Ranking the 10 Most Memorable Moments in NASCAR History

Paul Carreau@@PaulCarreauAnalyst IAugust 27, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Memorable Moments in NASCAR History

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    The history of NASCAR has many memorable moments. Regardless of anyone's knowledge of the sport there are some times that everyone is familiar with.

    There are moments of joy and disappointment and moments of triumph and tragedy.

    It is these elements that take a simple occurrence, a blip of time, and transform it into something special, something historical and something truly memorable.

    In the slides ahead we will count down the 10 times that have stood the test of time and become stories for generations to come.

    These are NASCAR's 10 most memorable moments.

10. The 1992 Hooters 500

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    The 1992 season-finale race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of the greatest and most notable races in NASCAR history.

    This race marked the final race in the career of Richard Petty, while it was the debut race for future series champion Jeff Gordon.

    The real story about the 1992 Hooters 500 was the battle for the series championship.

    Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki, Kyle Petty, Harry Gant and Mark Martin all came into the season's final event with a mathematical possibility of winning the title. 

    Through the course of the event championship hopefuls began to fall out of contention. Petty and Martin both had engine issues, ruining their chances, while Gant fought an ill-handling race car and was never a factor.

    Allison, who came into the event as the points leader, got caught up in an accident that ended his day early.

    That left the championship down to two men, Kulwicki and Elliott.

    The two fought at the front of the pack as they ran first and second, swapping the lead among themselves for most of the second half of the event.

    When the checkered flag waved, Elliott won the race, while Kulwicki finished second.

    However, thanks to leading one more lap than Elliott, Kulwicki earned the five-point bonus for leading the most laps and went on to win the championship by a mere 10 points.

    The 10-point margin was the closest in NASCAR history until 2004, when NASCAR adopted its current championship format. 

9. The Tide Slide

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    NASCAR's All-Star Race is a non-points counting event. The race is about bragging rights and a lot of money.

    The 1989 running of the All-Star Race featured $200,000 going to the winner. The end of the event showed just what some drivers are willing to do to collect the large bounty.

    Darrell Waltrip was leading the race with Rusty Wallace in hot pursuit. The duo was coming around to take the white flag when Wallace drove into the back of Waltrip's car.

    The contact sent Waltrip spinning as Wallace drove away and ultimately scored the win.

    That moment saw the two drivers seemingly switch roles in the eyes of the fans. Waltrip went from being disliked by the crowd to their new hero, while Wallace now inherited the role of the villain.

    During his post-race interview, Waltrip uttered one of the most famous lines in NASCAR history, when he said, "I hope he chokes on that $200,000."

8. Craven Wins a Photo Finish

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    The 2003 Sprint Cup race in Darlington came down to fractions of a second. Very small fractions. The finish saw Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch by just .002 seconds.

    The final two laps around the mile-and-a-third race track were edge-of-your-seat drama.

    The pair crossed the start/finish line side-by-side with two laps to go. They made contact going into Turn 1, which caused Busch to scrape the wall. He was quickly able to get back by Craven going down the backstretch.

    As the duo took the white flag, Craven was once again on the back bumper of Busch's car. They ran nose-to-tail all the way into Turn 3.

    Coming off Turn 4 Craven got to Busch's inside. The pair once again made contact, and the drag race was on as they made their way back to the start/finish line.

    The two cars continued to bounce off one another as they raced towards the checkered flag, with Craven ultimately scoring the win for just the second (and last) time in his career.

7. Lee Petty Wins Daytona 500 Three Days Later

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    The 1959 Daytona 500 was not only the first running of the Great American Race, it was also one of the most exciting.

    Only two cars finished the race on the lead lap, but it took NASCAR officials three days to determine which of the two was the actual winner.

    Going into the last lap, Lee Petty led Johnny Beauchamp. As the two cars raced toward the finish line, Beauchamp had pulled even with Petty, and both cars were quickly approaching a lapped car.

    Petty and Beauchamp crossed the line simultaneously with the lapped car directly to their outside.

    Beauchamp was originally declared the winner of the race, and he drove his car to Victory Lane. It wasn't until the following Wednesday, after reviewing photographs and newsreel footage, that NASCAR officials reversed the decision and awarded the win to Petty.

6. Richard Petty Wins His 200th Race

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    Richard Petty scored his 200th win on Independence Day in 1984. He won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, beating Cale Yarborough in a thrilling finish.

    As a caution flag waved on Lap 158 (of 160 laps), Petty and Yarborough raced back to the line to determine the winner.

    The two drivers raced side-by-side as they approached the waving checkered flag. Petty was able to cross the start/finish line just ahead of Yarborough and score the win, which would also end up being the last of his career.

    Making the 200th win all the more special for "The King" was that United States President Ronald Reagan was in attendance.

    Reagan would join Petty in Victory Lane to help celebrate the milestone win.

5. Pass in the Grass

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    The 1987 Winston (today known as the Sprint All-Star Race) was the first time that the event would be broken down into different segments. This event was to close with a 10-lap shootout.

    In the end it came down to Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott.

    With seven laps remaining, Earnhardt led Elliott coming out of Turn 4. As Elliott went down low to make the pass, Earnhardt went to block.

    Earnhardt went so low, in fact, that he drove his car into the infield grass. He was able to muscle his way back onto the track, all while never losing the lead.

    Though Earnhardt never actually made a pass, the move was given the name "the pass in the grass."

    Following the memorable drive through the infield, Earnhardt and Elliott made more contact on the next lap. As Elliott tried to make the pass on the high side, Earnhardt again went for the block.

    This time the resulting contact sent Elliott into the wall, causing a cut tire.

    Earnhardt would go on to claim the checkered flag for the first of his three All-Star wins.

4. Pearson and Petty Tangle in the 1976 Daytona 500

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    The finish to the 1976 Daytona 500 saw something that race fans of that generation were quite familiar with seeing. David Pearson and Richard Petty were locked in another hard-fought battle for supremacy.

    In the waning laps of the race, Pearson exercised his patience, simply being content to ride behind Petty. As the white flag waved, "The Silver Fox" made his move.

    Entering Turn 3, Pearson drove underneath Petty to claim the lead. Once clear, Pearson drifted up the track slightly, allowing Petty to dive back underneath him.

    As the cars exited Turn 4 Petty drifted high and made contact with Pearson. The No. 21 car of Pearson slammed into the outside wall as Petty tried to save his car.

    Petty was able to save his car briefly before losing control and careening into the wall. His car slid into the infield, where it lay stalled some 50 yards short of the finish line.

    Pearson, meanwhile, had somehow managed to keep his car running, and at a pace of no more than 25 miles per hour, was able to limp across the finish line to earn his first career Daytona 500 victory.

3. NASCAR's Darkest Day

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    Unfortunately, not all memorable moments are good ones.

    The 2001 Daytona 500 should have been a day of celebration. After failing to record a win in his first 462 starts, Michael Waltrip finally scored a victory, and it came in the sport's biggest race.

    But Waltrip's win was, and will always be, overshadowed by the death of Dale Earnhardt on the final lap.

    Waltrip and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran first and second as the field was racing towards the finish line, while their team owner Earnhardt rode in third.

    As the cars went through Turn 4, Earnhardt and Sterling Marlin made contact. Earnhardt lost control of his car and sailed up the race track, where he was hit in the passenger-side door by Ken Schrader.

    This impact sent Earnhardt nose first into the outside wall. The two cars then slid into the infield, where Earnhardt was eventually extricated from his car by medical personnel.

    Hours later, Earnhardt was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

2. Earnhardt Finally Wins the Daytona 500

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    After coming tantalizingly close in previous attempts, Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in 1998 after failing in his first 19 tries.

    The race was a relatively clean one by restrictor-plate standards. It featured just three cautions; none of them were for major incidents.

    The finish of the race saw a three-car battle between Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield. As Earnhardt led the trio of cars a caution flag flew with two laps to go.

    This race was prior to NASCAR's adoption of its current green-white-checker finish, which meant that it would end under caution and that Earnhardt would be victorious.

    While his win is significant, it was what happened after the checkered flag flew that is most memorable.

    As Earnhardt drove his car down pit road towards Victory Lane, every member of all opposing teams made their way on to pit road to congratulate Earnhardt.

    It was an honor well deserved for the seven-time series champion.

1. The Fight

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    Richard Petty won his sixth Daytona 500 in 1979. But that isn't what anyone remembers about this race. The fight that occurred in the infield between the Allison brothers and Cale Yarborough is what put NASCAR on the mainstream map.

    As the field took the white flag, Donnie Allison and Yarborough were more than half of a lap ahead of the field. As the two made their way down the backstretch, Yarborough went to make the pass on Allison.

    Allison attempted a block and the two cars made contact. Eventually the two cars locked together and crashed into the outside wall. They then slid down the track and into the infield, where they came to rest.

    Petty drove by and scored the win, but the stage had just been set for NASCAR's most memorable moment.

    As Allison and Yarborough exited their cars, a heated discussion began about the accident. That's when Bobby Allison arrived on scene to come to his brother's aid.

    Allison stopped his car near the two wrecked cars, and soon after, a fight broke out between the Allisons and Yarborough.

    The fight made national headlines, as this race was the first NASCAR race to ever be televised live from start to finish.

    The 1979 Daytona 500 is arguably the most important race in NASCAR history.