NASCAR 75: Looking back on iconic moments in NASCAR’s history for 75th anniversary

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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

Atlanta 2001: Kevin Harvick wins after replacing Dale Earnhardt

NASCAR was changed forever on Feb. 18, 2001 when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Richard Childress, Earnhardt’s car owner and his best friend, considered leaving the sport in the aftermath of Earnhardt’s death but remembered a conversation in which Earnhardt had told him to carry on if anything happened to him. Childress promoted Xfinity Series driver Kevin Harvick to Cup, changing the number of the car from Earnhardt’s iconic 3 to 29.

Harvick finished 14th at North Carolina Speedway in his Cup debut, then scored an eighth at Las Vegas.

The tour moved on to Atlanta Motor Speedway, which would see one of the sport’s magical finishes. Jeff Gordon and Harvick wrestled for the win on the final lap, Harvick edging Gordon by inches at the start-finish line.

The RCR crew celebrated wildly on pit road, and Harvick’s breakthrough win contributed to the healing process as NASCAR recovered from the loss of Earnhardt.

Bristol 1995/1999: The Dale Earnhardt/Terry Labonte Show

Bristol Motor Speedway in the 1990s will be remembered mostly for two races that matched Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte, two of the sport’s giants, on the high ground.

In the track’s 1995 night race, Earnhardt recovered from a long line of issues — an early-race encounter with Rusty Wallace, a spinout and a damaged oil cooler — to challenge Labonte for the win in the closing laps. On the last lap, Earnhardt sent Labonte crashing into the wall, but Labonte held on to win the race, his crippled race car finding its way to Victory Lane. Earnhardt finished second.

Four years later, the same pair was in the late-night spotlight at Bristol. They swapped the lead before Earnhardt hit Labonte on the final lap, causing the Texas driver to lose control. Earnhardt swept past him to win the race.

After the race, Earnhardt said he didn’t mean to crash Labonte. “I meant to rattle his cage,” Earnhardt said. Labonte, a hunting buddy of Earnhardt’s, said Earnhardt “never has any intention of taking anybody out. It just happens that way.”

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.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson on his NASCAR team and his approach to Le Mans

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns from injury

“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene

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Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson is building a team and pointing to Le Mans

Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”

 

 

 

Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans

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CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to track

MORE: Dr. Diandra: 600 tests man more than machine

And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Diandra: Charlotte’s 600 miles test man more than machine

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This weekend’s 600-mile outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway is NASCAR’s longest race. It’s the ultimate stock car challenge: not just making a car fast but making it fast for a long time.

Although 600 miles is nowhere near the 3,300-plus miles in the 24 Hours of LeMans, the pace is similar. Most of NASCAR’s 600-mile races run between four and five hours.

The 1960 World 600 set the record for this race, requiring five hours, 34 minutes, and six seconds to complete — and it had only eight cautions. The second longest race, the very next year, ran 12 minutes shorter than the previous year’s outing.

The longest race in the modern era (1972 to present) happened in 2005. That race took five hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds to complete and set a record for cautions with 22.

Last year’s event was the second-longest modern-era race. With four fewer cautions than 2005, the 2022 race took just 44 seconds less to complete.

The field for the 1960 race included 60 cars. Only 18 of those cars (30%) crossed the finish line.

NASCAR disqualified six drivers for making illegal entrances to pit road. The reasons for the remaining 36 DNFs reads like an inventory of car parts, from “A-frame” to “valve.”

The number of cars failing to finish the race decreased significantly over the years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was not uncommon for 50-70% of the field to drop out of the race before its end. As the graph below shows, the DNF rate is now in the range of 10-30%.

A bar chart shows how DNFs have decreased over time and turned the the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

Last year — the first year of the Next Gen car — had an abnormally high 46% DNF rate. That doesn’t signify a problem with car reliability.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Increased car reliability makes people more important

Racecar evolution has changed the nature of NASCAR’s longest race. The car have become so reliable that Charlotte’s 600-mile race is now more a test of drivers than their cars.

“All of the components in the car are pretty standard,” Chase Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “So you just want to make sure you have it all in good condition and dot all your I’s and cross your T’s.”

That wasn’t how it used to be. Kevin Harvick remembers that drivers used to be warned to take care of their equipment early so it would last until the end.

“The engine guys freak out because you have to go an extra 100 miles, but the parts and stuff on the car are a lot more durable than they used to be,” Harvick said. “Back in the day, it was ‘take care of the motor.’ ”

Drivers worry much less about their car’s engine today. The graph below shows how DNFs due to engine failure have decreased since NASCAR started running 600-mile races.

A bar chart shows that engine failures have gone from 50-70% to 10-30%, turning the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

In 1966, more than half the field lost an engine during the race. Only six cars have retired due to engine failure in the last five years.

While cars are more reliable, their drivers are still human. Crash-related DNFs (crashes, failure to beat the DVP clock and inability to meet maximum speed) show no clear trend over time.

A bar chart shows how the number of DNFs due to crashes doesn't show any overall trend with time

Typically, between five to 10% of the cars starting a race will fail to finish due to an accident rather than a mechanical failure. Last year’s race was an exception, setting a record for the largest fraction of the field taken out by crashes since the 600-miler began.

It’s only one data point as far as 600-mile races are concerned. It is, however, indicative of a trend observed since the Next Gen car debuted. The car is so sturdy that contact is no longer the deterrent it used to be.

Man versus machine

NASCAR’s only 600-mile outing has become an endurance race for humans. Drivers draw upon research in hydration, nutrition and fitness, hoping to create an advantage by preparation and conditioning.

“As a driver,” Daniel Suárez said, “your goal is to be as fresh at the end of the race as you are at the beginning. It isn’t about making it to the end of the race. It’s about being at your best at the end and taking advantage of other drivers who are tired.”

Harrison Burton, who ran his first 600-mile race last year, was surprised by how taxing that extra stage was.

“I figured it’s only 100 more miles than 500 and we do that fairly frequently and didn’t think it would be that different,” Burton said, “but for whatever reason when that fourth stage starts it’s definitely daunting.

Burton also noted that last year’s Coca-Cola 600 was the first time he got hungry during a race.

“It’s actually a really important race to have something to snack on in the car during the race,” Ross Chastain said. “I typically have some sort of protein bar that I can eat during a stage break just to try and keep my stamina up.”

The driver isn’t the only one whose mental acumen gets tested during the Coca-Cola 600. Crew chiefs and pit crews must work at peak form for a longer time.

“There’s more pit stops, there’s more restarts, there’s more strategy calls and there’s more laps,” Gustafson said. “There’s more everything.”

That means more opportunities to make mistakes or lose focus — or to take advantage of other drivers who do.