If you are a NASCAR fan, you look forward to the races at Daytona and Talladega every year. When it comes to excitement, these races deliver consistently. From big crashes, to pack racing, to lead changes, and exciting finishes, the four restrictor plate races rarely disappoint. Without further ado, from past to present, here are the best restrictor plate races of the last 20 years.
The 1993 Daytona 500 had a bit of everything, including Al Unser Jr. in a stock car, Kyle Petty and Bobby Hillin Jr. fighting after a crash and Rusty Wallace flipping down the backstretch. The race ended in a great battle between Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett, with Jarrett completing a last lap pass while being called on from the TV booth by his father, Ned. It gave owner Joe Gibbs his first win, and left Earnhardt still searching for a Daytona 500 victory.
In a race that looked like any other while being dominated by Rusty Wallace in the first half, a mid-race caution bunched the field up and set-up a big crash when Kenny Irwin bumped his teammate Dale Jarrett, sending him flipping and a dozen other cars crashing into each other. This was followed by failed pit strategy by the Penske cars, and a great battle between Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt over the final laps as the pack went five-wide at one point.
Gordon ended up beating Earnhardt back to the line for his second Daytona 500 win.
The perfect example of what Talladega is. Dale Earnhardt coming from 17 to first in the final four laps to win his 76 and final race. Forty-nine lead changes throughout the race with constant three-wide racing allowed this race to live up to its potential.
Twenty-one different drivers led as the cars were able to go from front to back to front again with relative ease. Earnhardt used the draft from Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek to pass Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and win the race as the field crashed past the finish line.
On a day that will go down in infamy, the 2001 Daytona 500 was still a good race. Forty-nine lead changes led to a huge crash when Robby Gordon hit Ward Burton, sending Tony Stewart flying through the air over 20 other wrecked cars. This created a shootout over the last laps between Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his two cars, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. While Waltrip and Earnhardt Jr. pulled away,
Earnhardt Sr. appeared to be fending off the challenge from behind before he and Schrader crashed on the final lap, leading to Earnhardt's sudden death. Michael Waltrip won his first Winston Cup race in over 400 starts.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. father's death was still fresh in everyone's mind. His teammates won the first two races of the year, and his dad's replacement, Kevin Harvick, won the Atlanta race. After a big crash late, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came from sixth to first on the last restart to win an exciting Pepsi 400. In a reverse of the Daytona 500, Michael Waltrip fended off the challenges to finish second behind his teammate, resulting in an emotional celebration in the front stretch infield following the race.
This race had an incredible finish, as Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart were three-wide for the lead with five laps to go in front of a snarling 30-car pack. A competitive race all day led to a final lap crash involving Labonte, Bobby Hamilton and nearly 20 other cars.
Earnhardt Jr. asserted his restrictor plate dominance with a series of impressive passes as he beat Stewart and Jeff Burton back for the win.
The 2002 Daytona 500 was a very odd race. Dave Marcis's final race ended early, while a fiery 20-car crash set up a late race battle between Kurt Busch, Sterling Marlin and Jeff Gordon, until Marlin punted the leader Gordon as the caution came out for a multi-car wreck behind them.
During the ensuing red flag with five laps to go, Marlin got out of his car to try to pull the fender away from one of his tires. You cannot touch the car under a red flag, so Marlin went to the back of the field, clearing the way for Ward Burton to win the Daytona 500, beating Elliott Sadler and Geoffrey Bodine back to the finish.
An incredible wreck caused by Ryan Newman's lost tire involved nearly 30 cars on the fourth lap. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to rally from nearly a lap down with damage to take the lead in a controversial pass of Matt Kenseth with five laps to go, going nearly below the yellow line to make the pass.
The lack of undamaged cars still managed to provide great racing as Earnhardt Jr. won his fourth straight Talladega race, beating Kevin Harvick and Elliott Sadler to the finish.
The first restrictor plate race with the Lucky Dog Award saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. rally from a lap down to finish second, points leader Matt Kenseth blow an engine while running second and Buckshot Jones leading 20 laps in his final Winston Cup race.
The field was bunched up near the end of the race by a series of engine failures, which caused Elliott Sadler to go on one of the wildest rides at Talladega, flipping down the backstretch off the bumper of Kurt Busch. Michael Waltrip came out on top, blocking three lanes of cars coming out of the final turn to win, and celebrating by exiting the car through the new escape hatch on the top.
The first three-quarters of this race were quiet until leaders Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart crashed each other. This set up a crash-filled final lap as Mark Martin tried to hang on for his first Daytona 500 win after over two decades of trying.
Kevin Harvick came from seventh on the final lap to challenge for the lead, and as they raced door-to-door out of the final turn, the field crashed each other behind them, sending 20 cars across the track, and Clint Bowyer across the finish line upside-down and on fire. Harvick beat Martin back to the finish by a fender.
Any time a race ends up four wide and four wide behind them, it is worthy of being a great race. Eighty-eight lead changes, including the last six laps changed hands. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. came out of nowhere, passing Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin on the bottom coming to the finish, as Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick went on the high side for second place.
Had the finish line been in the tri-oval, Gordon would have won, and had it been in Turn One, Carl Edwards would've won as he and Greg Biffle scraped along the outside wall to make it 4 wide, but it was too late, as Johnson crossed the line first by .002 seconds, the second closest finish in NASCAR history.