ESPN has literally broadcast thousands of different types of auto races. From 1979 through 2000 their telecasts of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events helped elevate the sport from a regional series to a nationally recognized commodity. NASCAR's top series has changed names throughout that time period from Grand National to Winston Cup and the exciting finishes changed sitting fans to standing and screaming fans.
The network regained NASCAR broadcast right in 2007 but here are my top ten Winston Cup finishes from ESPN's first stint as a television partner.
10. August 22, 1982: Bobby Allison, driving for DiGard Racing, uses his Gatorade Buick to hold off Richard Petty's last lap charge in the STP Pontiac for a narrow win in the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The overcast day had Allison leading and Petty closing in as the race wound down. The King tried but couldn't get the lead in a battle of two of the sport's greats.
9. March 13, 1983: Another Petty finish but this time Richard winds up in victory lane. The Carolina 500 in Rockingham, NC was green flagged on March 6 but rains halted the event before halfway and before NASCAR's next clear day policy. A beautiful spring day greeted the fans one week later and Petty held off a charge from Bill Elliott by about half a car length. Petty celebrated the win with a Carolina blue sky in the background while Elliott lamented the loss as he was searching for his first career win.
8. September 1, 1985: Bill Elliott wins the Winston Million the first year it was offered by claiming a Southern 500 title. Cale Yarborough, Harry Gant, and Dale Earnhardt offered strong challenges to Elliott but each had their own troubles and paved the way for "Million Dollar Bill." The roar of the crowd was drowning out the roar of the engines in the late laps.
7. October 15, 1989: Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd collide and spin on the final lap of the Holly Farms 400 in North Wilkesboro, N.C. Heading into turn one after the white flag waved Earnhardt held the lead while Rudd moved to the inside to pass. Neither men gave an inch, the cars touched, and spun clearing a lane for third place Geoff Bodine to head to the checkered flag.
6. April 8, 1990: Davey Allison in Robert Yates Havoline Ford nips fellow Ford driver Mark Martin's Folger's car at the finish line. The asphalt surface was breaking up during Bristol's Valleydale Meats 500 leaving a one lane groove on the high side. Sterling Marlin spun from third on the final lap off of turn two while seconds later Martin threw caution to the wind and took a stab at Allison. Roughly an eight inch margin of victory.
5. August 18, 1991: Dale Jarrett's Wood Brothers Ford holds off Davey Allison for his first win in the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan. This was Jarrett's first Winston Cup win and was a photo finish. Ned Jarrett, Dale's father, was working the broadcast booth for ESPN and there are some shots of Ned showing the emotion of seeing his son win.
4. May 2,1993: Ernie Irvan's Kodak Chevy passes Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win the Winston 500 at Talladega, AL while Rusty Wallace crashes and flips several times as he crosses the finish line.
3. July 2, 1994: A steamy Daytona Beach FL hosted the annual midsummer Pepsi 400 and Jimmy Spencer captured his first Winston Cup win. His McDonald's car pulled alongside Ernie Irvan's Havoline machine on the turn two exit. The two Fords ran door to door until the finish line with Spencer's Junior Johnson prepared entry squeaking out a slim victory.
2. August 26, 1995: The first of two memorable Terry Labonte-Dale Earnhardt last lap crash/finishes at Bristol, TN. Earnhardt hits Labonte in the rear sending the Kellogg's Chevy into the wall and under the finish line in a shower of sparks, smoke, and twisted steel. Labonte's mangled car is towed to Goody's 500 victory lane.
1. August 28, 1999: Earnhardt/Labonte/Goody's 500/Bristol,TN round 2. Labonte changes four tires late and makes a run on leader Earnhardt's black Chevy. The Kellogg's car takes the lead going into turn one on the white flag lap and Earnhardt's front bumper sends Labonte around in turn two. On the half a lap race to the checkered Jimmy Spencer challenges for the win against a backdrop of thousands of flashbulbs. The Intimidator scores another win in front of 160,000 screaming fans.
There are plenty of other races that were edge of your seat thrillers as well. Let the debating begin.