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Greatest NASCAR moments: Nos. 40-31

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Jorge Andres Mondaca

Jorge Andres Mondaca is the senior NASCAR editor for FOXSports.com.

 
   
 
As we approach the running of the 50th Daytona 500 on February 17, and the start of NASCAR's 60th anniversary season, the NASCAR on FOX crew wanted to take a step back and relive some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport. With the help of Best Damn Sports Show Period, we have compiled the 50 greatest moments in NASCAR history. Also, make sure to check out the first installment in the series which details moments 50-41.

Earning money, one million at a time

Top 50 NASCAR moments

Relive NASCAR's greatest moments:
  • 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1
  • Top moments in pictures
Moment Number 40: Jeff Gordon wins second Winston Million
Date: August 31, 1997
Location: Darlington Raceway. Darlington, S.C. What happened: There is a reason Jeff Gordon is the all-time leader on the career race winnings list — he can go out and win the races that pay the most. In NASCAR, that means the four races formerly known as "The Majors": The Daytona 500, the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway (then known as the Winston 500), the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. In 1997, Gordon had a "perfect storm" kind of season which started with him winning the Great American Race to start off the year. In the remaining "Major" races, Gordon would place fifth at Talladega and win the Coca-Cola 600. As a result, he traveled to Darlington, S.C., on the last weekend of August with a chance to claim a $1 million bounty put out by series sponsor Winston for winning three of the four big NASCAR races. On race day, Gordon led 116 of 367 laps and was able to hold off Jeff Burton, who on the second-to-last lap was able to get side-by-side for the lead, to capture the victory in the race and the big money prize. On that day, Gordon became the first person since Bill Elliott in 1985 to pick up the big check.

Never give up

Moment Number 39: Bill Elliott comes from two laps down to win
Date: May 5, 1985
Location: Talladega Superspeedway. Talladega, Ala. What happened: NASCAR competitors learned a valuable lesson on May 5, 1985: Never count out Bill Elliott. Early in the running of the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Elliott's No. 9 Coors Ford suffered a mechanical problem and he wound up going down two laps — a little over five miles in distance — to the leaders. Instead of being downtrodden, Elliott flexed his muscles and made up both laps without the use of the modern day "lucky dog," and then went on to win the 500-miler by 1.72 seconds over Kyle Petty and Cale Yarborough. NASCAR on FOX race analyst Mike Joy: No way anyone would believe that at draft-dependent Talladega, a driver could make up two laps on the track and win. But Bill Elliott did it. Great driver, great race car. This car is now in the Henry Ford museum in Greenfield, Mich. Take a close look at it and see if, as rumored, it really presented a smaller face to the wind than the other T-Birds in NASCAR did that year.

Million dollar man

Moment Number 38: Bill Elliott wins Winston Million
Date: September 1, 1985
Location: Darlington Raceway. Darlington, S.C. What happened: Before Jeff Gordon won it in 1997, Bill Elliott made the Winston Million program look easy in its debut year. Introduced by Winston earlier in 1985, the program challenged drivers in the four premier races on the Cup schedule. What they didn't anticipate was a strong Elliott, who jumped out of the gates with a victory in the Daytona 500 and then boosted his chances for the prize by winning at Talladega in the spring. Unable to seal the deal at Charlotte due to an 18th-place finish, Elliott traveled to Darlington with one final chance. He took advantage of the opportunity and kept Cale Yarborough at bay during the waning laps of the Labor Day weekend race to win by a margin of 0.6 seconds.

Dancing partners

Moment Number 37: Darrell Waltrip beats Richard Petty in thriller Date: April 8, 1979
Location: Darlington Raceway. Darlington, S.C. What happened: Want drama? Look no further than this legendary race. Known for its high speeds, Darlington Raceway hosted a battle unlike any other on April 8, 1979 as Darrell Waltrip held off Richard Petty to win the Rebel 500. During the final circuit of the 367-lap race, the race lead changed hands four times as the two drivers battled side-by-side for the triumph, with Waltrip ultimately prevailing.

The Lady is born

Moment Number 36: Inaugural race at Darlington
Date: September 4, 1950
Location: Darlington Raceway. Darlington, S.C. What happened: What was once known as "Harold's Folly," became reality on September 4, 1950. And ever since then, the majority of drivers wished it would have remained a "folly" as "the track too tough to tame" has lived up to its moniker ever since. The uniquely egg-shaped 1.366-mile oval, NASCAR's original superspeedway, hosted a marathon of a first race in 1950 as Johnny Mantz wheeled his machine from the rear of a 75-car field to win the first Southern 500 over six hours after it first started. Since that inaugural race, the "Lady in Black" has challenged teams and drivers to come up with a setup that could deal with the different corners and the high speeds the racetrack offers. These difficult conditions are the reason why the term "Darlington stripe" was created through the years, as even the most experienced drivers seemed to gravitate to the wall and leave markings at least a few times per race. NASCAR on FOX race analyst Mike Joy: Can you believe they raced on the flat (now the apron), and the banking was the safety runoff area? Yep, and Johnny Mantz's slow, bone-stock, underpowered Plymouth won because he had heavy duty truck tires that would last the distance.

Fast riser

Moment Number 35: Tony Stewart climbs the fences en route to the championship
Date: 2005 What happened: Drivers have unique ways to celebrate race victories, and while Tony Stewart's fence climbing celebration was not unique, it produced results. Beginning at the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart began mimicking IndyCar Series driver's Helio Castroneves' post-race victory celebration by climbing the fence. "I'm too damn fat to be climbing fences, but I had to do it once," Stewart said. "I finally got me a Daytona trophy." Still, he didn't stop climbing. Just two weeks after his Daytona triumph, Stewart won at New Hampshire, followed by victories at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen shortly thereafter. His fence-climbing antics became a perfect metaphor for the season as a whole, as every victory pushed him up the standings as he stormed to his second championship in three seasons — capturing the title by 35 points over Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle.

Vegas luck shines on Kurt

Moment Number 34: Kurt Busch wins first Chase for the Championship
Date: November 21, 2004
Location: Homestead-Miami Speedway. Homestead, Fla. What happened: The 2004 NASCAR Cup season will be known for the many changes, including the introduction of new series sponsor Nextel and the creation of the Chase for the Cup format, a 10-race stretch where the top-10 drivers in the standings battled for the championship. Under the new title-deciding format, the fight came down to the wire as five drivers entered the final race weekend of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway within 82 points of the championship lead. The drama that unfolded on November 21, 2004, made NASCAR feel like they hit the jackpot with the title format. Kurt Busch, the championship leader going into the final race weekend, was strong from the outset of the race as he started from pole position. However, he did not stay there and he lost his points lead throughout the race to his various title challengers. And if holding off his title contenders wasn't enough, Busch had to battle bad luck as his front right-side tire came sailing off as he entered the pits on Lap 92 of 271. Busch rebounded, finished the race fifth overall and won the first Nextel Cup title by eight points over Jimmie Johnson and 16 points over Jeff Gordon. To this day, that title battle remains the closest in series history. NASCAR on FOX race analyst Mike Joy: Losing that wheel coming onto pit road at Homestead and STILL winning the Nextel Cup made for a luckier day than Kurt has ever had in his native Las Vegas.

Seventh heaven

Moment Number 33: Richard Petty gambles on last-second pit stop to win seventh Daytona 500
Date: February 15, 1981
Location: Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: One of the most common questions from newly introduced NASCAR fans is: Why do they call Richard Petty "The King?" The answer is simple. No matter what you threw at him, he could find a way to be victorious at the end of the day. Take for example the 1981 Daytona 500. Going into the final laps of the race, there were already over 40 lead changes — meaning that staying out front was at a premium. Realizing that fact, Petty and crew chief Dale Inman gambled and created a strategy where they would make their final stop with a mere 24 laps to run. The driver of the No. 43 STP Pontiac made a blazing quick final stop where he took gas only and made a speedy return to the track — keeping the lead position in the process. The strategy paid dividends as Petty won his record seventh Daytona 500, beating second-place Bobby Allison by over three seconds. Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX race analyst: It was The King's (Richard Petty's) last Daytona 500 victory and he snookered Bobby Allison and Waddell Wilson by just taking tires. What was so cool about that was, Bobby and Waddell had brought a Pontiac Lemans to Daytona, much to the surprise and displeasure of NASCAR. The body style had been overlooked by NASCAR, and when it showed up at Daytona, we all knew we had been had! The car was much better than anybody else's aerodynamically and should have won easily had Dale Inman (Petty's crew chief) and The King not out-smarted them in the pits!

Going for a spin

Moment Number: 32: Rusty Wallace spins Darrell Waltrip to win All Star event
Date: May 21, 1989
Location: Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowe's Motor Speedway). Concord, N.C. What happened: The 1989 running of NASCAR's All Star Race, then known as The Winston, helped change the view of NASCAR Nation concerning the No. 1 villain at the time: Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip looked to be on his way to Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 1989, as he was leading the exhibition race when the white flag waved in the air. However, DW did not get to celebrate into the night as he was spun out by St. Louis' Rusty Wallace during that final circuit, a move that also started a fight between the two teams' crews on pit road.
Let your voice be heard
Wallace would go on to retain the lead following the ensuing final restart, winning the non-points race and the accompanying $200,000 top prize. However, it was Waltrip who came out as the winner in the eyes of the fans that evening as he suddenly became the biggest hero. Oh, by the way, Waltrip's quote from that night still is one of the all-time classics: "I hope he chokes on that $200,000." NASCAR on FOX race analyst Mike Joy: It was interesting to see the fans' reaction as in one blink DW went from villain to victim, and the boo birds had someone new to howl at. It took Rusty awhile to recover in the eyes of the fans, but eventually they forgave him.

Continuing the legacy

Moment Number 31: Adam Petty becomes first fourth generation professional driver
Date: April 2, 2000
Location: Texas Motor Speedway. Fort Worth, Texas. What happened: Take away the race cars and you realize that NASCAR is nothing more than a family thing. People with the names of Earnhardt, Allison, Jarrett and Pearson have been among those who have helped this sport grow from a regional craze to a nationwide fascination. However, no family has achieved as much on the track in NASCAR than the sport's royalty: The Pettys. The start of this dynasty dates back to when patriarch Lee Petty made his NASCAR debut at Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949. Over a 16-year career, Petty captured 54 victories, including the first Daytona 500 in 1959, and three season championships. Following Lee's reign came Richard, a man who would soon be known simply as "The King" because of what he achieved on the track — 200 victories and seven Cup championships in 35 years of competition. Kyle came along in 1979 and experienced moderate success throughout his career, which continues to this day. But on April 2, 2000, the Petty surname returned to the forefront of attention in the sport as fourth-generation Adam made his Cup Series debut following a successful stint of races in the ARCA Series, where he surpassed his father's mark to become the youngest ARCA Superspeedway race winner in the series at the age of 18 years, 3 months in 1998. Although Adam would finish 40th in his Cup debut, fans and pundits alike predicted that the Petty legacy in racing would live on as Adam seemed to have "It." Unfortunately, Adam's life was cut tragically short just a few weeks after his Cup debut (May 12, 2000), when he died following an accident during practice at New Hampshire International Speedway (now New Hampshire Motor Speedway). Much good has come out of the unfortunate incident at New Hampshire, including new safety initiatives and the impetus for the Pettys to speed up their plans to create the Victory Junction Gang Camp — a place where terminally ill kids can forget their problems and enjoy life. However, for at least one day in April, 2000, NASCAR's royal family got to enjoy their day in the racing sun. NASCAR on FOX race analyst Mike Joy: At the press conference where Kyle Petty announced that his son Adam would start his Cup career at Texas, I asked Kyle why, of all the car-eating race tracks in NASCAR, he chose Texas for his son's debut. Kyle and Adam both laughed, and just said "why not?" reminding us that Kyle had run his first-ever race at Daytona International Speedway. Don't forget to tune in this Sunday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m. ET for the running of the 50th Daytona 500 on FOX.

Moments 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Kyle Petty, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Bill Elliott, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards

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