Motorsport is one of the most exhilarating forms of sport in the world, and anyone that is a petrolhead is, more often than not, also a motorsport fan. And motorsport also comes in many forms, from MotoGP and Formula 1 to IndyCar, and each are incredibly popular throughout the world. IndyCar is a US open-wheel series. Alongside it is the NASCAR Cup Series, perhaps the biggest racing series in the United States and the premier stock car racing series in the world.
Initially and officially started in 1949, the NASCAR series has gone through difficult times in recent years. Its popularity has dwindled recently, and IndyCar has seen a rather large swing the other way, and attendance at many NASCAR race has faltered, particularly at the Brickyard 400. But the series has still produced a huge amount of memorable moments, despite the shortcomings of the last decade or so.
Fans will probably recognize a lot of the moments and facts about the series that are featured in this list, and so they should. Some of the facts listed here are the best-known facts and moments of the sport's history, recent and old. Moments like Joey Logano finally winning his first NASCAR title in 2018, and the heartbreak of Talladega and Phoenix in 2014, for Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, respectively.
Some of them might be a bit more obscure, such as the 1959 Daytona 500. But one thing is for sure, and that is that NASCAR can still produce memorable moments to this day. And it needs to, as the series is going through a very rough patch, indeed.
20 Joey Logano’s first championship
Joey Logano has come in for a lot of stick since he entered the NASCAR Cup Series, rightly or wrongly, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. But there is no way that you can deny that Logano has always had talent. And that talent was finally fulfilled in 2018, as he took his first Cup Series title at Homestead, Miami, beating NASCAR’s current ‘big three’ in the process. He was the only man that gave Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr a real fight for the title in 2018, and he was rewarded with the ultimate prize in stock car racing.
19 Dale Earnhardt Sr’s last race
Dale Earnhardt Sr is probably one of the most famous drivers in NASCAR. In fact, he probably is one of the most famous in motorsport in general. And even if you aren’t a NASCAR fan, you probably know the tragic end to Earnhardt Sr’s career. Earnhardt Sr met with tragedy in a final lap collision in the 2001 Daytona 500, the race won by current FOX commentator Michael Waltrip, who described it as first, the best, and then, the worst day of his life. Earnhardt Sr left his mark on the sport forever, and his legacy was carried on by his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
18 Dale Earnhardt Jr’s last race
Dale Earnhardt Jr was consistently NASCAR’s most popular driver up until his retirement at the end of the 2017 season. He never quite achieved the success of his late father, but he was also very fast at Daytona and was still able to rack up 26 wins, despite never finishing higher than third in the overall standings. He didn’t get the result he wanted in his final race, only finishing 25th in the season finale at Homestead, Miami. But like his father, he has left his mark on the sport and still remains highly popular, especially as he is now an NBCSM commentator and analyst.
17 ROVAL 2018
This year, NASCAR held a ‘ROVAL’ race at Charlotte Speedway, encompassing some of the oval layout plus a new infield section. Multiple crashes and incidents in testing and practice led many to believe it could be the most unpredictable race of the year. And it was. Multiple incidents and cautions all culminated in a last-lap tussle between Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. when Johnson messed up a move on Truex at the final corner, spinning the pair of them around and letting Ryan Blaney take his first Team Penske win. It also eliminated Johnson from the playoffs. Drama aplenty!
16 NASCAR’s first race
Charlotte also holds the honor of being the location for the first officially sanctioned NASCAR race, which was held on the 19th of June in 1949. Back then, Charlotte was a very different place compared to what it is today. It was a short dirt oval of just 0.75 miles, though perhaps not quite as unpredictable as the modern day ROVAL race that now takes place at the speedway. Funnily enough, the result of that race was also controversial. Glenn Dunaway initially claimed the win in his 1947 Ford, but he was disqualified and the victory was handed to Jim Roper who had been driving a 1949 Lincoln.
15 First NASCAR race at the Brickyard
NASCAR has always been synonymous with the Daytona 500 and Daytona International Speedway. It’s where the season starts and it also hosts a 400-mile race later in the year. But Daytona is joined by another famous speedway in that of Indianapolis. The Brickyard has held a race with NASCAR since 1994 and was incredibly popular initially. But recent years have seen a steady decline in attendance at the race, and it has never been as popular as the Indianapolis 500, which is also held at the venue. NASCAR audiences, in general, have taken a hit in recent years, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that the same fate has befallen the Brickyard 400.
14 The last Daytona 500 winner
Everyone should, at least, know the latest winner of the Daytona 500. NASCAR’s season opener is always well known for its drama, and 2018 was no exception. Multiple incidents occurred, and the race saw several lead changes including between Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch. Bubba Wallace was also moving up the order, and he eventually finished the race a remarkable P2. The race was ultimately won by Austin Dillon, after he (controversially) sent Eric Almirola into the wall on the last lap when he looked set to claim victory. Many felt sore after this result, although Almirola finished ahead of Dillon in the season standings.
13 The Busch brothers
Kyle and Kurt Busch are two of the sport's most prolific drivers, and both are series champions. They are also brothers and have had varied fortunes over the last few years. Kyle Busch had a remarkable 2018, becoming one of the ‘big three’ alongside Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr, although all three ultimately lost the title to Joey Logano. Kurt Busch has not had quite the same success as his brother, only winning two races in the last two seasons, although one was the 2017 Daytona 500. Kurt has also moved teams for 2019, switching from Stewart-Haas Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing and replacing Jamie McMurray.
12 Clint Bowyer flipped twice and won
This is one of the most bizarre facts to grace a racing series list of facts, but it is somehow true. Clint Bowyer had two flips, one in 2007 and the other in 2014, yet still claimed the victory in both those races. The incident in 2007 saw him skid across the grass with the engine on fire, and he ultimately picked up around 40 pounds of dirt. He still made it to the finish, and then the second event happened in 2014 at Daytona. The car flipped again, but unlike in 2007, the car landed on its wheels and just kept going and he again crossed the line to win.
11 Bubba Wallace’s breakthrough Daytona 500
We have already mentioned the 2018 Daytona 500 and how Austin Dillon took a rather controversial win. But perhaps more amazing was the man who finished the race in second, which was Bubba Wallace Jr. Wallace was driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, and produced a staggering result with his second-place finish. He had been fast all through practice and build up, even topping one of the practice sessions, and was certainly looking to make an impact on the race, and boy did he. He received plaudits worldwide for his performance, but sadly, only managed to score two more top-ten results all season, at Phoenix and Texas.
10 NASCAR is crazy expensive
Something that should not be overlooked is how expensive motorsport is, in general. Every bump, ding, and knock—whether it be on a Formula 1 car or a NASCAR—is going to cost money, and the sums in stock car racing are themselves pretty huge. Paying just the driver can cost upwards of at least $185,000 and that’s before you get to champions such as Logano and Johnson. The tires are around $32,000 and one engine can cost $100,000. Not several, but one engine. The costs can all add up to a small couple of million or so, but it isn’t anything close to what Formula 1 can cost.
9 Jimmie Johnson’s 7 titles
Jimmie Johnson is one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, with an incredible seven series championships to his name, and he still very much committed to finding that elusive eighth title that has yet to come his way. He is currently the only driver in NASCAR history to have won five consecutive championships, from 2006 up to 2010 but recent years have not been so kind. Indeed in 2018, he didn’t manage to win a race, his best chance lost in the dramatic ROVAL incident with Truex Jr, and Lowe's pulled out of their sponsorship with Johnson and Hendricks Motorsport. Thankfully. one has been found for 2019, which should be a better year for both driver and team.
8 Chase Elliot’s long wait for a win
Chase Elliot is NASCAR’s most popular driver currently, at least going by the end of season award for such achievement. But he has waited a long time to finally win a race and lost out big time in the 2017 Daytona 500 when he ran out of fuel whilst leading on the last lap. The 2018 season saw it all come good, though, and he took an amazing first career victory at Watkins Glen International. Elliot then won two more races at the ovals of Dover and Kansas to advance into the final eight of the playoffs. But he was collected in a late race crash with Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch at Phoenix, when it looked like he could bump Kevin Harvick out of the final four. Still, 2018 was a breakthrough for Elliot.
7 NASCAR drivers at the Indy 500
It is not unheard of for NASCAR drivers to try their hand at other series, and perhaps most notably, the Indy 500 has become an event for NASCAR drivers to attend. Tony Stewart started out in IndyCar with three wins, seven podiums and eight pole positions to his name, and having a car good enough to win the Indy 500 in 1997, but ultimately he finished in fifth. Kurt Busch is the most recent driver to attempt to join the Indy 500 from NASCAR, where he raced with Andretti Autosport in 2014 and finished with a very impressive sixth place in his first IndyCar and open-wheeled race. Drivers such as Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson have also expressed an interest in the race.
6 Tony Stewart's last win
Tony Stewart’s NASCAR career came to an end in 2016 after three Cup series titles and he has now moved on to a team owner role at the Stewart-Haas team. But his final career victory came after a great tussle with Denny Hamlin late in the race at Sonoma in 2016, with the pair very much locking horns at the final corner as Stewart tried to score a good result to end his illustrious career on. Stewart was highly emotional after the race, perhaps realizing that it could well be the final victory of his career. It was his 49th career win, making him just shy of a half-century worth of wins.
5 Talladega 2014
Talladega 2014 was a bittersweet moment for Kyle Busch, as it represented his best chance yet to advance in the playoffs with the possibility of securing his first Cup Series title. Unfortunately, it didn’t go according to plan. At Talladega, Busch’s team strategized to run near the back of the field to hopefully avoid ‘the big one’ which would inevitably wipe out a huge amount of the field. Sadly for Busch, the big one took place near the back of the field and Busch himself was caught up in the carnage, ending his hopes of taking home the crown that year.
4 Phoenix 2014
Jeff Gordon is one of NASCAR’s most famous drivers and retired in 2015, only to come back for a few races in 2016 to stand in for Dale Earnhardt Jr, who had had a concussion. At Phoenix in 2014, a runner-up finish would have seen Gordon advance to the final four of that season and a chance to secure another championship title. Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan. Ryan Newman also wanted in, and ran Kyle Larson up the track coming to race's end, gaining the position he needed to bump Gordon out of the first-ever Championship four group. It was a bitter blow for Gordon.
3 1992 Hooters 500
The 1992 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway saw an incredible race which was simultaneously the last for Richard Petty and the debut for Jeff Gordon. Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki, Kyle Petty, Harry Gant, and Mark Martin all came into the season's final event with a mathematical possibility of winning the title. As the race unfolded, contenders dropped out and it left Kulwicki and Elliott fighting for the title. They swapped first and second positions repeatedly throughout the second half, with Elliott eventually winning the race. But Kulwicki led more laps and earned five bonus points for doing so, winning the championship by just ten points.
2 Darlington 2003
Darlington 2003 will be best remembered for coming down to a tense and close finish between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch, the final margin being just 0.002 seconds. The last couple of laps saw the pair locking horns and everyone was at the edge of their seats, the pair making contact with two laps left and Busch scraping the wall. The pair banged against each other virtually all the way to the flag, where Craven came out on top, taking his second (and last) win of his career after one of the most intense battles in NASCAR history.
1 1959 Daytona 500
The 1959 Daytona 500 was perhaps one of the most exciting runnings of the great race, even if races in that era could be more spread out than they are now. Only two cars finished on the lead lap but it somehow took officials three days to work out who had won. Lee Petty led Jonny Beauchamp on the last lap, and both had to get around a lapped car. They crossed the line simultaneously, with Beauchamp initially declared the winner. But three days later, NASCAR officials reversed the decision after reviewing photographs and newsreel footage, handing the win to Petty.
Sources: NASCAR, Autoweek, Area Auto Racing News, Jeff Gordon, Rubbings Racing, and AP News.