Sparks Energy 300
|NASCAR Xfinity Series|
|Location||Talladega, Alabama, United States|
|Corporate sponsor||Sparks Energy|
|Distance||300.08 miles (482.93 km)|
|Previous names||Fram Filter 500k (1992–1994)
Humminbird Fishfinder 500K (1995–1996)
Birmingham Auto Dealers 500K (1997)
Touchstone Energy 300 (1998–2000)
Subway 300 (2001)
Aaron's 312 at Talladega (2002)
Aaron's 312 (2003–2014)
Winn-Dixie 300 (2015)
|Most wins (driver)||Martin Truex Jr. (3)|
|Most wins (team)||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Joe Gibbs Racing (5)
|Most wins (manufacturer)||Chevrolet (14)|
|Length||2.66 mi (4.28 km)|
The Sparks Energy 300 is a NASCAR Xfinity Series race held at Talladega Superspeedway, a 300.08-mile-long (483 km) race, It is held annually before the Sprint Cup Series race, the GEICO 500, the 500.08-mile-long (805 km) race.
From its inception in 1992 through 1996, the race was held in the summer, as a support race to the Talladega DieHard 500. When the DieHard 500 moved to the fall, this race moved to the spring, as a support race to the spring Cup event.
Large wrecks involving 20 or more cars have occurred a number of times in the history of the event, most notably in 2002. 30 cars were involved in an accident on the backstretch on lap 14, with 19 knocked out of the race at that point. The remainder of the race, following a long red-flag period, had little resemblance to typical restrictor plate racing as only two cars were within short distance at the checkered flag and only three finished on the lead lap.
Unique race distance
At its inception, the event debuted as a 500-kilometer (310 mi) event, the longest race on the NASCAR Busch Series schedule. Automobile races in the United States measured in kilometers, especially those in NASCAR, are few. Through their history, ARCA races held at the track carried the more attractive and marketable "500" distance, even if it meant "500 kilometers" instead of miles (a custom also used at Riverside and Phoenix). The Busch Series race mimicked that precedent.
In 1998, fans complained about the use of kilometers, which was seen as a European custom. They argued that kilometers are rarely used in the United States, noting that the track measurement itself was still advertised in miles. Management changed the race to a 300-mile (480 km) event from 1998-2001. The change shortened the race distance by just four laps.
In 2002, Aaron's assumed title sponsorship and returned the race to a 312-mile (502 km) event. The race distance is only coincidental to that of 1992-1997. The distance, advertised unequivocally in miles this time, was set to reflect the sponsor's slogan ("3 ways to buy, 12 reasons to shop at Aaron's"). In 2015, the race returned to 300 miles.
- 1993: The race lead changed 24 times at the stripe and several other times elsewhere as Dale Earnhardt battled Ernie Irvan and others. In the final laps Michael Waltrip squeezed ahead of Earnhardt but fell to second; Irvan led a three-car draft from several seconds back to challenge for the win, but on the final lap was hit by Tracy Leslie and flew twenty feet off the ground before landing on all four wheels; Earnhardt chopped off Leslie in Turn Three and Randy LaJoie stormed three wide to finish second.
- 1994: The lead changed 30 times and was interrupted by only two cautions, none for any kind of accident, as Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte rocketed to the 1-2 finish with two laps to go.
- 1995: Ward Burton and Randy LaJoie both went for wild rides in separate accidents. LaJoie's crash came when he was driving in relief of Tommy Houston; with eight laps to go Jeff Fuller spun out of fourth and LaJoie slid sideways then got launched into a tumble; behind them Robbie Reiser hit the wall, plowed through another car's nose and his throttle stuck open, sending him into a savage crash into the pit wall.
- 1996: In the final laps, amid a 20-car battle behind leader Greg Sacks, Todd Bodine was tagged, flew into the air, landed on his wheels, and pounded the inside wall. Sacks held on for the win, his first in NASCAR since 1985.
- 1999: Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek got into a last-lap drag race and crossed the finish line nose to nose. It took nearly three minutes of examining the photo-finish video before NASCAR declared that Labonte had edged Nemecheck by inches at the stripe.
- 2001: Mike McLaughlin scores a surprising victory in the unsponsored #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac. McLaughlin won the race controversially, however, as he swerved his car below the yellow line to block other cars. The move drew the ire of veteran Jimmy Spencer, and NASCAR subsequently declared the double yellow line at Daytona and Talladega an out-of-bounds area.
- 2002: In what is probably the largest Big One in the Modern Era of NASCAR, Johnny Sauter flipped violently halfway down the backstretch and sparked a thirty-car melee on lap 14 including Greg Biffle, Shane Hmiel, Randy LaJoie, Joe Nemechek, Mike McLaughlin, Jay Sauter, Scott Riggs and others. Jason Keller, Stacy Compton and Kenny Wallace and a few drivers behind the wreck did not get damage. Michael Waltrip had a save close to colliding. On lap 46, Stacy Compton's decal ripped of his hood and got stuck at the base of the windshield, leaving a blank hood. With 8 laps to go, Kenny Wallace blew an engine and finished 9th, leaving three cars on the lead lap and two in contention to win. Jason Keller won the race, Stacy Compton came in second, and supposedly start and park Tim Fedewa came in third, half a lap down.
- 2004: NASCAR mandated the roof blade aerodynamic package for the Busch Series cars, the return of this package since it was run in Winston Cup in 2001. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. racecars finished 1-2 as Martin Truex Jr. led the last 23 laps. A seven-car crash erupted in Turn One with two to go, ending the racing under yellow. The lead changed 21 times.
- 2005: It started to rain at 3:30 AM Central Time in Talladega, Alabama. The race was originally going to be moved to Sunday after the Nextel Cup Series Race but the rain cleared up. The race started at 4:30 PM and the first "big one" occurred on lap 17 and it involved: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, J. J. Yeley, Shane Hmiel and others. About 17 cars were left after the wreck. The second big one occurred with 30 laps to go. Casey Mears flipped and slid down the track, he was uninjured. Denny Hamlin, Joe Nemechek, Paul Menard, and others. Clint Bowyer was involved in 5 different accidents. Martin Truex Jr. won his second Aaron's 312 in a row. The race ended at 8:20 PM. The first time a Busch Series race ended in primetime. The race was almost shortened by darkness. There were also Tornado watches around the area also.
- 2007: The lead changed hands 36 times, a record that stood until 2011. Casey Mears led 22 laps until Tony Stewart grabbed the lead with two to go, but then Bobby Labonte drafted past for the win on the final lap.
- 2009: The lead changed 33 times among 15 drivers. Matt Kenseth flipped over during the race. In a near-photo finish David Ragan rocketed from fourth in the final mile as leaders Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. got together and Ragan squeezed to the win on the high side.
- 2010: due to a rain delay, this race was double-headed with the Sprint Cup race earlier in the day. Due to that race extended twelve laps due to three green-white-checker finish attempts (another first), there was only a half-hour break for drivers doing the doubleheader. Many drivers hence ended up doing over 840 miles of racing (combining the overall distances that the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races went). In a wild finish, Brad Keselowski stormed from the middle line of a three-abreast battle for the win, overtaking Sprint Cup race winner Kevin Harvick, while behind him, the Sprint Cup race's second-place finisher Jamie McMurray got spun out and Dennis Setzer flew into the catch fence in turn 4, in the spot where a nine car crash happened in the Sprint Cup race on lap 189. Carl Edwards also suffered from a crash in the early part of the event. Combined, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races saw 121 lead changes (88 in the Sprint Cup, 33 in the Nationwide race).
- 2011: In the most frantic race in the history of the class in its various incarnations from Late Model Sportsman division to Busch Grand National to Nationwide Series, points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall and caused a red flag, then on Lap 88 Michael Waltrip got turned into the backstretch wall by Jamie McMurray, who was attempting to draft pole sitter Elliott Sadler. The wreck ended up taking out sixteen cars and bringing out another red flag. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano finished 1-2 while Mike Wallace got blasted by Sadler and flipped on his roof once, crossing the finish line in 17th. The race also broke the record of the most lead changes in Nationwide Series history with 56.
- 2013: NASCAR's new Air Titan track-drying system got a powerful workout as the sanctioning body was able to dry the entire track in three hours despite heavy persistent rain. The first half saw over 20 lead changes and only two yellow flags. After a ten-car crash erupted with 25 scheduled laps to go, NASCAR decided to cut 10 laps off the distance to 107 due to incoming darkness. The race restarted on Lap 101 and seven laps to go but another yellow with two to go flew. Despite protests from drivers about pending darkness NASCAR set up one lone attempt at a Green-White-Checkered finish. The race restarted with 108 laps completed, and Regan Smith rocketed from outside the top six into a three-abreast pass on Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne; a huge wreck in the tri-oval erupted coming to get the checkered flag and it took NASCAR a few minutes to decide the winner due to the caution, thinking Kasey Kahne won in a three-wide finish at the line. The tape showed Smith ahead at the moment of caution, and was declared the winner, coming just 7 laps short of the scheduled 117 lap distance. The lead changed 47 times among 16 drivers.
- 2014: For 2014 NASCAR announced it would ban any form of push-drafting in the corners of restrictor plate races. The lead changed 27 times as Elliott Sadler, in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, led 40 laps; Chris Buescher edged ahead of him at the white flag but Sadler drafted to the win on the final lap, his first in the Nationwide Series since 2012 and first with JGR. Daytona winner, Regan Smith, led 20 laps en route to a close third.
|Year||Date||Driver||Team||Manufacturer||Race distance||Race time||Average speed
|1992||July 25||Ernie Irvan||Ernie Irvan||Chevrolet||117||311.22 (500.86)||1:57:55||158.359|
|1993||July 24||Dale Earnhardt||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.||Chevrolet||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:07:12||146.801|
|1994||July 23||Ken Schrader||Ken Schrader||Chevrolet||117||311.22 (500.86)||1:51:30||167.473|
|1995||July 22||Chad Little||Mark Rypien Motorsports||Ford||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:31:56||122.904|
|1996||July 27||Greg Sacks||Diamond Ridge Motorsports||Chevrolet||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:13:55||139.438|
|1997||April 26||Mark Martin||Roush Racing||Ford||117||311.22 (500.86)||1:50:32||168.937|
|1998||April 25||Joe Nemechek||NEMCO Motorsports||Chevrolet||113||300.58 (483.736)||2:32:35||118.196|
|1999||April 24||Terry Labonte||Labonte Motorsports||Chevrolet||113||300.58 (483.736)||1:59:36||150.793|
|2000||April 15||Joe Nemechek||NEMCO Motorsports||Chevrolet||113||300.58 (483.736)||1:57:13||153.859|
|2001||April 21||Mike McLaughlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Pontiac||113||300.58 (483.736)||2:17:24||131.258|
|2002||April 20||Jason Keller||ppc Racing||Ford||117||311.22 (500.86)||1:58:25||157.691|
|2003||April 5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.||Chevrolet||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:11:43||114.768|
|2004||April 24||Martin Truex Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.||Chevrolet||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:16:31||136.783|
|2005||April 30||Martin Truex Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.||Chevrolet||120*||319.2 (513.702)||2:36:50||122.117|
|2006||April 29||Martin Truex Jr.||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.||Chevrolet||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:04:40||149.785|
|2007||April 28||Bobby Labonte||Kevin Harvick Inc.||Chevrolet||120*||319.2 (513.702)||2:23:46||133.216|
|2008||April 26||Tony Stewart||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:20:17||133.111|
|2009||April 25||David Ragan||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||120*||319.2 (513.702)||2:08:32||149.004|
|2010||April 25*||Brad Keselowski||Penske Racing||Dodge||120*||319.2 (513.702)||2:01:30||157.630|
|2011||April 16||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||124*||329.84 (530.826)||2:36:18||126.618|
|2012||May 5||Joey Logano||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||122*||324.52 (522.264)||2:22:54||136.258|
|2013||May 4||Regan Smith||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet||110*||292.6 (470.894)||2:11:44||133.269|
|2014||May 3||Elliott Sadler||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||117||311.22 (500.86)||2:22:18||131.224|
|2015||May 2||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||113||300.58 (483.736)||2:22:07||126.901|
|2016||April 30||Elliott Sadler*||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet||116*||308.56 (496.579)||2:19:45||132.477|
- 2005, 2007, 2009–2013, 2016: race extended due to an overtime finish.
- 2010: race postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to rain and extended due to a green-white-checker finish.
- 2013: race started late due to rain and was shortened due to darkness. NASCAR set the race for 107 laps from darkness, but a late-race wreck caused a green-white checker to go to lap 110.
- 2016: Originally Brennan Poole was thought to be the winner of the race, but video evidence revealed that Elliott Sadler had actually won the race because he was the leader when the caution came out.
Multiple winners (drivers)
|# Wins||Driver||Years won|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||2004, 2005, 2006|
|2||Joe Nemechek||1998, 2000|
|Joey Logano||2012, 2015|
|Elliott Sadler||2014, 2016|
Multiple winners (teams)
|# Wins||Team||Years won|
|5||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.||1993, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006|
|Joe Gibbs Racing||2001, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014|
|2||Roush Fenway Racing||1997, 2009|
|NEMCO Motorsports||1998, 2000|
|Team Penske||2010, 2015|
|JR Motorsports||2013, 2016|
|# Wins||Make||Years won|
|14||Chevrolet||1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2016|
|5||Ford||1995, 1997, 2002, 2009, 2015|
|4||Toyota||2008, 2011, 2012, 2014|
Toyota Care 250
|NASCAR Xfinity Series
Sparks Energy 300
Ollie's Bargain Outlet 200