NASCAR lore has developed since the sport's founding in 1947. It includes NASCAR's colorful history of races along with the drivers and machines that have competed in them. Through the efforts of sportswriters and television, some events have become embedded within the sport and instantly recognizable throughout the years.
Some races are made famous by a dramatic last-lap battle for the win, while others are notable for special achievements, historical significance, or controversy.
- Photo Finish – Inaugural Daytona 500 (February 22, 1959)
- The first major milestone in NASCAR history saw the series move from the Beach Course to the new high-banked Daytona International Speedway. Nearing the finish, Johnny Beauchamp and Lee Petty battled for the lead. The two cars crossed the finish line side-by-side for a photo finish. Officials deemed Johnny Beauchamp the unofficial winner, and he drove to victory lane. The results, however, were protested. After examining photographs and newsreel film for three days, Lee Petty was declared the official winner. The controversy kept the race in the news for several days.
- 10-race win streak - 1967 Wilkes 400 (October 1, 1967)
- Richard Petty beat Dick Hutcherson by two laps at North Wilkesboro, to win his milestone 75th NASCAR Grand National Series race, and his record 10th consecutive victory. The race was also his record 27th race win of the 1967 season. Petty's consecutive race win streak (10), single-season win total (27), and career victories (200) are all NASCAR records that still stand as of 2015. Petty's ten-race win streak lasted from August 12-October 1, and included the following races: Winston-Salem, Columbia, Savannah, Darlington, Hickory, Richmond, Beltsville, Hillsboro, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro.
- 1974 Firecracker 400 – (July 4, 1974)
- Coming to take the white flag, leader David Pearson realizes he is a sitting duck with Richard Petty riding second and ready to slingshot into the lead. As he crosses the start-finish line, Pearson suddenly pulls onto the apron as if he has a blown engine. Richard Petty sweeps into the lead, but suddenly realizes that Pearson is back up to speed and running on his back bumper. Off of turn four, Pearson himself slingshots past Petty into the lead for the win.
- Pearson Gets His – 1976 Daytona 500 (February 15, 1976)
- After years of misfortune, David Pearson finally won the Daytona 500 in spectacular fashion. On the final lap, Richard Petty led Pearson down the backstretch. Pearson attempted a sling-shot pass, and took the lead into turn three. Petty picked up the draft, and returned the favor in turn 4 to take the lead back. Exiting turn four, the two cars touched, and spun out of control. Both cars slammed into the outside wall, and Pearson spun into the tri-oval infield. Petty continued sliding towards the finish line, and appeared as if he would cross the line spinning backwards. The car hit a grassy rut, and slid to a stop 50 yards short of the finish line. Pearson refired his wrecked car, and headed for the finish line. Petty's car was stalled, and Pearson idled by to win the race. It is often regarded as the greatest finish in Daytona 500 history.
- The Fight – 1979 Daytona 500 (February 18, 1979)
- For the first time in its history, CBS televised the race live flag-to-flag on national television. A major snowstorm, known as the Presidents Day Snowstorm of 1979, bogged down most of the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, increasing the viewership of the event. Donnie Allison was leading the race on the final lap with Cale Yarborough drafting him tightly. Yarborough attempted a slingshot pass at the end of the backstretch, and Allison attempted to block. With both drivers refusing to give, the cars banged together three times until crashing into the outside wall in turn 3. Third place Richard Petty, running a half a lap behind, sailed by to take the victory. Just before CBS' cameras picked up Petty, they prematurely followed Buddy Arrington (who was driving a borrowed year-old Petty car) across the line. The cameras then found Petty and Waltrip, who were just coming off of turn 2, and followed them to the checkered flag. Donnie Allison and Yarborough climbed out of their cars and began to argue. Bobby Allison stopped at the scene, and a fight broke out on national television. The story made the front page of The New York Times. It is largely considered the point at which NASCAR arrived as a popular national sport.
- 1979 CRC Chemicals Rebel 500 – (April 8, 1979)
- Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty engaged in a ferocious final five laps; Petty took the lead following a late restart, then on Lap 365 Waltrip stormed past in Turn One (the narrow end of the oval; track was flipped in 1997); Petty retook the lead in Turn Three (wide end of the oval) and Waltrip dove back underneath, but Petty fought him off on the backstretch of Lap 366. On the final lap Waltrip took the lead in One again, Petty again crossed back underneath, but in Three slid high and Waltrip stormed ahead with Donnie Allison shooting the gap to second before Petty fought him off. The win was Waltrip's second of the 1979 season. David Pearson's final race with the Wood Brothers came here after an embarrassing pit road mishap.
- Petty's 200th – Pepsi Firecracker 400 (July 4, 1984)
- On Independence Day, seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty won his record 200th career Grand National/Winston Cup Series victory in exciting fashion. Battling Cale Yarborough most of the race, the two were running 1st–2nd in the closing laps. With President Ronald Reagan in attendance, Petty led with three laps to go. Doug Heveron crashed in turn one, and the caution flag came out. The two cars raced back to the caution (which was allowed at the time), and Petty edged out Yarborough to lead at the stripe by a few feet. The field circulated around the track under caution for the final two laps, and Petty secured his record 200th victory.
- Million Dollar Bill – Bill Elliott wins the Winston Million (September 1, 1985)
- Bill Elliott won the 1985 Daytona 500 in dominating fashion. In May at the Winston 500, Elliott was in contention, but was forced to the pits to repair a broken oil fitting and he lost two laps. Elliott proceeded to make the laps up under green, and took the victory. At Darlington, Elliott capped off the tremendous effort with victory in the Southern 500. The win clinched him the first-ever Winston Million, a cash bonus for a driver who could win a "small slam" (three out of the four races that comprise NASCAR's Grand Slam.) The victory thrust him into notoriety, and he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
- 1986 Miller High Life 400 – (February 23, 1986)
- Rivals Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt battled for the win on the half-mile short track for the better part of the race. In the final five laps, Waltrip rode on the back bumper of Earnhardt, bumping and rubbing the whole way. Waltrip finally snuck underneath exiting turn two with three laps to go. Going into turn 3, Earnhardt spun Waltrip out, but lost control himself and both cars crashed hard. The wreck collected Joe Ruttman (3rd place) and Geoff Bodine (4th place), allowing 5th place Kyle Petty to slip by and take his first-career Cup victory. The incident drew a fine for Earnhardt, raised tempers throughout the garage area, and gave Earnhardt the "Ironhead" nickname. The incident was dramatized in the movie 3.
- The Pass in the Grass – 1987 The Winston (May 17, 1987)
- After two mostly uneventful runnings, in 1987, a new format was introduced for NASCAR's all-star event, The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Following the new numbering format used by the race in 2008, this race is retroactively now known "Sprint All-Star Race III".) Two segments – 75 and 50 laps, respectively – were concluded with a 10-lap "trophy dash" sprint to the finish. With 7 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt led Bill Elliott in turn four. Towards the quad-oval, Elliott pushed his nose underneath Earnhardt, attempting to take the lead. Earnhardt swiped the car over to block, but slid into the infield grass. He was able to maintain control, veered back onto the track, back in front of Elliott, and held onto the lead. Earnhardt muscled his way around the track over the final six laps, and won. The event has since been one of the most popular events on the calendar.
- The Polish Victory Lap – 1988 Checker 500 (November 6, 1988)
- Regarded by fans a true "underdog", independent owner/driver Alan Kulwicki won his first NASCAR Winston Cup race at Phoenix, the track's first Cup event. After he took the checkered flag, Kulwicki proceeded to turn his car around and make a clockwise (backwards) victory lap, much to the delight of fans. By driving in the opposite direction, Kulwicki was able to lower his window net, and wave directly to the fans. Kulwicki called it a "Polish victory lap," (Kulwicki was of Polish descent). Kulwicki, who had done it previously in lower rungs of racing, would repeat the gesture after winning the 1992 championship (see 1992 Hooters 500 below). Following his death in 1993, several drivers adopted the celebration to honor Kulwicki's memory.
- Kyle Petty wins the Unocal Challenge — 1990 Goodwrench 500 (March 4, 1990)
- At the third race of the 1990 season, no driver had won a race from pole position for an entire season (29 races), which meant the $7,600 prize, which accumulates for every unsuccessful attempt or rainout, had reached $228,400. Kyle Petty finally broke the streak and clinched the bonus. He led 433 of 492 laps, and collected $228,400 in bonus money, for a total purse of $284,450, a single-race NASCAR record at the time. It would be the highest single cash prize awarded during the tenure of the Unocal Challenge award program. Car owner Felix Sabates presented Petty with a Rolls Royce as a gift for winning the elusive bonus.
- One Hot Night – 1992 The Winston (May 16, 1992)
- Lights were installed at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and it became the first non-short track to host night racing. The first race held under-the-lights was The Winston "all star" race. During the final 10-lap sprint, Dale Earnhardt led Kyle Petty and Davey Allison. On the final lap, Petty nudged Earnhardt in turn three, spinning him out. Petty took the lead into turn four, but as he entered the qual-oval, Davey Allison pulled alongside. The two cars touched as they crossed the finish line, with Allison edging out Petty by less than half a car length. The two cars clipped, and Allison crashed hard into the outside wall, showering bright sparks over the track. Allison spent the night in the hospital instead of victory lane.
- 1992 Hooters 500 (November 15, 1992)
- In what is considered the greatest NASCAR race of all-time, several sidebar stories complemented the closest championship chase in NASCAR history up to that point. The race served as Richard Petty's final career race, and the first start for future champion Jeff Gordon. Six drivers entered the race with a mathematical chance to win the title, the most in history. As the laps dwindled down the race, and the championship, became a two-man battle between Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott. Kulwicki, known to be an intelligent and calculating driver, was facing his final fuel stop. He stayed out while leading one lap extra than his pit crew requested, allowing him to lead a total of 103 laps during the race. Elliott led the rest of the way, and won the race, while Kulwicki finished second. Elliott's total laps led, however was only 102, and Kulwicki received the 5 bonus points for leading the most laps, and clinched the championship.
- 1998 Daytona 500 – February 15, 1998
- After 19 years of misfortune, bad luck, heartbreak, and after several second-place finishes, Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt. Earnhardt had won seven Winston Cup championships, over 70 Cup races, and 32 other races at Daytona International Speedway, but had never won NASCAR's crown jewel. Up front most of the race, Earnhardt dominated the final 60 laps, and clinched victory one lap early when a caution came out on the final lap. Earnhardt was greeted on pit road by nearly the entire NASCAR brethren, then veered into the infield tri-oval grass to do a burnout. The tire marks in the grass eerily resembled his famous #3. Earnhardt secretly glued a "lucky" penny on his dashboard. Wessa Miller, a six-year girl with spina bifida, gave the penny to Earnhardt before the race, and he cherished the gift from the young fan, and she became known as the "Lucky Penny Girl." It allowed Earnhardt to become the fifth driver to clinch NASCAR's distinguished Career Grand Slam.
- Black Sunday – 2001 Daytona 500 (February 18, 2001)
- On the final lap of the Daytona 500, DEI teammates Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran 1st–2nd. Dale Earnhardt was in third place, effectively blocking for his drivers ahead. Going into turn 4, the elder Earnhardt lost control of his car and collected Ken Schrader in a head-on collision with the wall. The seven-time champion was killed instantly by a basilar skull fracture. The death of Earnhardt was the darkest day in NASCAR, and ushered in a new era of safety in the series. Earlier in the day the race was also marred by a 20-car crash on lap 173 which saw Tony Stewart flip down the backstretch.
- 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 (March 11, 2001)
- After the shocking death of Dale Earnhardt, Richard Childress Racing had to move quickly, but respectfully, to fill the vacated seat. Childress filled the empty seat with rookie Kevin Harvick, a Busch Series driver he had planned to develop over the next couple of seasons. Dale Earnhardt's famous black #3 car was repainted white, and the number was changed to #29 (a number of little significance, as it was simply the lowest number unused at the time). After strong finishes of 14th at Rockingham and 8th at Las Vegas, Harvick entered his third-career race at Atlanta. With five laps to go, Harvick took the lead, but was being chased down by Jeff Gordon. As the two cars came out of turn four, Gordon pulled alongside, but Harvick held him off by 0.006 seconds, the second-closest finish in NASCAR history at that time. Harvick performed a burnout on the frontstretch, holding up three fingers in remembrance of Earnhardt's famous #3.
- 2001 Pepsi 400 (July 7, 2001)
- Less than five months after Dale Earnhardt's death in the Daytona 500, NASCAR returned to Daytona International Speedway. Much to the delight of the crowd, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. dominated most of the event. After a late-race caution for a crash on lap 143, Earnhardt, Jr. charged from 7th place to first in less than a lap and a half, and took the lead with 5 laps to go. With teammate Michael Waltrip protecting the position in second place, Earnhardt, Jr. took the dramatic victory. An emotional post-race celebration saw Earnhardt, Jr. mimic his father's actions by spinning donuts in the tri-oval grass. Ironically, Earnhardt, Jr. and Waltrip finished in reverse order of the Daytona 500.
- 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 (March 18, 2003)
- Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven battled in one of the greatest last-lap finishes in NASCAR history. The two cars pounded each other relentlessly around Darlington Raceway for the entire final lap, and engaged side-by-side coming out of the final turn. Slamming fenders and turning into each other down the frontstretch, the two cars crossed the line together, with Craven taking the victory by 0.002 seconds. It was the closest finish in NASCAR history, since electronic scoring equipment had been introduced. The race is often credited with saving Darlington from being cut from the Cup Series schedule.
- 2004 Chase for the NEXTEL Cup – 2004 Ford 400 (November 21, 2004)
- A new era in NASCAR commenced as the first Chase for the NEXTEL Cup came to its exciting conclusion. The new 10-race "playoff" system saw five drivers mathematically eligible for the championship in the final race, the Ford 400 at Homestead. Jimmie Johnson had won four of the past five races, and four-time champion Jeff Gordon was also in the hunt. Through consistency, Kurt Busch held an 18-point lead over Johnson in the championship standings, and Gordon was 3 points behind in third. A caution-filled event went down the final lap before the championship was decided. On lap 93, points leader Kurt Busch had a tire problem with the right rear, and was forced to the pits. Just as he was about to enter the pit area, the entire wheel flung off of the car, and rolled on the track. Busch sweved and just barely missed crashing into the pit divider wall. A caution flag came out, and it allowed Busch to stay on the lead lap. In the waning laps, Busch worked his way back up to 5th place, while his closest championship contenders, Johnson and Gordon were running 2nd–3rd. A green-white-checker finish saw Greg Biffle win the race. Kurt Busch held on to finish 5th, and clinched the championship by 8 points, the second closest margin in NASCAR history.
- 2011 Ford 400 (November 20, 2011)
- After a Chase for the Sprint Cup that was dominated by Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, the two drivers entered the final race of the 2011 season separated by a mere 3 points. Despite falling to the back of the field twice early in the race, Stewart took the lead with 35 laps to go and held off a charging Edwards, who finished second. At the end of the day, the final points standings had both Stewart and Edwards with an identical 2,403 points, the first and only time in NASCAR history. Stewart was awarded the tiebreaker and the championship with 5 victories on the season to Edwards' 1. Remarkably, all 5 of Stewart's wins came during the 10-race Chase.
- "They're not changing tires!" – 1981 Daytona 500 (February 15, 1981)
- After over 40 lead changes, the race came down to the final series of pit stops. Bobby Allison's Pontiac LeMans was the class of the field, but Allison needed one more pit stop. After Allison took on tires and fuel, Dale Inman, crew chief for Richard Petty, called his driver to the pits. With 24 laps to go, the crew gambled and took on fuel only. They decided not to change tires, and Petty's blazing 6.8-second pit stop allowed him to re-enter the track and hold the lead. A startled Ned Jarrett, working as a pit reporter for CBS, proclaimed "They're not changing tires! A change of pace for the Petty crew!" Petty held off a shocked Allison by 4 seconds, and won his record 7th Daytona 500 crown.
- 1981 Talladega 500 – (August 2, 1981)
- On the final lap, Darrell Waltrip leads Terry Labonte coming out of turn 4. As the cars go into the tri-oval, Labonte attempts a slingshot pass around the outside of Waltrip, but Waltrip is just able to hold him off. Suddenly, Ron Bouchard darted below both of them, and edged a shocked Waltrip by inches in a three-wide photo finish. It would be Bouchard's only career victory. After the race, Waltrip, who had thought Bouchard was a lap down, asked, "Where the hell did he come from?"
- 143 Lead Changes – 1984 Winston 500 & 1984 Talladega 500
- The most competitive pair of races in NASCAR history occurred at Talladega Superspeedway in 1984. At the Winston 500 on May 6, the race recorded a NASCAR record 75 official lead changes. That number only includes the leader of each lap at the start/finish line, and not any intermediate lead changes on other parts of the track, which were estimated at many more. Less than three months later, the Talladega 500 on July 29 nearly matched the record when it saw 68 official lead changes, the second-most in history. The record would hold for 26 years until it was broken in 2010 (88 total).
- 1990 Daytona 500 – (February 18, 1990)
- Heavy favorite Dale Earnhardt, still searching for his elusive first Daytona 500 victory, dominated most of the race, leading 155 laps of the 200-lap race. Earnhardt was leading by over 40 seconds when a caution came out on lap 193, bunching the field. After the restart, Earnhardt re-took the lead, and led Derrike Cope and Terry Labonte. Going into the third turn on the final lap, Earnhardt ran over a bell housing from the blown engine of Rick Wilson's car. Earnhardt shredded the right rear tire, and Cope suddenly was handed the lead of the race. Cope held off Labonte in the final turn, and won his first-career NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in shocking fashion. It is largely considered one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.
- Mr. September – Harry Gant's win streak
- In September 1991, Harry Gant tied a modern era record, winning four consecutive Winston Cup races, and also won three consecutive Busch Series events, driving nearly undefeated for the month. As a preview, on August 31, Gant started on the pole for the Gatorade 200 at Darlington. A day later on September 1, Gant started out the month with a win in the Southern 500. The following week, Gant won both the Autolite 200 and Miller 400 at Richmond. A week later, Gant won both the SplitFire 200 and Peak 500 at Dover. Yet another week later, Gant continued the streak with, winning the Goody's 500 at Martinsville. On September 29, Gant started on the pole for the Tyson Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro, looking for a 5th consecutive Winston Cup Series win, and 7th consecutive NASCAR-sanctioned event. Winning from the pole position would also make him eligible for a $144,400 bonus from the Unocal 76 Challenge. Gant dominated the race, but an O-ring failure saw Gant fall out of the lead with 12 laps to go, and he finished second. As an "encore," Gant won the All Pro 300 at Charlotte, his third consecutive Busch Series win.
- Inaugural Brickyard 400 – (August 6, 1994)
- After over two years of preparation, and decades of speculation, NASCAR held its first event at the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A NASCAR-record crowd watched the Winston Cup regulars, and numerous one-off entries, compete for a then-record $3.2 million purse. The popular hometown hero Jeff Gordon from nearby Pittsboro, Indiana, won the race after his strongest competitors Geoff Bodine and Ernie Irvan fell by the wayside. The event thrust into one of the biggest races on the circuit, and elevated Gordon's young career.
- The Iron Man Streak – 1996 First Union 400 (April 15, 1996)
- Terry Labonte tied NASCAR's all-time consecutive starts record at the final spring race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Driving an "iron grey" painted Kellogg's Monte Carlo, Labonte drove in his 513th straight race, tying the record set by Richard Petty. The streak was a culmination of seventeen years of racing, continued until 2000, and his record would stand until 2002 (see The Iron Man Streak II below). Two days after the race, Labonte was invited to Camden Yards to throw out the first pitch of an Orioles game, and meet baseball's ironman, Cal Ripken. Not only did Labonte take over the record, he won the race, and went on to win the 1996 Winston Cup Championship.
- The Iron Man Streak II – 2002 Coca-Cola Racing Family 600 (May 26, 2002)
- 2000 Winston 500 (October 15, 2000)
- The fall race at Talladega would end up being Dale Earnhardt's 76th and final career victory. Earnhardt was shuffled deep in the field for the final restart on lap 174 (of 188) but began dramatically charging through the field. With 4 laps to go, he was scored 18th. What followed was beyond anybody's imagination. Earnhardt took a center groove in the field and fought his way back up front with such hustle, that after only 3 laps had concluded, he was perched atop the scoreboard, averaging 6 positions gained during his 3-lap comeback. He edged out Kenny Wallace for the victory, and won the Winston No Bull 5 Million as a result. Shortly after his stunning come-from-behind triumph, startled onlookers began to claim that Earnhardt had a God-granted ability to see the aerodynamic wind and decipher the best route through it.
- Drag race all the way back to the S/F line – 2007 Daytona 500 (February 18, 2007)
- In one of the most dramatic green-white-checker finishes, Kevin Harvick edged out Mark Martin by 0.020 seconds, the second-closest finish at Daytona. After 25 years of misfortune, veteran Mark Martin led the field with one lap to go, hoping for his elusive first Daytona 500 victory. Down the backstretch, Kyle Busch darted back and forth in an attempt to get by, but got loose. Kevin Harvick passed Busch in turn three, and closed in side-by-side with Martin. As the field exited turn 4, Busch spun, collecting several cars, and a huge crash ensued. Clint Bowyer flipped over, and slid down the track on his roof. The leaders battled to the finish line and Harvick beat Martin by a nose. In addition, it was the first Daytona 500 to finish in prime time.
- Jacksonville Raceway Park (December 1, 1963)
- African American driver Wendell Scott passes Buck Baker with 25 laps to go, and wins the 200-lap, 100-mile Grand National race by two laps. However, Baker is recognized as the winner, and celebrates in victory lane. Racial tensions of the time was blamed for the move, but it ultimately became a black eye for the sport. Hours after the race, NASCAR officials made scoring corrections and declared Scott the winner, but long after fans had left the track. Baker (2013) and Scott (2015) are both in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
- Bumpergate – 1982 Daytona 500 (February 14, 1982)
- On lap 3, Bobby Allison was tapped slightly by Cale Yarborough, and his rear bumper fell off. The debris caused a crash, and took out three cars. Prior to the race, Allison's DiGard crew, led by Gary Nelson, had apparently discovered that the Buick Regal drove faster and handled better without the bumper assembly. On Saturday, Allison missed the final practice, as the team was supposedly repairing the rear of the car. It was claimed that the crew attached the bumper loosely, hoping it would fall off if he was touched by another car. Allison led 147 laps, and won by over 22 seconds. NASCAR issued no penalty. Allison and the crew deny the allegations.
- 1983 Miller High Life 500 (October 9, 1983)
- Richard Petty won his 198th career Winston Cup race, but failed post-race inspection. The car was found to have illegal tires, and an oversized engine. Petty was fined $35,000 (the win was worth $40,400) and 104 championship points (out of 180 earned). However, the victory was upheld. The incident created friction at the family's team, and Petty left Petty Enterprises at year's end. He took his STP sponsorship and his famous #43 with him, and drove for Mike Curb for the next two seasons.
- The Tide Slide – 1989 The Winston (May 21, 1989)
- During the final ten-lap sprint of The Winston all-star event, Darrell Waltrip led with young Rusty Wallace all over his rear bumper. Waltrip had the faster car, and held off numerous pass attempts by Wallace. As the two drivers came out of turn four to see the white flag, Wallace tagged Waltrip in the left rear quarter panel, sending Waltrip spinning out and into the grass. Wallace took the lead and ultimately took the $200,000 victory. Fans booed, gestured, and pelted the track with beer cans. In victory lane, when asked if he considered it "good, clean racing," Wallace replied "I consider it The Winston." As Wallace was being wheeled to victory lane, one of Wallace's crew members bumped into and knocked over a crew member from Waltrip's team, and a huge scuffle erupted. At least 25 people were involved in a huge fist-fight. After the race, Waltrip delivered his now-infamous line, "I just hope he chokes on that $200,000." The incident was a turning point in both drivers' careers: the once hated Waltrip, who had just won the Daytona 500 earlier in the season, turned face, while many fans began to jeer the presence of the previously popular Wallace.
- 1989 Holly Farms 400 (October 15, 1989)
- A restart with three laps to go saw Dale Earnhardt leading Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine. Going into the race, Earnhardt was trailing Rusty Wallace by only 35 points in the championship standings, with only three races left in the season. On the final lap, Rudd pulled alongside Earnhardt, and they touched as they took the white flag. Earnhardt went high in turn 1, but the cars came together, and both Rudd and Earnhardt spun out. Geoff Bodine slipped by to steal the victory, and Earnhardt lost more ground in the points standings. In the pits, the pits crews scuffled, but it was quickly broken up. After the race, an angry Earnhardt said that Rudd "knocked the shit out" of him, and that NASCAR "ought to fine that son of a bitch." The incident proved to be the deciding margin for the season, as Earnhardt lost the championship by only 12 points. (NASCAR did not fine obscene language with monetary fines or point penalties at the time.)
- 1990 Pontiac Excitement 400 (February 25, 1990)
- In the second race of the 1990 season, Mark Martin wins, but the car was found to have an illegal carburetor spacer. NASCAR found the spacer was 2½ inches tall, a half-inch more than allowed. Martin kept the victory, but was fined $40,000 (at record at the time), and was docked 46 points. At season's end, Martin lost the championship by a mere 26 points to Dale Earnhardt, with the penalty representing the deciding margin. Later, it was admitted that the spacer plate was technically not illegal, and did not enhance the car's performance, but actually fell within a "gray area" of the rulebook. NASCAR competition director Dick Beaty even stated that "We don't know if [a taller spacer] is an advantage or not."
- The First "Big One" – 1990 Pepsi 400 (July 7, 1990)
- Part-time Hendrick driver Greg Sacks won the pole position. But in post-qualifying inspection, NASCAR officials determined that the Hendrick team's engines had an unapproved "floating block" in the intake manifold sitting under the restrictor plate. NASCAR officials required the team to weld the block in place for race day, which effectively robbed the engine of horsepower. At the start, Sacks was a sitting duck, and at the conclusion of the first lap, his car was sent spinning in front of nearly the entire field. At least 22 cars were collected in a huge pileup in the tri-oval. The crash became known as the original "Big One." Six cars in the lead pack narrowly escaped the incident, among those was Dale Earnhardt who dominated the depleted field on the way to victory.
- 1991 Banquet Frozen Foods 300 (June 9, 1991)
- A wild finish at Sonoma Raceway in California ends in controversy. Road course ringer Tommy Kendall (substituting for the injured Kyle Petty) is leading Mark Martin with 4 laps to go. Going into the circuit's Turn 7 keyhole, Martin slides by on the outside, but the cars make contact, and Martin spins out. Kendall suffers a cut tire, and limps back to the pits. Davey Allison who had been running third, took the lead. Allison led Ricky Rudd into the Turn 11 hairpin as the cars were anticipating seeing the white flag. Rudd's nose got inside, touched Allison's rear bumper, and Allison spun out with the white flag waving. The next time by, Rudd was displayed the black flag and penalized 5 seconds for dirty driving. Allison, the second car in line, was declared the winner.
- Rattle His Cage – 1999 Goody's Headache Powder 500 (August 28, 1999)
- In the closing laps of the popular Saturday night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt led Terry Labonte and Jimmy Spencer. Labonte pulled alongside Earnhardt in turn four, and the two cars touched as they took the white flag for one lap to go. Going into turn 1, Labonte took the lead. In turn 2, Earnhardt tagged Labonte in the rear bumper, sending Labonte spinning down the backstretch. Earnhardt went on to win, and Spencer slipped by for second. Terry Labonte, however, collected six other cars and wrecked. When Earnhardt climbed out of the car in victory lane, many of the 170,000 fans booed and waved the finger. Defending his action, Earnhardt said in his victory lane interview, "(I) didn't mean really to turn him around, I meant to rattle his cage." Earnhardt was widely criticized for the move, and others criticized NASCAR officials for not penalizing him.
- 2002 Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 – (November 3, 2002)
- With three races left in the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, Tony Stewart led Mark Martin by 146 points. The series arrived at North Carolina Speedway, and Johnny Benson won his first and only Cup series race. Mark Martin finished second, while points leader Tony Stewart finished a distant 14th. Martin was poised to gain significant ground in the points standings, but his car failed post-race inspection due to an illegal left front spring. Martin was docked 25 championship points, and crew chief Ben Leslie was fined $5,000. Two weeks later, Stewart clinched the championship two weeks later at Homestead by a 38-point margin (more than the penalty difference). Martin's team appealed the penalty, and considered filing a lawsuit against the spring's manufacturer, claiming the spring was defective from the factory. According to NASCAR rules, springs were to have 4-1/2 coils, while Martin's had 4-3/8 coils. It should be noted in the final race of the season, prior to the 2014 rule change, the points leader with a comfortable lead would take a considerably conservative route, preferring survival over going for the win, taking fewer risks, and finishing just above what was necessary to keep the points lead, and win the championship. The appeal was denied, and for the second time in his career, Martin's chances at a title were derailed by a rules violation.
- Racing back to the caution - 2003 Dodge/Save Mart 350. (June 22, 2003)
- On the 71st lap, Kevin Harvick was leading Robby Gordon when a caution came out for a crash at a different part of the track. Gordon kept charging (racing back to the caution), and passed Harvick in Turn 7, taking the lead before they crossed the start/finish line. Harvick called it a "chicken move" and Jeff Gordon said "I could not believe it when I saw it" and called his passing under the yellow "unheard of." The controversial pass, however, was entirely legal under NASCAR rules at the time, and Robby Gordon was assessed no penalty. The so-called "unethical breach of racing ethics" proved to be the winning edge, and Robby Gordon went on to win the race. He was subjected to considerable scrutiny and ridicule after the race for not adhering to the unwritten "gentleman's agreement" about not racing back to the yellow during normal parts of the race. However, others considered the complaints hypocrisy or "sour grapes" by the losers. Later in the year, racing back to the caution was banned from competition after a dangerous incident at the Sylvania 300.
- Levigation- 2005 Coca-Cola 600 & 2005 UAW-GM Quality 500
- Prior to the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, track president Humpy Wheeler spent $250,000 to grind out bumps that were well-known at the track in a process known as levigation. The intent was to smooth out the surface and create more side-by-side racing. The results were dismal, as the smooth surface put excessive stress the tires, leading to premature failures. The race saw a then NASCAR-record 22 caution periods (16 were for spins or crashes, stemming from the tire issues). When the series returned in the fall for the UAW-GM Quality 500, additional levigation to the track was done in an effort to correct the problems, but it only made the issues worse. A total of 15 cautions flew during the race, 13 of which were blamed on the tires and the surface. It was believed that 42 of the 43 teams faced tire issues on the night. Eventual champion Tony Stewart said after the race that he'd "have to renew my life insurance because I was afraid for my life out there" and Kevin Harvick said that the race "was the biggest embarrassment for this sport". Jimmie Johnson won both races.
- 2005 Sylvania 300 (September 18, 2005)
- The 2005 Chase begins at Loudon, and tempers flared. The tone of the afternoon was set early, as Scott Riggs tangled with playoff driver Kurt Busch on lap 3. Busch was sent to the garage for repairs and fell 66 laps down. Busch stormed Riggs' pit box, and had words with crew chief, Rodney Childers. On lap 166, Kyle Busch tangled with Kasey Kahne, who was sent hard into the wall. During the caution, Kahne maneuvered his wrecked car in front of Kyle Busch. Kahne was fined $25,000, docked 25 points, and was placed on probation for the remainder of the season. On lap 191, Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon crashed. The next time by, Gordon attempted ram Waltrip's car with his wrecked machine, then threw his helmet at Waltrip's car. In the subsequent live interview on TNT, Gordon called Waltrip a "piece of shit." Gordon was fined a total of $35,000, docked 50 points (25 for the helmet throw and 25 for violating NASCAR's rule on improper language and gestures imposed after Super Bowl XXXVIII, and was also placed on probation for the balance of the season. Waltrip was fined $10,000 and docked 25 points for using what seemed to be an obscene gesture, but after review of video on appeal, there was no obscene gesture and the penalty was overturned. Another unrealted penalty saw Brian Vickers fined $15,000 and docked 25 points for failing post-race inspection. The incidents shook up the Chase standings, and NASCAR officials increased the level of scrutiny in subsequent weeks.
- 2008 Brickyard 400 (July 27, 2008)
- The Car of Tomorrow is used for the first time at Indianapolis. The Goodyear tires suffered bad wear patterns, causing blowouts in some cases after only 8-10 laps of green-flag racing. After several blowouts and crashes early in the race, NASCAR mandated lengthy competition cautions at roughly 10-lap intervals for teams to change tires. The longest stretch of green flag racing all day was a mere 12 laps, effectively making the race, according to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a series of heat races with a ten-lap feature at the end. Fans, competitors, and media were highly critical of the event, which was rendered largely uncompetitive. Jimmie Johnson survived the tire problems to win, after only a mild challenge at the end by Carl Edwards.
- Spingate – 2013 Federated Auto Parts 400 (September 7, 2013)
- In the final race before the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, five spots were left to be filled in the 12-driver Chase field. Mathematically ten drivers entered the race still alive, but the attention eventually focused on Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, and Martin Truex, Jr. In the closing laps, Newman led the race and appeared on his way to victory, and a certain berth in the Chase. With seven laps to go, Truex's Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Clint Bowyer spun out lazily near the start/finish line bringing out a caution, erupting a controversial sequence of events. In the shuffle, Newman dropped to 3rd at the checkered flag, and missed the Chase. The biggest beneficiary of the caution was Truex, who snagged the final Chase spot. The ESPN broadcast alleged that Bowyer spun out on purpose to bunch up the field and help Truex gain positions. Furthermore, MWR cars were allegedly called into the pits in order to intentionally lose positions, which had the effect of putting Penske Racing's Logano into the Chase ahead of Gordon. Two days later, NASCAR penalized all three MWR entries 50 championship points, for attempting to manipulate the results. The move effectively dropped Truex out of the Chase, and he was replaced by Newman. MWR was fined $300,000 and several members of the team were suspended or put on probation for remainder of the season, and effectively running the team out of business two years later. A couple days later, following a further investigation into Ford teams Team Penske and Front Row Motorsports uncovered the ensuing caution led to further manipulation by the Ford teams to leapfrog Logano ahead of Gordon, who drives for rival manufacturer Chevrolet's team Hendrick Motorsports, for the tenth and final spot in the Chase on points, NASCAR made an unprecedented ruling, deciding to add Gordon as a 13th Chase eligible driver.
- NASCAR Makes Up The Rules As They Go - 2015 CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega
After the followup from the Austin Dillon accident in the 2015 Coke Zero 400, NASCAR implemented a rule in which only one GWC finish would be used in this race to prevent any potential chaos from occurring in this race. After a relatively clean race in which the first 135 laps ran under green, Jamie McMurray blew an engine with 4 laps to go, setting up an attempt at a GWC finish.
The race restarted with two laps to go at a scheduled Green-white-checker finish though a first attempt at a restart failed when Jimmie Johnson spun out after been tagged from behind by Kyle Larson. Despite this, NASCAR did not call this restart attempt official .On the second attempt (still technically the first), Kevin Harvick's car was unable to accelerate when the green flag was waived and collided with Trevor Bayne before the start line. A total of eleven cars were involved in the melee: Harvick (of whom many believe intentionally wrecked Bayne to preserve his spot in the next round of the NASCAR Chase for the Championship) Bayne, other chasers Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, and Matt Kenseth who saw their hopes for a title end (the previous season, Newman and Hamlin were in the Championship 4), Michael McDowell, Tony Stewart, David Gilliland, Danica Patrick, Sam Hornish Jr., Alex Bowman and Austin Dillon.
Logano was ahead of Earnhardt when the caution came out upon further examining of the scoring loops and scored his sixth race of the season and first at Talladega, giving him a clean sweep of the Round of 12. During the burnout celebration, fans hurled debris including beer cans at Logano in a similar reaction to the GEICO 500 in which Jeff Gordon barely squeezed out Earnhardt for the victory after Brian Vickers crashed with 5 to go, ending that race under caution. For 2016 and beyond, NASCAR implemented the "overtime" system in which a line halfway down the backstretch would indicate where an official restart would occur.
- Traffic Jams – 1997 Interstate Batteries 500 and 2011 Quaker State 400 (April 6, 1997 and July 9, 2011)
- On two occasions, a new race on the circuit has experienced problems with traffic jams and/or weather, creating angry fans and media, and significant controversy off the track. The 1997 Interstate Batteries 500 at Texas and the 2011 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky both suffered from first year logistical problems.
- Fabulous Hudson Hornet
- Aero Warriors
- In 1969, Ford introduced the Ford Torino Talladega to Grand National competition. The car featured a slick, aerodynamic fastback design. A year later, the Plymouth Superbird was Mopar's answer to the Torino. The Superbird featured a protruding nosecone, a massive rear wing, and was introduced also to lure Richard Petty back to Plymouth.
- Bill Elliott's Melling Racing Ford Thunderbird
- For several seasons in the mid to late 1980s, Melling Racing led by Bill Elliott produced a stable of Ford Thunderbird machines that saw much domination at superspeedways. In 1985, Elliott piloted the car to 11 poles and 11 wins. Among the victories included a dominating win at the Daytona 500, the fastest-race to date at the Winston 500 at 186.288 mph, and the Southern 500, which clinched the Winston Million. Elliott set the all-time pole qualifying record at the Daytona 500 in 1987 at 210.364 mph, and the all-time NASCAR qualifying record later that year at Talladega at 212.809 mph. Elliott also set the summer race pole record at Talladega at 209.005 mph in 1986. From 1985 to 1988, Elliot's dominating Ford won 25 races, 29 poles, and the 1988 Winston Cup Championship.
- Richard Petty's STP #43
- Dale Earnhardt's #3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet
- After carrying the yellow and blue colors of primary sponsor Wrangler during most of the 1980s, Dale Earnhardt and RCR switched to the full-time sponsorship of GM Goodwrench for the 1988 Winston Cup season. Earnhardt had been sponsored by GM Goodwrench for two part-time years in the Busch Series, and as an associate sponsor in Cup for several seasons. Earnhardt's trademark black #3 became a fixture on the circuit, and contributed to his "Intimidator" nickname. Following Earnhardt's death in 2001, Kevin Harvick took over the ride, but the number was changed to #29. In addition, for the first couple seasons, Harvick's version of the livery was had the colors reversed (white or silver with black lettering). In 2014, after Harvick left Childress, Austin Dillon (Childress' grandson) revived the #3.
- Jeff Gordon's #24 DuPont Chevrolet
- Jeff Gordon's first career Winston Cup race was the season finale at Atlanta, and he the series full-time in 1993. From 1992 to 2010, Gordon's #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet entry sported the colorful, popular, and widely recognizable DuPont paint scheme. From 1992 to 2000, the car was painted in the classic "Rainbow Warriors" scheme, and from 2001 to 2010, the paint jobs were updated to include a trendier design including flames, and various special paint jobs. Starting in 2011, DuPont's involvement was scaled back with the team, but still remained as a part-time/associate sponsor until DuPont sold the Performance Coatings to The Carlyle Group at the end of 2012, becoming Axalta Coating Systems; Gordon's last race with DuPont was at the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which he won; it had been the only track with ten or more Cup starts that Gordon had not won.
- The Tide Ride
- The Tide Ride is a nickname given to entries that have carried the sponsorship of the detergent brand Tide, a subsidiary of P & G over the years. It is known for its three-tone orange, yellow and white paint scheme. Introduced in 1987 by Hendrick Motorsports, the most famous and most successful term was that of Darrell Waltrip, who won nine races including the 1989 Daytona 500 in the famous livery. Ricky Rudd also sported the livery during his tenure as an owner/driver, winning the 1997 Brickyard 400 among other races. Kevin Harvick has in recent years carried the colors in Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series races, winning at Martinsville (#2 truck) and Richmond (#5 car) in Tide-sponsored cars.
- Rowdy, Wild Thing – Kyle Busch
- Happy, The Closer, Mr. Where Did He Come From? – Kevin Harvick
- Bad Brad – Brad Keselowski
- Sliced Bread – Joey Logano
- Superman, Seven-Time – Jimmie Johnson
- Rocketman – Ryan Newman
- Junior, Junebug, Little E, The Pied Piper, Water Cooler Dale – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- The Outlaw – Kurt Busch
- Harry Gant Jr - Kyle Larson, given to him by a reporter after the 2017 Camping World 500
- Matt the Brat – Matt Kenseth
- Chase From The Same Place as Awesome Bill From Dawsonville – Chase Elliott, given to him by Mike Joy after winning the 2017 Can-Am Duel
- Dinger – A. J. Allmendinger
- Big Mac – Jamie McMurray, due to his McDonald's sponsorship
- The Biff – Greg Biffle
- DogeDriver - Josh Wise
- Spinderella - Clint Bowyer
- McDriver - Michael McDowell
- The Sheriff – Brian Vickers
- Silent Paul - Paul Menard
- The King of Stock Car Racing, The King, King Richard – Richard Petty
- The Intimidator, Big E, Ironhead, Mr. Restrictor Plate, The Man in Black – Dale Earnhardt
- Wonder Boy, The Rainbow Warrior, Big Daddy – Jeff Gordon
- Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, Million Dollar Bill – Bill Elliott
- Rooster – Ricky Rudd
- Mr. Consistency, The Kid, The Bridesmaid - Mark Martin
- Iceman, Texas Terry – Terry Labonte
- The Silver Fox – David Pearson
- Gentleman – Ned Jarrett
- The Gentle Giant – Buddy Baker
- King of the Beach – Marshall Teague
- Swervin' Irvan – Ernie Irvan, a derogatory nickname from causing crashes early in his career
- The Alabama Gang
- Jaws – Darrell Waltrip, due to his aggressive driving and "trash talking" in the early years of his career
- D.W. (pronounced Dee-Dubya), during his tenure as an owner/driver, Waltrip would often create an alter ego for comedic effect, speaking cordially as Darrell Waltrip the driver, then pulling hat down over his face, changing his voice, and playing the part of the cantankerous car owner D.W.
- Mr. Excitement – Jimmy Spencer
- Smut – Jimmy Means
- Handsome, Mr. September, The Bandit, High Groove Harry – Harry Gant
- Hal Bricklin – Hut Stricklin
- Fireball – Glenn Roberts
- Blue Deuce, Rubberhead – Rusty Wallace, after surviving a terrible flip at Bristol in 1988
- Special K – Alan Kulwicki
- The Other Dale – Dale Jarrett, in reference to Dale Earnhardt being a more recognizable driver named "Dale"
- Tiny – DeWayne Lund
- Chargin' - Charlie Glotzbach
- The Soap Master – Dave Marcis, drove Lifebouy soap sponsored car in the 1980s
- Air Horton – Jimmy Horton, after his departure from the track in his spectacular wreck during the 1993 DieHard 500 a parody of "Air Jordan"
- The Butcher – Butch Gilliland, For his domination of the K&N Pro Series West in the late 90s.
- Red – Robert Byron, the first Cup champion
- Hollywood – Tim Richmond
- The Marksman – Buckshot Jones, after his failed attempt to retaliate on Randy Lajoie in a Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
- Restart Ron Hornaday Jr., noted for his relatively quick restarts
- The Three Crasheteers, The Bash'em Brothers; in reference to the three Bodine brothers, Todd Bodine, Geoff Bodine and Brett Bodine, for the numerous incidents they have caused in their NASCAR careers.
- Herman the German – Kenny Wallace
- The Onion – Todd Bodine, due to his bald head (even placing this nickname over the window of his Camping World Series Truck)
- Restrictor Plate Expert – Mike Wallace
- The Franchise – David Reutimann
- Front Row Joe, Last Row Joe – Joe Nemechek, noted for his numerous front row qualifying efforts, and holding the record for the most last-place finishes in Cup Series
- Sideways Sam – Sam Hornish Jr.
- Lefturn – Jason Leffler
- The Mayor – Jeff Burton
- Smoke, The Rushville Rocket – Tony Stewart
- Cousin Carl, Concrete Carl – Carl Edwards
- John Wrecks Weekly – John Wes Townley, given by fans due to how often he crashed during his NASCAR career
- The Cat in the Hat – Jack Roush, since he is rarely seen without his trademark Panama hat.
- Coach - Joe Gibbs
- The Captain – Roger Penske
- Smokey – Henry Yunick
- Rainbow Warriors – The Hendrick Motorsports #24 team pit crew. This was a reference to the 1993–2000 livery on the car.
- Killer Bees – Matt Kenseth's pit crew for their black and gold uniforms (when sponsored by DeWalt, 2000–09, 2015-2017) and their fast pit stops, one of which was a 4-tire pit stop around 10.7 seconds during the 2015 Auto Club 400.
- Flying Aces – The Richard Childress Racing #3 (and later #29) pit crew, from 1987 to 2001.
- Suitcase Jake – Jake Elder – a famous championship crew chief best known for switching teams very frequently and brief stays at each team.
- Pit Bulls – Greg Biffle's #16 crew.
- Hot-lanta" – Atlanta Motor Speedway ("hot" describing the intense nature of the racing)
- Thunder Valley, The World's Fastest Half Mile, The Bullring, The Toilet Bowl, The Last Great Colosseum – Bristol Motor Speedway
- The Beast of the Southeast and The Mecca of Motorsports – Charlotte Motor Speedway
- The Lady in Black and The Track too Tough to Tame, Carlington – Darlington Raceway
- The Beach and Highway A1A - Daytona Beach and Road Course (now-defunct circuit)
- The World Center of Racing – Daytona International Speedway
- The Monster Mile, The Concrete Monster, Dover Downs, and White Lightning – Dover International Speedway
- Music City - Fairgrounds Speedway (now-defunct circuit)
- The Brickyard, The Racing Capitol of the World, and Indy. – Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- The Big Left Turn, The Track That Ate the Heroes, and Puke Hollow. - Langhorne Speedway (now-defunct circuit)
- The Diamond in the Desert – Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- The Paperclip – Martinsville Speedway
- The Magic Mile – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- The Big O – Ontario Motor Speedway (now-defunct circuit)
- The Jewel in the Desert – Phoenix International Speedway
- The Tricky Triangle – Pocono Raceway
- The Action Track – Richmond International Raceway
- The Rock – Rockingham Speedway (Camping World Truck Series)
- Wine Country, Sears Point, Infineon. - Sonoma Raceway
- Dega, Home of the Big One, The Wild Card, The Biggest & The Fastest. - Talladega Superspeedway
- The Great American Speedway – Texas Motor Speedway
- The Glen – Watkins Glen International
- The Flying Brick – refers to the AMC Matador that was fielded by Roger Penske in the mid-1970s
- T-Rex – Jeff Gordon's loophole-exploiting car that ran (and won) the 1997 Winston Select, the nickname comes from the Jurassic Park: The Lost World paint scheme it carried.
- Junior's Joke, The Magnafluxed Monster, Yellow Banana – a radically modified shop-built Ford Galaxie fielded by Junior Johnson in the 1966 Atlanta 500, during Ford's factory boycott. Some of its modifications included a lowered roofline, narrower side windows, and a small rear spoiler that aided downforce. It crashed, and was never raced again.
- Thunderbat – Bill Elliott's Batman Forever Ford Thunderbird that he drove in 1995.
- Silverwrench – Dale Earnhardt's 1995 Silver Select GM Goodwrench car he drove in The Winston.
- Amelia - Dale Earnhardt Jr's dominate restrictor plate chassis that his team named, and ran, from 2014 to 2016.
- Underbird - Alan Kulwicki's nickname given to his Ford Thunderbird due to his underdog status going into the final race of the 1992 season
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