Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte analyze Denny Hamlin’s All-Star win. Labonte said you could tell he “drove his heart out” in the final 10 laps, while Burton’s takeaway was the work of the Toyota engines.
NASCAR 75: Looking back on iconic moments in NASCAR’s history for 75th anniversary
75 years on the track is something worth celebrating. All season long, NBC will be recognizing NASCAR’s 75th anniversary and counting down some of the most iconic moments in the sport’s history.
Since 1948, the roar of engines and thrill of high speeds has captivated those around the world. Now, many years later, the excitement remains as the next generation sets another electrifying season in motion.
Whether it’s the first NASCAR Championship victory from Red Byron in 1949 or Ross Chastain’s unforgettable “video game move” in 2022, there are countless memories to relive from the track that will stand the test of time.
We’ll take a look at some of the most incredible moments in NASCAR history, updating regularly throughout the season. Stay tuned to NBC Sports for memories and moments from over seven decades of competition.
RELATED: Click here for the full 2023 NASCAR schedule
Charlotte 2002: Jamie McMurray wins in second Cup start
It’s safe to say that Jamie McMurray’s arrival in Cup Series racing was more spectacular than most.
McMurray won in only his second Cup race, outrunning a raft of top drivers to win at Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 13, 2002.
Chip Ganassi Racing called on McMurray to fill the seat in its No. 40 cars after Sterling Marlin suffered a serious injury in a race accident and missed the final weeks of the season. McMurray made his first start in the No. 40 at Talladega Superspeedway, finishing 26th.
The 500-mile fall race at Charlotte was next on the schedule, and the event would mark McMurray’s first Cup run on a 1.5-mile track.
McMurray took the lead after late-race pit stops and outran Bobby Labonte by .350 of a second to win. Following McMurray and Labonte was a group of talent-rich drivers: Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and Jimmie Johnson.
McMurray, 26, scored seven Cup wins before he retired.
Talladega 2004: Jeff Gordon edges Dale Earnhardt Jr. in controversial finish
The Earnhardt name is magic at Talladega Superspeedway, where Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. enjoyed success after success. But it was Jeff Gordon who rode to victory in a controversial finish at the 2.66-mile track in 2004.
Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. were battling for the lead with five laps to go when Brian Vickers crashed, causing a caution flag. Green-white-checkered overtime rules had not gone into effect at that time, and NASCAR decided the winner — in this case Gordon — based on which driver was in front at the time of the flag. Gordon appeared to be about a half-car-length in front, and he took the caution and checkered flags for the win.
The ruling did not go over well with many in the Talladega grandstands. Drink cans, seat cushions and other debris — some hitting Gordon’s car — were thrown onto the track by fans as Gordon took a victory lap.
Gordon led the race’s final six laps, including the last four under caution.
2013 Daytona 500: Danica Patrick scores first pole win by woman
Danica Patrick’s decision to leave IndyCar racing for NASCAR brought a wave of publicity to stock car racing’s top level, and she rode the crest to headlines in qualifying for the 2013 Daytona 500 at the start of her first full season in Cup racing.
Patrick, driving for Stewart Haas Racing, ran a lap at 196.434 mph to win the 500 pole, becoming the first woman to do so. Jeff Gordon qualified second. Patrick finished eighth in the race.
Patrick’s hopes to have a successful career in NASCAR faded. She didn’t win another pole after the Daytona run in 2013, and she never won a race.
In five-plus seasons in Cup, she had no top-five finishes and seven finishes in the top 10.
2020 The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington: Back to racing
The NASCAR Cup Series had run its first four races of the 2020 season before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States in early March.
It would be more than two months before drivers and teams hit the track again. The start of a dramatically reconfigured 2020 Cup schedule took place May 17 at Darlington Raceway.
With strict COVID-19 safety protocols in place, the Real Heroes 400 ran behind closed doors. Only essential personnel were present at Darlington for the race, which was among the first major professional sporting events in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.
Kevin Harvick reached a milestone with his 50th career Cup Series win and celebrated by doing donuts at the start/finish line. When he climbed out of his Ford, he was only met with silence.
“The weirdest part of the day for me was getting out of the car and not hearing anybody cheering,” Harvick said.
It was a day unlike any other in NASCAR history. But the sport’s mission had been accomplished. Racing was back.
1959 Daytona 500: Photo finish determines inaugural winner
For years, cars raced on the Daytona Beach, Florida, shores, but Bill France Sr. had another idea — building a high-banked 2.5-mile speedway a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
NASCAR’s first race there was 1959. Johnny Beauchamp was declared the winner, crossing the finish line three-wide with Lee Petty and the lapped car of Joe Weatherly.
Petty claimed he won the race, but it wasn’t until three days later that photographic evidence was found that showed Petty beating Beauchamp to the finish line. The photo was taken by T. Taylor Warrne, who was selected as the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence and honored at the 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
The father of Richard Petty went on to win his third series title, going with crowns in 1954 and ’58.
2020 GEICO 500 at Talladega: NASCAR stands united for Bubba Wallace
During the June 2020 race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, a member of Bubba Wallace’s team reported to NASCAR that a noose had been placed in Wallace’s garage stall.
On the day of the race, drivers and crew members pushed Wallace’s car to the front of pit road in a show of solidarity. Wallace went on to finish 14th in the race.
An FBI investigation later ruled that there was no hate crime because the garage rope had been like that since the previous October and there was no way to know Wallace’s team would have that garage several months later.
After the FBI’s findings were revealed, Wallace said he was “relieved” that he had not been specifically targeted, but also frustrated over the ensuing reaction – which saw some on social media question his integrity and accuse him of perpetrating a hoax.
Since the incident, Wallace has gone on to become a winning driver at the Cup Series level.
In October 2021, he claimed his first career Cup Series win at Talladega, becoming the first Black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s premier division in nearly 58 years.
A second Cup win followed in September 2022 at Kansas Speedway.
2011 Daytona 500: Trevor Bayne adds to Daytona’s legacy of surprise winners
The Daytona 500 is not only NASCAR’s biggest race, but also one of its most unpredictable.
Nine drivers have earned their first NASCAR Cup Series win in the Daytona 500. In fact, it happened in both 2021 and 2022 (Austin Cindric – 2022, Michael McDowell – 2021).
Before then, the most recent driver to pull this feat off was Trevor Bayne.
The Tennessee native captured the 2011 Daytona 500 driving for Wood Brothers Racing, a team that’s competed in NASCAR since 1950 but was running only part-time in 2011 (the team returned to full-time status in 2016).
Making this an even bigger upset: Bayne won in just his second career Cup Series start, which matched a standing Cup record set by Jamie McMurray during the 2002 season.
As Bayne took the checkered flag in overtime, his yell over the No. 21 team’s radio summed it all up not just for himself, but everybody watching: “Are you kidding me?!? What?!?”
1993 Daytona 500: ‘The Dale and Dale Show’
The 1993 Daytona 500 was winding down, and a mother and father could only wonder what fate had in store for their son.
As Dale Jarrett raced for the win, his mother, Martha, watched from a van inside the track, while his father, Ned, helped cover the race for CBS Sports.
The final laps came, and Dale Jarrett had a chance. But could he beat the dominant Dale Earnhardt?
Opportunity presented itself coming to the white flag, and Dale Jarrett made his move. He eventually cleared Earnhardt for first place.
CBS producer Bob Stenner then had lead announcer Ken Squier go silent – and told Ned Jarrett to “call your son home and be a Daddy.”
Ned’s ensuing call has echoed through NASCAR history ever since:
“…It’s the “Dale and Dale Show” as we come off Turn 4! You know who I’m pulling for, it’s Dale Jarrett. Bring her to the inside, Dale! Don’t let him get down there! He’s gonna make it! Dale Jarrett’s gonna win the Daytona 500!”
Moments after Dale Jarrett had won, CBS cameras cut to an awestruck Martha Jarrett in the van.
After a moment, she closed her eyes and clasped her hands together in prayer.
Visit NASCAR on NBC for for more memorable moments and historic tracks all season long, and stay tuned to NBC, USA and Peacock for coverage of the 2023 season.
Dr. Diandra: With Chase Elliott out, these are the best Next Gen road racers
The Next Gen racecar is the ideal vehicle for road course racers. With none of the asymmetry of previous car generations — vehicles optimized for only turning left — the new car upended the road course pecking order.
Road course ace Chase Elliott will watch this season’s first road course race from the sideline while recovering from a fractured left leg.
Elliott has won seven of the 25 Cup Series road courses races he’s run, giving him a win rate of 28.0%. That’s a little more than one win in every four races. He posts top-10 finishes 68.0% of the time.
In 2022, Elliott:
- led the most laps (121) at road courses
- led four of the six road course races
- led the most laps at three of the six road course races
But he didn’t win any of them.
Tyler Reddick won on two road courses, including his first Cup Series win on the way to a three-win season. Ross Chastain, Daniel Suárez, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell each won one race.
Winning isn’t everything… but it’s a start
The unusually high number of spins and tire/wheel issues last year means that finishes don’t always reflect how well a driver ran.
For example: Elliott led most of the first two stages at Sonoma but had to back up during a mid-race pit stop to retighten a wheel. His average running position was 2.2 before the glitch and 15.9 after. He finished eighth.
Despite not winning in 2022, Elliott still tied for the best average finishing position on road courses. The graph below shows all drivers with average finishing positions below 12 in 2022.
Of last year’s road course winners, only Reddick and Bell make the graph.
- Three finishes outside the top 20 drop Chastain’s average finish to 16.7.
- Sonoma winner Suárez had three top-five finishes and three finishes of 24th and worse for an average finish of 16.5.
- Although Larson finished third at Road America and won Watkins Glen, his other four finishes were 29th or worse. That averages out to 19.7.
That’s not to say these drivers aren’t contenders for a win at any road course race. But I’m more interested in the most consistent Next Gen road course racers.
Only four drivers have average finishing positions under 10: Elliott, Reddick, Chris Buescher and Austin Cindric. Michael McDowell is fifth on the list, 1.3 positions back from Reddick. Bell is 0.7 positions behind McDowell.
Going beyond averages
To gain insight, I examined driver finishes by track, as shown in the graph below. Average positions are represented by gray bars, with symbols showing individual race finishes.
This graph shows, for example, that Elliott had four top 10s and two finishes out of the top 15. Buescher had the same average finishing position but had five top 10s and one 21st-place finish.
Given the issues the new car introduced, this graph suggested that I give each driver a mulligan. So I also calculated the average of each driver’s best five road course races and summarized them in the table below.
Let’s look a little deeper into three of these drivers.
Buescher won the fall Bristol race and his name always comes up when talking superspeedways.
But the Next Gen car improved Buescher’s average road course finish by 3.1 positions relative to 2021. Buescher not only matches Chase Elliott’s average finish but beats Elliott in number of top-10 finishes.
If we throw out both drivers’ worst finishes — a 21st-place at COTA for Buescher and Elliott’s P20 at the Roval — Buescher beats Elliott in average finish position.
Cindric won four road courses in the Xfinity Series and posted the third-best average finish at road courses in his first Cup Series season. His 2022 performance included four top-10 finishes on the first four road courses of the season.
But even excluding his 21st-place finish at the Roval, Cindric remains ranked behind Elliott and Buescher.
Like Buescher, Cindric’s average running position is significantly higher than his average finishing position. That raises the interesting question of whether drivers advancing last year did so because they were better in the Next Gen car, or because other drivers had trouble.
Reddick finished 35th at Sonoma last year, 13 laps down. He had been running consistently in the top six before requiring a brake repair.
But Sonoma was Reddick’s only misstep. His other five road course finishes were all top 10s, including two wins. Excluding the Sonoma finish gives Reddick a 4.4 average finishing position for 2022 road courses — the best of any driver.
Reddick’s move from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI raises some questions about how his 2023 road course performance will compare with 2022. Excepting last week at Atlanta where an ailing Reddick finished fifth, Reddick has finished the same or worse than last year. And that’s with an additional year of experience in the Next Gen car.
It’s just as hard to predict winners this year as it was last year. But if you’re looking for drivers who can reliably finish in the top 10, these are the best choices.
NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas
NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.
MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging
Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.
As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.
A look at the weekend schedule:
Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)
Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.
Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.
Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.
Friday, March 24
(All times Eastern)
- 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
- 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
- 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
- 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
- 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
- 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
- 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
- 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
Saturday, March 25
- 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
- 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
- 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
- 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
- 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, March 26
- 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series
- 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers
NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.
Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.
The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.
“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”
Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”
Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”
Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.
“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”
“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”
One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.
While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.
In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.
“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”
#NASCAR … A look at the progress at North Wilkesboro Speedway pic.twitter.com/wT9vhOjZ6j
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) March 21, 2023