The Big One (NASCAR)
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Coining the phrase
By the mid-1990s, competitors and media began taking note of the multi-car wrecks at Daytona and Talladega. In 1997, Dale Earnhardt described a final-lap crash at the 1997 Pepsi 400 as "the Big Wreck". News articles began using the term "Big Wreck" to describe such crashes in 1998, and by 1999, its use was widespread. Drivers began to openly admit they were apprehensive of its possibility.
One of the first times the term "The Big One" was used on-air was during the Winston 500 on ESPN October 11, 1998. Commentator Bob Jenkins said during the crash on lap 134 "this is the big one we hoped we would not have." One of the first published instances of the term "The Big One," was an Apr 18, 2000, article on ESPN.com about a crash in the DieHard 500. The term was also being used informally by fans on message boards.
During the 2001 Daytona 500 Fox commentator Darrell Waltrip used the term on-air to describe an 18-car crash in the backstretch on lap 173: "It's the big one, gang; it's The Big One. It's what we've all been fearing in this kind of racing is going to happen."
By 2001, the phrase was widely used by competitors, fans, and in print and broadcast media. It soon became standard NASCAR vernacular, and became a retronym to describe past such accidents as well.
By 2009, Talladega Superspeedway marketed itself on the notorious crashes, with a one-third-pound frankfurter sold at the track called "The Big One".
Sprint Cup Series
- 2012 Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500: On lap 189, the last lap of a green-white-checker restart following Jamie McMurray's spin with five laps to go, Tony Stewart tried to block the advancing draft of Michael Waltrip and Casey Mears in turn four. As Stewart moved down to block Waltrip, he was passed on the outside by Matt Kenseth (the only car ahead of the crash; would go on to win the race). Stewart came across the front of Waltrip's car, turned sideways, and spun up into the pack, collecting 24 other cars (25 in all): Waltrip, Mears, Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Sam Hornish, Jr., Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Regan Smith, Dave Blaney, Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex, Jr., David Gilliland, Terry Labonte, Landon Cassill, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch. Stewart's car went upside down and landed on top of Kahne, Menard, and Bowyer before flipping back over and coming to rest at the exit of turn four. Gordon and Kyle Busch escaped the wreck on the apron with only minor damage to finish in second and third place, respectively. Most of the cars were caught in the initial pileup; however, five cars (Keselowski, Truex, Bobby Labonte, Cassill, and Gilliland) were swept up as the others cars began the spin down into the infield and another (Hamlin) spun out by himself and sustained front-end damage. Travis Kvapil, Greg Biffle, and Ryan Newman avoided the wreck at the back of the pack to take top-ten finishes. Following this crash, Earnhardt, Jr., who had taken a few hard hits in the crash, was diagnosed with a concussion, requiring him to sit out the next two races (Charlotte and Kansas). He was replaced by Regan Smith at both of them.
- 2014 Sprint Unlimited: On lap 36, going through the tri-oval, Matt Kenseth attempted to move to the inside to carry his momentum around the slightly slower car of Brad Keselowski; however, he didn't have enough room and was turned by Joey Logano. As Kenseth came back up the track, he collected Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.. Stewart and Gordon ended up pinned against the wall, with Busch's front end under Gordon's car and Stenhouse's front end under Busch's car. Danica Patrick spun out while trying to miss both the larger crash and the spinning car of Edwards, but she did not hit anything. As her car came to a stop, she was t-boned by the accelerating Stenhouse, who couldn't see because of front-end damage and was trying to make it back to the garage. Kevin Harvick was also involved in the crash, but his damage was only from running through debris.
- 2002 Aaron's 312: On lap 14, the largest crash in modern NASCAR history (1972–present) took place at the exit of turn two, with 33 cars being involved. Three cars (Stacy Compton, Jason Keller, and Kenny Wallace) had cleared pole-sitter Johnny Sauter as the field started down the back-straightaway. Scott Riggs (fourth on the outside) tried to pass Wallace on the outside, but checked up, causing Shane Hmiel to get in the back of him. Subsequently, Kevin Grubb bumped Hmiel, causing both Riggs and Hmiel to come down the track and hit the right-rear of Sauter and the right-front of Joe Nemechek, respectively. The impact from Riggs' car caused Sauter's car to turn sideways and flip twice in the middle of the track, thus blocking the track and causing a massive pile-up behind. The drivers involved were Riggs, Hmiel, Grubb, Sauter, Nemechek, Todd Bodine, Larry Foyt, Jack Sprague, Jeff Purvis, Jimmy Kitchens, Chad Chaffin, Larry Gunselman, Randy Lajoie, Kerry Earnhardt, Tony Raines, Bobby Hamilton, Jr., Ashton Lewis, Mike McLaughlin, Lyndon Amick, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Scott Wimmer, Ron Hornaday, Jr., Shane Hall, Tim Sauter, Jay Sauter, Michael Waltrip, Joe Ruttman, Jimmy Spencer, Mike Wallace, Mike Harmon, Jeff Fuller, and Coy Gibbs. At the time of the crash, 41 of the 43 cars were on the track. Of those, only Compton, Keller, and Wallace (who were in front of the crash) and C.W. Smith, Hank Parker, Jr., Casey Mears, Andy Kirby, and Tim Fedewa (all of whom got slowed down in time to miss the crash) made it through without damage. This crash brought out a 40-minute red flag and caused one minor injury to Mike Harmon (required stitches for biting through his tongue).
- 2008 Aaron's 312: On lap 70, Kevin Lepage had returned to the track following a pit stop and merged onto the track right in front of the field. A few cars went around Lepage, but Carl Edwards ran over the back end of Lepage's car, causing Edwards to catch air and set off a huge 15 car pile up. The drivers involved were Lepage, Edwards, Kyle Busch, David Reutimann, Reed Sorenson, Brad Keselowski, Cale Gale, Patrick Carpentier, Mike Wallace, Kenny Wallace, Steve Wallace, Marcos Ambrose, Stephen Leicht, Kyle Krisiloff, and Kelly Bires.
- 2012 DRIVE4COPD 300: In turn 4 on the last lap, leader Kurt Busch attempted to block the two-car drafts of Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne, and Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler, who both had runs on him and drafting partner Kyle Busch. They all made contact, with Kurt Busch ending up sideways against the outside wall, Stewart and Sadler pinned to the wall by Bayne, and Logano spinning. Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. both moved to the bottom of the track, but Stenhouse turned Busch into the outside wall as they tried to miss the spinning. Kasey Kahne, Cole Whitt, and Brad Keselowski were also involved. James Buescher, who was 11th when the crash started, got through on the track apron to win.
- 2013 DRIVE4COPD 300: In the trioval, coming to the checkered flag on lap 120, leader Regan Smith was turned into the outside wall by second-place Brad Keselowski. Chaos ensued behind as 14 out of the 15 lead cars crashed in total. After hitting Smith, Keselowski himself was turned around by Sam Hornish, Jr. and went up the track in front of Kyle Larson, with Larson being turned sideways after he was hit in the back by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.. Larson pushed Keselowski's car right-side first into the wall just as two cars (Brian Scott and Justin Allgaier) from behind this crash impacted the right side Larson's car after they had hit the spinning Regan Smith, causing Larson's car to go airborne and fly up into the catchfence. The front tires and the engine of his car were torn out and landed on the spectator side of the fence as part the fence was torn down by the impact of Larson's car. Simultaneously, Elliott Sadler impacted Regan Smith's spinning car, almost causing it to go airborne as well. Also, past the start-finish line, Alex Bowman spun through the infield and across the track, making hard contact with the outside wall. After Bowman hit the wall, Earnhardt Jr. drove under him, jacking the rear of Bowman's car up in the air (very similar to Kyle Busch's crash in the 2009 Coke Zero 400 when Kasey Kahne drove under him). The drivers involved were Smith, Keselowski, Earnhardt, Hornish, Larson, Scott, Bowman, Sadler, Allgaier, Travis Pastrana, Parker Kligerman, Eric McClure, Robert Richardson, Jr., and Nelson Piquet, Jr.. Race winner Tony Stewart cut down through the infield and back up on the track to escape the melee. 28 spectators were injured, 14 of whom were treated at the infield care center and 14 of whom were taken to nearby hospitals, including seven taken to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, six more being taken to Halifax Health Medical Center in Port Orange, and one being taken to another area hospital. Six of those spectators sustained serious injuries.
- ESPN SpeedWorld - 1989 Winston 500, May 7, 1989,
- CBS Sports - 1992 Daytona 500, Feb 16, 1992,
- NASCAR on ABC- 1998 DieHard 500 telecast, 4/26/98
- ESPN SpeedWorld - 1994 Pepsi 400, Jul 7, 1990,
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- "Matt Kenseth Starts Huge Wreck in Segment 2 - Sprint Unlimited - 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup". Fox Sports (YouTube). February 15, 2014. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
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- "Final Laps: Buescher survives final lap mayhem". NASCAR (YouTube). February 25, 2012. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
- "2013 Drive4COPD Nationwide Kyle Larson crashes into fence". NASCAR (YouTube). February 23, 2013. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
- "Daytona Nationwide crash: 28 fans injured; Daytona 500 will go on as scheduled". AOL.SportingNews.com. February 23, 2013. Retrieved February 24, 2013.