NASCAR's Top 10 Defining Moments

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2008

There will always be certain moments that we will never forget. They may be highlights from our favorite athlete or teams or just that single moment from a sport that will always stay with us; they are the ones that made us stop and stare in awe.

There's Richard Petty's and Dale Earnhardt's seven cup championships. There's Petty's two hundred victories.

There's Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s emotional victory in the Pepsi 400 and the image of him carrying the American flag after September 11, 2001 at Dover.

And who can forget Tony Stewart's (2001) and Clint Bowyer's (2007) wild rides in the Daytona 500?

The following are ten moments that I believe are some of the great highlights and defining moments of NASCAR.

10) R.J. Reynolds Leaves And The Chase Is Born

For thirty three years, NASCAR's top division was known as the Winston Cup Series. Their red and white colors were as synonymous with NASCAR as it's southern roots and generations of families.

In late 2003, R.J. Reynolds and Winston announced they were pulling out of the sport beginning in 2004, clearing the way for Nextel Corportation, now Sprint.

And along with a new name came a new way to race for the championship. The now twelve man, ten race Chase for the Championship was born.

The first year of the chase saw Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon in the closest title battle in history with Kurt Busch the champion by eight points.

9) Jack Roush Finally Wins A Championship

When Matt Kenseth won the 2003 Sprint Cup, it was the first for both himself and car owner Jack Roush. Roush had come so close so many times with Mark Martin who finished second in points on four different occasions.

"I feel like I've just crashed through a plate glass window. It's been painful getting through it...We've learned to come up short and to be able to get through it this time with Robbie (Reiser) and Matt, it's just a tremendous relief."

The following year Roush won his second championship with Kurt Busch.

8) A Dark Day In Martinsville

As the Sprint Cup Series raced in Martinsville, Virginia, a plane owned by Hendrick Motorsports crashed in the Bull Mountain area due to heavy fog.

All ten members on board were killed: Rick Hendrick's son Ricky and brother John, John's twin daughters Kimberly and Jennifer, Dupont executive Joe Jackson, HMS general manager Jeff Turner, chief engine builder Randy Dorton, pilot for Tony Stewart's plane Scott Lathram, and the pilots of the plane: Richard Tracy and Elizabeth Morrison.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson won the race that day but the teams, fans, and media did not learn of the events until after the race was over.

Instead of a burnout and victory celebration, NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter came on screen to tell of the horrifying event.

Victory lane sat empty and quiet.

For the remainder of the season all Hendrick Motorsports cars carried a special decal on their car hoods; Jimmie Johnson went back to victory lane the following week in Atlanta.

7) The Closest Finish In NASCAR History

There have been plenty of close finishes over the years, but nothing like Darlington in 2003.

Over the final four laps, Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven swapped the lead back and forth, and traded paint, sparks, and tire smoke all the way to the finish line for the closest finish in NASCAR history. Ricky Craven beat Busch by 0.002 seconds, which equates to about three inches.

"This will always be the greatest race of my life," said Craven.

"It was awesome. That's what it's all about," Busch said. "There was so much going on. My arms were numb, my brain was numb. The car felt like it weighed 10,000 pounds."

6) The Talladega Tussle

During any restrictor plate race at either Daytona or Talladega there's bound to be multiple lead changes.

However the bar was set, and not yet matched, in the 1984 Winston 500 when there was 75 lead changes.

The final lead change put Cale Yarborough in the lead and then victory lane.

5) Kevin Harvick's Victory at Atlanta

Three weeks after the death of Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick edged Jeff Gordon to win the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 by 0.006 seconds.

Afterward Harvick did a "John Force" burnout down the front stretch and held three fingers up, as did the fans. And everyone cried.

"I'm just thrilled," Richard Childress said. "I kept praying for Dale to help us and he did."

4) Hendrick Motorsports Spanks The Competition In 2007

It's obvious that HMS is a dominant company and have accomplished almost everything there is in NASCAR.

But after the performance that Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon turned in in 2007, it may never be match, not even by them.

Jeff Gordon led the series with a record 30 top ten finishes and racked up six victories.

During the Chase ,as he tried to capture his fifth championship, Gordon had a 5.1 finishing average. He would finish second in points.

That's because Jimmie Johnson went out and won ten races, including four straight during the Chase, which gave him a 5.0 finishing average in The Chase and his second championship.

At the end of the year, the HMS organization had 18 of 36 victories, with Casey Mears and Kyle Busch also adding a win apiece.

3) "The Fight"

The 1979 Daytona 500 was the first race that was televised in it's entirety.

At the end of a long day Donnie Allison was leading with Cale Yarborough in second. On the last lap Yarborough tried to draft by on the inside and the two would bump and bang door-to-door down the backstretch before crashing in the turn three wall.

The two got out of their cars and began to argue when Donnie's brother Bobby pulled up. More words were exchanged and that's when Bobby said "Cale went to beating my fist with his nose. And that's my story and I'm sticking to it."

It did become a story, one that was told for many days after that and helped prompt NASCAR's popularity.

2) Introducing Toyota

In January of 2006 Toyota Motorsports announced they would be entering the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series full time in 2007.

In 2004 they entered the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and a year later they started to dominate. Todd Bodine led the charge with six wins and a year after that he was the champion.

But in 2007 Toyota had no success in the Cup Series as their drivers struggled and the fans weren't welcoming.

So before 2008 they decided to make major changes and spent the money to recruit Joe Gibbs Racing. That's when they dominance began.

Kyle Busch was the star of the Daytona 500 and three weeks later he gave Toyota their first cup victory in Atlanta. Seven more followed and he led the Cup standings for nineteen straight weeks.

Denny Hamlin also added a victory at Martinsville in April.

And it won't be long before the continuely growing Red Bull Racing breaks into the winners circle.

1) The Life And Death Of Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt lived to race at the Daytona International Speedway. It would be where he died.

The Intimidator won thirty four races at Daytona, from Nationwide races to everything in the Cup series-except the Daytona 500. For so many years, nineteen, heartbreak after heartbreak kept him from winning the Great American Race.

Then in 1998, the most anticipated moment in motorsports occurred as Dale Earnhardt finally won a race he loved very much.

It was his first and only.

Three years later Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500, February 18, 2001.

After Earnhardt's death NASCAR kicked their safety concerns into high gear. They began developing a newer, safer car which is now used today. They demanded that all drivers wear the head and neck safety device (HANS) and put soft walls at every track.

Drivers began to personally switch to the full faced helmets.

Earnhardt's death made it all too real that even the one's we thought were invincible are not and the impact of his death continues to affect many still today.

"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver," said chairman Bill France. "And I personally have lost a great friend."


Tony Tackles the Brickyard

Much was made of Dale Earnhardt Jr winning the Daytona 500 and the great moment it was and everyone wondered and waited for Indiana's son, Tony Stewart, to kiss the bricks.

After many years of heartbreak and a run in with a photographer, Stewart finally won at his home track in 2005.

Starting twenty-second, Stewart methodically and patiently worked his way through the field to lead 44 of 160 laps.

"This is one of those days that I don't want to end," Stewart said. "I don't want to see the sun set."

But the sun did set for Kasey Kahne, who Stewart passed with ten laps to go on his way to kissing the bricks.

"I know part of it hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "Then when I realized that, I was like, we ran so well and missed it so many times, it was like, 'I know I can win at the Brickyard one day,' So finally today was that day."

"I'm the first Indiana-born driver to win the Brickyard 400. That's an award and an honor that I'm proud to have finally."

The next great moment and highlight is just around the corner...


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