventually special schemes became commonplace at all races.
The Winston Select was 10 years old, and Winston was celebrating its silver anniversary in NASCAR. The Richard Childress Racing team decided to pay homage to the series sponsor by paining Dale Earnhardt's car silver for the race.
Dale Earnhardt's no. 3 had been painted in black and silver since 1988 when the team signed Goodwrench as a sponsor. The paint scheme never varied from race-to-race, and barely changed from year-to-year. Every piece of merchandise Earnhardt sold was black: die-cast cars, t-shirts, hats. Earnhardt was The Man in Black.
One commemorative paint scheme later, and NASCAR had been changed forever.
Earnhardt's silver car opened the floodgates. The Winston Select became the race where every driver ran a special car. Earnhardt himself would set the bar for special paint schemes, racing with Wheaties, Bass Pro Shops and Wrangler in future all-star events. And who could forget his pink and blue Peter Max-designed monster from 2000?
Today drivers run special paint schemes throughout the season, and no driver races the same paint scheme for an entire 36-race season.
November 24, 1996: Suzuka Circuit
NASCAR made its first of three trips to Japan in 1996, with the sport's biggest stars competing on the Suzuka road course.
As NASCAR looked to expand the sport globally in the mid-1990s, Japan became its prime target.
With Japan's booming automotive industry luring them in, NASCAR loaded up the boats and sent some of the top teams from Winston Cup and the Winston West Series overseas for an exhibition race.
Rusty Wallace led the race's first 38 laps, according to racing-reference, before turning it over to Jeff Gordon. Terry Labonte took the top spot for a short stint before handing it back to Wallace, who led the race's final 45 laps for a historic victory.
The series would return to Suzuka in 1997 before the race moved to the oval at Twin Ring Motegi in 1998.
Eventually NASCAR gave up on its Japanese experiment, but the seeds were planted, and today Toyota is one of the three manufactures competing in NASCAR's highest divisions.
How much the Japanese exhibition races played in the decision may never be known, but NASCAR's trips to Japan were wildly successful and created added buzz for the series overseas.
May 13, 2000: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
After Adam Petty's death at New Hampshire, his father Kyle took over the driving duties of the No. 45 car in the Sprint Cup Series.
Adam Pretty/Getty Images
Adam Petty was supposed to be the savior of Petty Enterprises.
NASCAR's first fourth generation superstar was just 19 years old when the NASCAR Busch Series headed to Louden for the first of two visits in 2000. Though Petty was just 24th in series points (according to racing-reference.info) he was being groomed for a future in Winston Cup, one where he would carry on the family legacy started by his great-grandfather Lee, solidified by his grandfather Richard, and carried on by his father Kyle.
Unfortunately the world would never find out how good Adam Petty could be.
Sports Illustrated reported that Petty's car brushed the Turn 3 wall, then spun before nosing into the wall again. Petty died from head trauma caused by the crash.
It was a sad day for the sport, and one that had long-lasting effects. Petty Enterprises never recovered, and after several seasons at the back of the NASCAR grid, Richard Petty was forced to sell the team to Gillette-Evernham Motorsports in 2008. Petty purchased the team back in 2010 and now operates it as Richard Petty Motorsports, but the team has never been able to recapture the success it once had.
Petty's death was the first in a string of deaths that included Kenny Irwin Jr.'s fatal accident at Louden just a few months later.
February 18, 2001: Daytona International Speedway
What should have been a celebration for NASCAR became tragedy when Dale Earnhardt was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500.
The 2001 Daytona 500 should have been the greatest day in NASCAR history. FOX had just bought the rights to broadcast the first half of the season, and the broadcast would be one of the most-watched in the history of the sport.
Dale Earnhardt entered the race as one of the favorites, not only as a driver but as a car owner. The Dale Earnhardt Inc. fleet of drivers had increased to three with Michael Waltrip joining Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the 2001 season.
As the race went on, Earnhardt and has team emerged as the class of the field. The four drivers combined to lead 54 laps, according to racing-reference.info.
Waltrip held the top spot ahead of Earnhardt Jr. with Dale Sr. running third as the laps wound down.
Everyone knows what happened on the last lap. Waltrip led Dale Earnhardt Jr. across the finish line for his first career victory. Behind him, contact with Sterling Marlin sent Earnhardt's car into the outside wall with tragic results as one of the sport's greatest drivers lost his life.
It was the darkest day in the sport's history. Earnhardt was the third driver killed in NASCAR competition in a matter of 12 months, the worst stretch the sport had seen since the 1960s.
Earnhardt's death led to across-the-board safety improvements. Half-face helmets like the one Earnhardt was wearing were banned, head and neck restraint systems like the HANS device became mandatory, and NASCAR increased its research of "soft wall" technology that led to the SAFER barrier.
Moreover, Earnhardt became a martyr. He was voted the sport's most popular driver, and more than 10 years later, you can't go to a NASCAR race without seeing the black No. 3 everywhere you turn.
August 4, 2002: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Kurt Busch had a hard hit during the 2002 Brickyard 400, but his impact was lessened by the newly installed SAFER Barriers.
When NASCAR returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 2002 running of the Brickyard 400, there was something a little different about the old track.
Every corner was lined with an aluminum wall, padded by a series of foam cushions. Developed by the Speedway, these SAFER Barriers were installed to absorb the energy of an impact, softening the force of the blow experienced by the driver.
Every track that hosts one of NASCAR's top touring divisions (with the exception of Eldora Speedway) now sports a variation of the SAFER Barrier as mandated by NASCAR, but just 11 years ago, no one knew what a soft wall would do a stock car.
As Ed Hinton's 2001 column for the Los Angeles Times asserts, there was legitimate concern that the barriers could actually create a harder impact, or worse, would send a car ricocheting back down the track into traffic.
Thankfully the SAFER barrier did none of those. Several drivers had the opportunity to "test" it during the Brickyard 400, most notably Kurt Busch, who took a hard hit that you can see in the above video.
The fact that he was able to get out of the car and show his displeasure with Jimmy Spencer proved the walls were a success, and it wasn't long before every track on the Winston Cup circuit became SAFER.
September 14, 2003: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Dale Jarrett's accident at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2003 led to the introduction of field freezing and the "free pass."
There was a gentleman's agreement in NASCAR that you never raced back to the caution. This allowed lapped cars to bypass the leader and get their laps back at the time of caution. The system worked well, but the potential for danger was always there.
That potential became reality at the September race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2003. Dale Jarrett suffered a hard crash on the front straight that left his car sitting backwards on track.
Meanwhile, the leaders had slowed down to let some of the lapped cars past, and as you can see in the above video, an entire pack of drivers came rumbling through the fourth turn, heading straight for Jarrett's disabled car.
Thankfully everyone missed him, but NASCAR took notice.
The gentleman's agreement was replaced by an actual rule: the field was frozen at the time of the caution. The first car one lap down would be allowed to pass the pace car and return to the lead lap.
It was a change that was long overdue, one that has helped countless drivers whose cars were stuck sitting in harm's way in front of the field.
November 16, 2003: Homestead-Miami Speedway
Matt Kenseth earned his first championship in 2003, becoming the last Winston Cup champion in the process.
Matt Kenseth had already clinched the NASCAR Winston Cup championship by the time the series rolled into Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale.
It's a good thing, too, because Kenseth finished last in the 43-car field after dropping out with an engine failure on lap 28.
But the real story of this race wasn't what was happening on track, it was what was happening in the boardroom. When the checkered flag dropped on Bobby Labonte, it also dropped on the Winston Cup era.
R.J. Reynolds had announced earlier in the year that it was pulling out of the sport because of economic reasons, as reported at the time, as reported by USA Today's Gary Graves.
In total, 33 Winston Cups had been handed out, starting with Richard Petty in 1971, and ending with Matt Kenseth in 2003.
NASCAR's biggest division would become the Nextel Cup Series in 2004, and even bigger changes were in store for the championship, solidifying Kenseth's place as NASCAR's last "full-season" champion.
July 31, 2004: Michigan International Speedway
With his victory for Toyota at Michigan in 2004, Travis Kvapil put a foreign mark in Victory Lane for the first time in 50 years.
In the early days of the sport, imported cars were common on NASCAR tracks, but it had been 50 years since a foreign mark visited NASCAR Victory Lane.
Al Keller drove a Jaguar to victory around the two-mile road course at New Jersey's Linden Airport in 1954. Four of the top six drivers were racing Jaguars in a race that also featured a handful of MG's, an Austin-Healey and a Morgan, according to racing-reference.info.
For the next five decades, NASCAR was exclusively an American series. The rules never prohibited a foreign manufacturer, but none had ever built a car to NASCAR's specifications.
That changed when Toyota decided to enter the Craftsman Truck Series with its V8 Tundra truck .
Toyota entered with a bang, recruiting some of the series' top drivers including Mike Skinner, Johnny Benson and defending series champion Travis Kvapil.
Kvapil had nearly given Toyota a win in its first event, finishing a close second to Carl Edwards in the season opener at Daytona, but the Japanese manufacturer was still winless when the series arrived at Michigan in July.
It was here that Toyota's dominance began. Kavpil brought home the victory with three of the top four positions going to Toyota drivers.
Toyota now has more than 100 victories in the Truck Series, and that success has translated to the Sprint Cup ranks where Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing field some of the best cars in the series.
If not for the Truck Series success Toyota may never have made the move to Sprint Cup, and today's grid would look a whole lot different.
September 19, 2004: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Kurt Busch stood tall at the end of 300 miles at New Hampshire in 2004, winning the first race of in the history of the Chase.
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Along with a change in name from Winston Cup to Nextel Cup, NASCAR's top series got a points system makeover following the 2003 season.
A ten-race Chase for the Championship was established to determine the title at the end of the season. The top ten drivers in the standings would have their points reset before heading to New Hampshire for the first Chase race.
It was there that Kurt Busch made history by winning the first race in the history of the Chase. Busch led 155 laps and finished more than two seconds ahead of fellow Chase competitor Matt Kenseth, according to racing-reference.info.
Busch parlayed his victory into a series championship, being crowned the first Nextel Cup champion at the end of the season.
NASCAR has continued to tweak the Chase in the years that have passed, but the playoff system is here to stay, and Kurt Busch ushered in the playoff era in a big way.
June 8, 2005: Eldora Speedway
Tony Stewart's Prelude to the Dream, an all-star late model race started in 2005, helped pave the way for NASCAR's return to dirt in 2013.
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When Tony Stewart purchased Eldora Speedway in 2004 the track was already a Mecca for dirt track fans. The annual running of "The Dream" attracted drivers and fans from across the country for the biggest dirt late model race of the year.
In 2005, Stewart decided that The Dream was not enough. Stewart gathered 14 racing all-stars, including former Cup champions Matt Kenseth, Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte, NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps, and dirt track legend Red Farmer.
In a 25-lap exhibition race that was televised on Pay-Per-View, Kenny Wallace beat track owner Tony Stewart in the first running of the Prelude to the Dream.
The race became one of the biggest events of the summer, with everyone from Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan.
The success of the race, combined with the passion of the drivers helped pave the way for NASCAR's return to the dirt, and in June of 2013, Eldora Speedway played host to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the first dirt race for NASCAR since 1970.
If not for Tony Stewart's vision to create the Prelude to the Dream, NASCAR may never have gone dirt track racing again.
November 19, 2006: Homestead-Miami Speedway
Jimmie Johnson earned his first of five Sprint Cup (formerly Nextel Cup) championships with a ninth place finish at Homestead in 2006.
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Jimmie Johnson was a contender from the time he arrived in the Sprint Cup Series. He finished fifth in points during his rookie year in 2002 and followed that up with a pair of runner-up championship finishes and another fifth place run in 2005.
But 2006 was the year everything clicked.
Johnson entered the season finale at Homestead-Miami with a sizable 63-point lead over Matt Kenseth. With a ninth place finish in the Ford 400, Johnson wrapped up his first career Nextel Cup Championship, a crown he would hold for five seasons.
Johnson's run at the top of the sport has been nothing short of remarkable. He has earned 64 victories and never finished lower than sixth in the final point standings. His five-year run as champion shattered Cale Yarborough's record of three-in-a-row and may well be an untouchable record in today's age of parity in the sport.
Johnson earned his titles with a mix of dominance and consistency, and it was his top-10 finish at Homestead in 2006 that kicked off his time on top.
March 25, 2007: Bristol Motor Speedway
The car looked boxy, it had a front splitter that included a series of metal wires, and it had a giant rear wing that looked like it came off the back of a Top Fuel Dragster.
When NASCAR's long-awaited Car of Tomorrow debuted at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2007, it was supposed to usher in a new era of safety and competitiveness.
It may have made the series safer, but it did not draw praise from fans or drivers.
Standing in Victory Lane after earning the first victory of the COT era, Kyle Busch made his feelings known, saying on the FOX broadcast, "I'm still not a very big fan of things. I just can't stand to drive them. They suck."
Busch's comments resonated with NASCAR fans who rejected the car's look. The series made several changes to the car over the following five seasons, but eventually scrapped it for a redesign in 2013.
April 26, 2009: Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega, 2009 was the beginning of tandem drafting. It also saw Carl Edwards' car go flying against the catchfence at the finish.
Talladega, 2009 was marked by the emergence of Brad Keselowski, the advent of tandem drafting and the unwated return of airborne cars.
The idea that two cars could run faster than the full pack was a new idea in 2009. Since the first restrictor plate race in 1987, drivers have strove to remain in the main pack, jockeying for position with twenty other drivers in two and three rows of traffic.
But once drivers discovered that two cars were faster than three, it changed the racing forever.
At the end of the race, a pair of two-car drafts developed with Carl Edwards and Keselowski paired up against Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
When Edwards went to block Keselowski, the two cars made contact, sending Edwards' car spinning up into the catchfence.
Edwards' flight prompted NASCAR to start looking at removing the rear wing, and less than a year later the wing was ditched for a more traditional spoiler.
The win helped Keselowski land a ride with Penske Racing for 2010, a move that resulted in a 2012 Sprint Cup championship run. It also ignited a rivalry between Keselowski and Edwards which saw the two in several dust-ups in the coming years, including a memorable flight for Keselowski at Atlanta the following year.
February 24, 2013: Daytona International Speedway
Danica Patrick's pole was historic, but the new Generation 6 cars that debuted at Daytona will shape NASCAR for years to come.
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NASCAR entered a new era at the 2013 Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson earning the victory in the first race for the new Generation 6 Sprint Cup cars.
The new cars are once again based off production models, retaining the same look on the nose and rear ends as their street-legal counterparts.
At the same time, NASCAR reached a new milestone after Danica Patrick qualified on pole for the race. It was the first time a woman had ever started from the pole position in the Sprint Cup Series, and her fourth place finish in the race was a new record for female drivers.
What impact these will have on the future remains to be seen, but there is no denying that both the new Gen-6 car and a successful full-time female driver driver will impact the sport for years to come.