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Greatest NASCAR moments: Nos. 10-1

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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 the greatest moments in the history of the sport.

Gordon ties Earnhardt

Moment Number 10: Jeff Gordon matches Dale Earnhardt's career win total
Date: April 21, 2007 Location: Phoenix International Raceway. Avondale, AZ.

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What happened: Even before the green flag waved at Phoenix International Raceway's first race of 2007, fans in the stands knew history was going to be made that weekend. They just didn't realize how much history it would be. Throughout the 2007 campaign, NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow was being unveiled as NASCAR decided to implement it on short tracks in 2007 before going full time with the car in 2008, and the '07 Subway 500 was the first time the COT would race at Phoenix. However, nobody will remember that fact in the future. What they will recall is Jeff Gordon's mastery and luck would shine on race day. Gordon's main rivals for victory on that day were the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, the two of which combined to lead 202 of 312 circuits on the day. And late in the running of the event, it looked like it would come down to those teammates for the victory as Gordon came into the pits with just under 30 laps remaining. But that was when luck came into the equation. Just as Gordon pitted, a three-car accident in Turn 4 brought out the caution — and allowed his team to finish servicing his machine without going a lap down like they would have if the race stayed green. On top of all that, Gordon would end up leading after the caution because the leaders all pitted. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet would retain the lead from there for all but one lap, enduring a three-wide challenge from Tony Stewart who would lead lap 299 before Gordon reclaimed the lead and stayed out front for the final 12 laps.

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The victory was Gordon's first at PIR and the first for a polesitter at the track, however most will remember it as the day Gordon matched his great rival from the '90s, Dale Earnhardt, on the all time wins column with 76 total.

Winning one for Dale

Moment Number 9: Steve Park wins first race after Dale Earnhardt's death
Date: February 16, 2001 Location: North Carolina Speedway. Rockingham, N.C. What happened: The 2001 season took a somber note on the final lap of the season-opening Daytona 500 as the sport lost Dale Earnhardt following a crash in Turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway. Immediately following the announcement of his passing, the entire NASCAR community began remembering the loss of the man best known as The Intimidator. Even still, the sport had to keep on moving forward and go on to the next race, which in 2001 meant heading close to home for the teams in North Carolina for racing at The Rock. What started out as a somber weekend of remembrance turned into a celebration of The Man in Black as one of the drivers from his own team, Steve Park, held off a late challenge to visit Victory Lane. Park, who led 167 laps on race day, looked to be comfortably headed to his second career Cup victory until the final 20 laps, when Bobby Labonte began making his late race charge. Finally, with three laps remaining, Labonte made it to the back of Park's bumper and made his final push to victory. Though he did get side-by-side with only two laps left, Labonte just did not have enough to prevent Park to score the emotional victory. Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: It was just a day after the memorial service, that the drive from Charlotte to Rockingham was the longest, slowest one I've ever made. No one wanted to go. When we got to the track, I think we all took support in being there from each other, and wrestled with the conflict of emotions involved in expressing our sorrow while calling the excitement of the race. The green waved, Dale Jr. wrecked, and the sky started crying, raining out the race. No one felt any better the next morning, but we felt better prepared. For Steve Park to win that race provided a large measure of healing for all of us.

Close call

Moment Number 8: Earnhardt holds off Labonte by .01 seconds
Date: March 12, 2000
Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hampton, Ga. What happened: There are very few times when The Intimidator Dale Earnhardt was the hunted instead of the hunter, but that was the case in the 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Out front since lap 306 of 325, Earnhardt found himself being chased late in the event by Bobby Labonte. As the laps wound down, Labonte closed in until the white flag waved and the fireworks went off. As the two drivers reached the start of the last lap, Labonte pulled up alongside Earnhardt to make his bid for victory. Unable to complete the pass, the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac ducked in behind Earnhardt and went high through Turns 1 and 2, continue to draft through the backstretch and then made his last ditch effort. The two were side-by-side going to the line, but Earnhardt pulled it off by 0.010 seconds.

More than just a replacement

Moment Number 7: Kevin Harvick wins by .006 seconds
Date: March 11, 2001 Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hampton, Ga. What happened: As NASCAR continued to struggle with the passing of Dale Earnhardt, another on-track moment helped alleviate the pain and it came in the form of Kevin Harvick, the driver team owner Richard Childress tabbed to take over Earnhardt's spot at the team. Competing in only his third Sprint Cup Series race, Harvick stayed out of trouble throughout the 2001 Atlanta Motor Speedway race and managed to stand toe-to-toe with some of the greatest NASCAR competitors at the time — including Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett. Harvick charged to the front and took over the lead with five laps remaining, but right behind him was Gordon. The driver of the No. 24 stuck behind Harvick until the last lap, when he pulled out and tried to pull off a pass reminiscent of what Bobby Labonte tried on Dale Earnhardt in 2000 at the very same track. Just like the first time it happened, the guy using the top line won the race as Harvick held off Gordon just like Earnhardt did to Labonte. The Man in Black was gone, but his memory was surely remembered on that Sunday. Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: Like Steve Park's win a few weeks before, Harvick's triumph was a salve for open wounds. Many people had questioned Richard Childress' choice of Harvick... this finish put an end to the questions, and earned Harvick the respect of many... Dale's fans in particular.

His father's son

Moment Number 6: Dale Jr. wins first race back at Daytona after his father's death
Date: July 7, 2001
Location: Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: NASCAR's favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., not only inherited his father's racing talent, he also acquired his ability to see the air. The heir apparent to the Dr. of the Draft, proved to be a stellar student at both Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. In NASCAR's summer sojourn to Daytona following the tragic death of Earnhardt Sr. in 2001, Junior scored his first Cup victory at the track in just his fourth start. Although Earnhardt's next two 500 starts did not provide the desired results, Speedweeks 2004 would further vindicate Driver 8's place in Daytona history. Like his father before him, Earnhardt proved to be a force in the Duels. He scored his second consecutive win in the qualifiers and lined third for his fifth Daytona 500. For most of the afternoon, it was a battle between Tony Stewart and Earnhardt, who was leading when a 12-car melee erupted on the backstretch. Once the field calmed it was game on between the Nos. 8 and 20, but Earnhardt regained the lead on Lap 180 and held it for the final 20 laps to the checkered flag. "I'm just real excited to have won this race," Earnhardt said. "It's really hard to win it. Some of our greatest competitors come in and out of this sport without taking this trophy home. I'm glad I can say I've accomplished it and I can put the ongoing strive to win it behind me because we really wanted to win it so bad."

Photo finish

Moment Number 5: Lee Petty wins first Daytona 500
Date: February 22, 1959
Location: Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: From the inaugural Cup race at Daytona International Speedway, one could tell that the 2.5-mile superspeedway would be a special track. A grand total of 59 cars take the green flag for the first Daytona 500, and although 28 cars failed to finish the event there were no cautions throughout. The moment that lives on from the first race is the three-wide finish picture of Johnny Beauchamp, Lee Petty and the lapped machine of Joe Weatherly. Initially, the victory was awarded to Beauchamp. Three days later, however, NASCAR reverses their decision and awards the victory to Lee Petty. The two top finishers were the only two to finish on the lead lap.

The pass in the grass

Moment Number 4: Earnhardt passes Bill Elliott in the grass and wins the race
Date: May 25, 1987
Location: Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowe's Motor Speedway). Charlotte, N.C. What happened: To add some spice to The Winston All Star race, officials decided to add a 10-lap dash to the finish for the third running of the event in 1987. Nobody was disappointed. Although 1986 winner Bill Elliott threatened to stink up the show throughout the majority of the event, leading 121 of 125 circuits in the first two segments of the exhibition race, But that wasn't the case in the final 10-lap stint as Dale Earnhardt was able to capitalize on a spin by Geoffrey Bodine, who was battling with Elliott for the lead, to take over the point position. Not satisfied to run second after such a strong performance all day, Elliott made contact with Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet and sent him traveling through the frontstretch infield grass. However, great car control on the part of Earnhardt kept him in the lead position through the grass. That was only the start of the aggression on both of their parts that day, as Earnhardt returned the favor just a few seconds later when he pushed Elliott up into the wall of Turn 3. The resulting damage helped blow out one of the tires on Elliott's machine. Earnhardt would go on to win the race that day, but was greeted by an unhappy Elliott on his celebration, strengthening an intense rivalry that would last several seasons.

Duking it out

Moment Number 3: Richard Petty and David Pearson crash on last turn and Pearson wins
Date: February 15, 1976
Location: Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: Have you ever watched a heavyweight boxing match where the two fighters punch until they can't punch anymore, and the guy who wins is the one that can still stand in the final round? That begins to describe the 1976 Daytona 500. David Pearson and Richard Petty, two of the most decorated men in NASCAR history, battled side-by-side in the '76 race until they could do no more. Coming off the final corner on the final lap of the event, the two bumped each other for the final time and spun into the infield grass at Daytona. Battered and bruised, Petty appears to be heading towards the victory as his car slid closest to the start/finish line, but there was a small problem: His car wouldn't restart. Meanwhile, Pearson dumped the clutch during the spin and kept the car in neutral, a move which allowed him to limp across the finish line ahead of Petty. "More people know about that race more than the seven I won," said Pearson. NASCAR on FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds: The first Daytona 500 I attended as a fan was in 1976 with the battle between David Pearson and Richard Petty. This one definitely makes my top five list. Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: Mindful of their prior one-two finishes at Daytona, neither driver wanted to lead going into the last lap. I was standing in the Wood brothers pit when the cars crashed coming off turn 4, and we were all frozen in place by Ken Squier's radio call over the P.A. system. Only one thing allowed Pearson to win — as the cars spun, Petty's engine stalled. Pearson had mashed in the clutch, and kept his engine revving ... David's Mercury puttered through the grass and chugged across the line as Richard struggled to restart his Dodge.

Sweet relief

Moment Number 2: Dale Earnhardt wins the Daytona 500 on 20th try
Date: February 15, 1998
Location: Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: With 34 victories to his credit, Dale Earnhardt was the all-time race winner at Daytona International Speedway. His restrictor plate prowess was so renowned that editors took great pleasure in renaming the 2.5-mile high bank superspeedway "Daletona" on many occasions. But it wasn't until Earnhardt's 20th start in the 1998 running of the Great American Race that the No. 3 finally sealed the deal. Victorious for a 10th time in his Twin 125 qualifying race, Earnhardt lined up fourth for the 500. Polesitter Bobby Labonte led the field to the green flag but Earnhardt moved to the point for the first time just 17 laps into the race. When he took the lead for the fifth and final time on lap 139 it was game over for his competitors. Although the race ended under caution as Lake Speed and John Andretti spun on the backstretch, Earnhardt dominated the event over the final 60 laps. As Earnhardt came down pit road following his victory lap, he was greeted on pit row by what announcer Mike Joy referred to as "the longest receiving line" in NASCAR. Crew men, fellow drivers, owners and fans cheered Earnhardt after he finally won the one race that had eluded him throughout his career. "The Daytona 500 is ours," Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. "We won it, we won it, we won it." Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: Sometimes, the sweetest triumphs are the ones hardest to achieve. It was never a question of IF Dale could win the 500, just when. Even the competition was pulling for he and Richard Childress to finally run out of ways that race could beat them. Dick Berggren, NASCAR on FOX pit reporter: I worked Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s pit at that race and the afternoon was electric! Larry McReynolds, Richard Childress, Don Hawk and the crew were so afraid to even hope because there had been so many disappointments. Watching Earnhardt do donuts in the infield, then be congratulated by all the crews, brought tears to many eyes.
Let your voice be heard
Steve Byrnes, NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter: 1998 because it was Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s first and only win. I called his mother's house (Martha) after the checkered flew and she was crying tears of joy, and I could hear his sister screaming in the background...their joy was so real. Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX race analyst: The 500 in '98, was just a feel good race for "Big E" (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) after all the frustration he had endured on many occasions. It was a race and a date that will forever be remembered by anybody that has ever followed NASCAR.

The fight

Moment Number 1: Cale Yarborough & Donnie Allison crash & fight on last lap... Petty Wins
Date: February 18, 1979
Location: Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach, Fla. What happened: It was the perfect storm, literally and figuratively, for NASCAR on February 18, 1979. Due to winter storms in the Northeast, Millions of people were at home on that Sunday looking for entertainment. For those who found the NASCAR race on television, they found more than entertainment. NASCAR's first race televised flag-to-flag on television offered almost everything the sport has: Major names, surprises, wrecks ... and oh yeah, a fight at the end. The most memorable moment of the event came at the end of the race when Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough were battling it out for the victory in the Great American Race. Their battle got so intense that they started bouncing off each other on the backstretch and eventually spun out in Turn 3. As a result of the wreck, Richard Petty came out of nowhere to pick up the lead with less than a lap remaining. Despite being followed by Darrell Waltrip and open-wheel legend A.J. Foyt, he managed to keep things straight to win his sixth career Daytona 500. While that was going on though, the television cameras stopped focusing on the winner and turned to the wrecked vehicles of Allison and Yarborough as the two drivers got out of their vehicles. At the same time, Donnie's brother Bobby Allison stopped near the wreck to see what was going on ... and a fight ensued in front of a national television audience. Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX race analyst: It was the first live flag to flag television coverage and included the famous fight. As Yarborough and Bobby's brother Donnie raced 1-2, they crashed and took each other out of the race. That left me racing "The King" (Richard Petty) and my hero A.J. (Foyt) to the finish line. Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX race announcer: I was standing high on a tower inside of turn two, calling that area's action for radio. And everyone knew when they came off of turn two on that last lap, that neither Cale nor Donnie would give an inch. Allison crowded Cale to the apron, Yarborough entered the turn three banking at an impossible angle, and 25 million people watched on TV as they slid to the apron. More then half a lap down, Petty held off Darrell Waltrip and AJ Foyt for the surprise win. Chris Myers, NASCAR on FOX Prerace host: Richard Petty holding off Darrell Waltrip for the win while Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison put on a show with a Turn Three fist-fight. With the help of Best Damn Sports Show Period, we have compiled the 50 greatest moments in NASCAR history.

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

Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Bill Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, John Andretti, Denny Hamlin

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