Over 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup races were held the past ten years. The total range of descriptions can be used to describe them. From total heart stopping thrillers to nap inducing parades. Some were historic, had thrilling endings, emotional stories or just meant a little more to the world. These five gave us memories to talk about for years to come.

1. Winston 500, Talladega AL Oct. 15, 2000. This race was Dale Earnhardt’s 76th and final Cup Series victory. He is known as the superspeedway master and watching the final four laps show why. There have been all kinds of numbers thrown around about how he was running in such-and-such position with so many laps remaining. A stop frame of ESPN’s race broadcast shows Earnhardt four wide on the backstretch and fifteen cars can be counted in front of him with three and a half laps in the race. From then on he goes to work and schools the field on restrictor plate racing. Who says you can’t pass?

2. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, Atlanta GA March 11, 2001. In the third race following Earnhardt’s death, Kevin Harvick making his third start in the car Dale used to drive, scores a thrilling win in Atlanta. The racing world was still trying to find their way and come to terms with Dale’s passing and this was no better medicine. The finish line staging for this particular Richard Childress Racing entry was identical to this event one-year prior. Earnhardt was on the outside in a door-to door race with Bobby Labonte. Now Harvick is on the outside in a door-to-door race with Jeff Gordon. The last ten laps also feature Jerry Nadeau, Dale Jarrett, and Dale Jr. in the exciting five-car battle that has become part of NASCAR lore.  

3. MBNA Cal Ripkin Jr. 400 Dover DE Sept. 23 2001. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 changed the United States. Our nation’s satellite activities of professional sports were temporarily halted. The NFL and Major League Baseball postponed the following weekend’s games while we as a country got back on our feet. The Cup event scheduled for New Hampshire followed suit and was postponed to the next available weekend, November 23rd the Friday after Thanksgiving. When football, baseball, and all sports began to resume, Dover was the next Cup race held. The significance of this particular race was with the new security procedures beginning to be implemented around the nation, Dover hosted the largest crowd of any event in the country. Proudly 140,000 waved American flags and watched Dale Earnhardt, Jr. carry a huge version out his window after victory.

4. Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, Darlington SC March 16, 2003. The closest finish in the history of NASCAR Cup racing since electronic scoring has been used. Winner Ricky Craven and runner-up Kurt Busch traded paint, bounced of the walls and each other before locking doors, scraping metal and billowing smoke as the two cars raced as one across the finish line. Craven continued to slap the wall in turn one after the checkered waved. He and Busch shared congratulations in Victory Lane, possibly knowing they had been part of something special. Official margin of victory was .002 seconds. Whenever a most exciting race finish list is made this one always included.

5. Chevy Rock and Roll 400, Richmond VA Sept. 11, 2004. The first ever Chase showdown race brought the excitement NASCAR was looking for, a shootout to see who would get in and who would be left out. The tenth place points margin was so close drivers were bounced in and out as the final laps were run. Jeremy Mayfield performed a ‘must win’ night and locked up slot number ten with a win for Ray Evernham. This finish surely had the Chase designers smiling from ear to ear.

(Patrick Reynolds is a professional racing mechanic who has worked for several NASCAR teams.)

Related links:
Top grassroots races
Biggest disappointments of 2009
The races that won Johnson’s title
Best Cup titles
Why the Sprint Cup needs a dirt race
Fan fixes for Talladega and why they won’t work
How to improve NASCAR
The perfect Sprint Cup schedule